As human beings, we crave physical connection and suffer ‘skin hunger’ in its absence – touching, holding hands, a friendly pat on the back are all part of human nature. Like our bellies, our skin needs to be fed. It needs to be stimulated or else we feel deprived. ‘Skin hunger’ can cause restlessness and depression. Conversely, being touched regularly can elevate your mood, relieve stress and even improve your immunity.
Getting your daily dose of touch is as important biologically as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. It should not surprise anyone that touching has a big impact on our well-being. The skin, through which we register pleasing hugs, strokes and caresses, is the body’s biggest organ. An average adult has about six kilos of skin, which is responsible for alerting us to pain, danger, pleasure and comfort.
Perhaps because of its salubrious biological impact, the word itself has become a metaphor for many pleasurable and productive interactions. A heartfelt wedding toast is touching: we are touched by the generosity of strangers. An eccentric is a bit touched, a billionaire possesses the Midas touch, and those who are superstitious ’touch wood’ to ward off evil spirits!
For babies and small children, physical contact can literally mean the difference between life and death. In the early 1940’s, during which period, World War Two took place, hospitals in London were alarmed by the high infant-mortality rates of almost 50 percent among the babies born prematurely at its hospitals. After deep thought, the medical authorities ordered the female staff of the hospitals to pick up and hold and cuddle such babies in their wards several times each day. The mortality rate quickly fell to almost zero. In Romania, during World War Two, orphaned children who had been placed in camps with no parents or caretakers to hug them virtually stopped growing. Only those who were held, kissed and cuddled as children normally are, continued to grow taller.
Women have a bigger appetite for touch than men do. It is a scientific fact that women have more nerve endings per square per inch of skin than men do and hence their skin-hunger is greater. This may also explain women’s need for a greater sexual foreplay than their partners. The general difference in physical appetite may also be explained by socialization. Women learn from an early age to equate touching with nurturing and comfort. As females, we’re also socialised to express affection physically. We have a greater licence than our brothers to hug or hold one another or greet our fellow girlfriends with a kiss. As adults, we’ve come to expect more touching in our lives, and when we don’t get it, we feel deprived and at times, depressed.
Physical expressions of affection also send messages to the world. In courtship, touching is a sign to outsiders that two people are a couple. When a man takes a female’s hand in public, particularly in front of people you both know – he is making a statement about their relationship. In the early, emotionally charged throes of a new relationship, those statements can mean a lot. And as the relationship progresses, a lover’s touch can reassure you that his feelings haven’t changed, or sometimes, even when they have! The sight of extremely old, kissing and cuddling married couples holding hands is so beautiful!
How emotionally gratifying is the hug? Ann Landers, the well-known American writer asked her married readers whether they’d rather be hugged or have sex. Some one hundred thousand responses flooded her mailbox. About eighty percent of the respondents confessed that they’d much rather just snuggle up. They cared more for cuddling and caressing and the tender words that come with caring. Of course, Ann Landers was quick to point out that the readers who replied were largely middle-aged and elderly.
What about massage therapists? They may not be able to make your heart sing like your husband’s touch does, but can provide the same emotional benefits and better health. Also, touching and holding hands is a good way to stay connected, both among the married and unmarried couples. A touch at the right time is a life giver – and saver! Its power can never be underestimated. In many ways, it can also be a therapy for good health and a happy marriage