While much is still unknown about COVID-19, experts have repeatedly affirmed that the spread of the virus can be drastically reduced if people stay home as much as possible and keep contact with others to a minimum. The need for social distancing may go on for months — possibly intermittently for years. It can be dizzying to think how long we may go without hugging our friends, kissing our lovers, or cuddling up next to someone. The longing for physical connection you may be feeling right now is often referred to as skin hunger by therapists and sexual wellness experts. “Physical human contact is an emotional and physical need based on our biology and psychology,” explains sex therapist Jesse Kahn, the director at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City. “Touch can release oxytocin, reduce stress, and calm our nervous system.”
Similar to how one might experience hunger for food, when deprived of human contact our bodies will innately feel a sense of hunger for skin-to-skin touch. Given that COVID-19 is spread person to person, primarily through respiratory droplets from an infected person, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that we self-isolate and practice social distancing, by staying at least six feet away from those we don’t currently live with. For many who live alone, are single, or quarantined without their partners, skin hunger can be a very real consequence. While the loss of physical intimacy may seem like a minor concern during a global pandemic, the emotional toll of touch deprivation can be extreme. There is no uniform experience of skin hunger — while some people may be aware of their desire and need to be touched, Kahn explains that for others it may manifest as depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, loneliness, stress, or difficulty sleeping.
“Even if you have been hungry for touch for a long time, we are resilient and things will change,” reminds sex and relationship therapist, Shadeen Francis. Adapting to the times and our current need to keep communities safe by staying at home means getting creative to meet certain needs, like physical intimacy.
How to cope with the lack of touch
Life feels like it has slowed down for many of us. While we’re staying at home to stop the spread of COVID-19, many of us have also experienced job loss, or are working less and looking for ways to fill the time — this can be seen as an invitation to be in a relationship with yourself. How might you be able to satiate your need for touch right now? “You may have to be creative based on your physical ability, but ultimately the point is to spend some extra time in affectionate contact with your skin,” says Francis. Some types of solo intimacy could be giving yourself a hug, self-massage, cuddling your pets or a stuffed animal/soft pillow, taking a long bath or shower, swaddling yourself in a blanket, masturbating, playing with textures like feathers or silk or leather against your skin, and slathering yourself in lotion. Kahn affirms that solo touch and movement can provide benefits similar to interpersonal touch.
“If you’re unsure how to begin, start by focusing on skin contact and the qualities of touch you enjoy. Think about where you like to be touched,” prompts Francis. “Is it your back, your hands, your face, your chest, your genitals?” There are many erogenous zones that are not deemed explicitly sexual where you may find pleasure. Doing an inventory of where and how you experience pleasure can be a fun exploration while staying at home. Take your time going from head- to-toe applying different kinds of touch: firm pressure, soft caresses, delicate circles, scratching, spanks, different textures, and temperatures. You may discover you love the feeling of your nails along the back of your knees or a firm grip around your ribs — this exercise of body mapping not only builds intimacy with yourself but can give you exciting new ideas to look forward to post-quarantine.
Building intimacy from afar
Nurturing our relationships throughout this global pandemic will be challenging, as this is like nothing any of us have ever gone through before. There are many kinds of intimacy to explore during this time: emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual. Consider how you can shift your focus to other forms of connection to help tolerate this experience of skin hunger. “This could include regular video or phone check-ins, sharing and expressing how you’re feeling, sending letters and care packages, and talking about non-COVID-19 related topics that deepen your knowledge of each other,” says Kahn.
A lack of touch can amplify feelings of being disconnected because we crave human contact. It’s important to find a balance between digital time spent with others and solo time unplugged. Francis recommends sharing virtual cuddles with friends or partners. You can exchange messages about the kind of touch you need to give and receive. “This is a partnered visualization exercise. You could even use video if seeing the person would help you imagine the touch,” Francis explains.
Technology is on our side during this pandemic. There are Bluetooth and app- accessible vibrators that one partner can wear and the other control from miles away. Intimacy does not have to be completely lost during this time of physical distancing. We can stay creatively connected knowing that on the other side of this we will embrace one another again.
- People’s Showering Routines Have Changed Since the COVID-19 Outbreak
- Can I Socially Distance Myself From These Terrible Jokes About Gaining Weight While Quarantined?
- 11 Tips From Therapists to Deal With COVID-19 Anxiety
Now, watch a metastatic breast cancer's patient journey in six photos:
Read more on: skin
Start your journey to healthy skin in 2 minutes