Preparing for my second part of the series on Parenthood.
Here is something thats interesting.
Skin hunger is a relatively new term that has been applied to the emotional response engendered by the loss of touch in our society. One of the five basic senses, touch is the only one deemed essential to human life. (emphasis mine) During WW II babies in orphanages developed Failure to thrive or even died when deprived of human contact. In a classic study by Harry Harlow, newborn monkeys were taken from their biological mothers and given surrogates made of either wire or soft terry cloth. The baby monkeys consistently chose the soft mother even when deprived of nourishment. The need for bonding outweighed even the basic necessity of food.
The need for touch extends beyond the early developmental years. It is the first sense to develop in utero and the last to diminish as we die. Babies and children with loving parents are cuddled and kissed and touched. As a child ages he seeks to become more independent and may even resist too much lovin’. How many of us parents have mourned the day our children became too big to sit in our laps anymore? Boys, especially, are discouraged from showing too much affection. To be a man means to be strong and stoic and emotion is deemed a sign of weakness.
Adolescence is a time of self discovery and growing sexual awareness. As kids grow into teens they may seek sexual intimacy even when not emotionally ready because the need for touch is so strong. How many girls have had sex prematurely when all they really wanted was to be held? Compounding the problem, many parents will decrease physical contact with their teens because of fears of inappropriateness.
Maturing into adults we face a world that explodes with sexual images but discourages more than a friendly nod or a handshake in public. Sexuality is OK but intimacy is not.
The elderly, the disabled and the very ill, aka the “Untouchables“, are at greatest risk of touch deprivation. Living in isolated homes, the elderly and the disabled often have limited mobility and fears of victimization may prevent their venturing out. People with a terminal illness like HIV may have very little contact with another human being due to inherent fears of the disease. Although not as fulfilling as human contact, a pet may provide the bonding and comfort needed.