My blood just boils when I think about all of the people in the world who live their daily lives without enough human physical contact and when they try to take an alternative course of action to get that need met they are shamed for doing so. Some examples that come to mind are paying for sex in various ways, using a casual dating website or cuddling with friends and even Cuddle Therapy. A Wall Street Journal article discusses the upsurge in the cuddle therapy business, which makes a lot of sense in the current social environment, which research shows is seeing an increase in disconnection through social media and other forces. That is, loneliness is on the rise.These examples are all situations that are shamed, or at the very least, frowned upon in our society and I find that very sad.
I once had a friend who worked at a hair dressing shop where a single man in his 60’s used to come in once a week to get his hair washed and once a month he would get it cut. She described him as this “kind of weird guy”. When I inquired about why he was weird she said because he just liked to have the girls wash his hair. I thought to myself, wow, that man might get 5 minutes of human touch a week and pays for it but that is seen as shameful. How sad that our society feels that way. If you don’t fall into a certain mainstream category you are not worthy of human touch.
Other experiences in my life have helped me realize that person’s with physical, emotional or psychological disabilities frequently do not have close human contact beyond personal care assistance and lack the natural human ability to forge the relationships necessary to facilitate naturally craved human touch. I think we need to have services that are readily available for anyone who’s physical touch gas tank is low. We need socially accepted shops for people to pop in and get those needs me. Like a Jiffy Lube but for a cuddle.
Now they do have these available but they are very frequently seen as questionable when seen as being used for this purpose but think about it…. Most of us love a good massage, haircut, pedicure, manicure, body mask etc…. I”m sure the list could go on. We don’t necessarily think about how this would naturally feel especially good to someone who has no other physical human contact. Healthy positive hormones that balance the body and feel great are released when human touch is occurring.
Unfortunately many people have a difficult time discerning between the generally lovely feeling of touch and that of sexual touch and with the limits that are placed on us through sociocultural forces I am not surprised. There is so much shame around the idea of touch, arousal, excitement and sexuality that we are not teaching our kids how to be comfortable as touchable and sexual human beings with appropriate boundaries and abilities to voice our boundaries comfortably.
Cuddle therapy, mentioned above, is meant to be personalized platonic touch that openly acknowledges that we all need some compassion and affection sometimes. These services strive to meet these needs for about the same price as a massage. Their codes of ethics at a professional services are clearly outlined and adhered to to protect the clients and practitioners from any uncomfortable or ineffective types of touch.
Human beings thrive from touch. Scientific research shows over and over again that babies thrive through touch, both because it is a form of communication that helps children form healthy attachment styles (attachment theory) and because touch produces hormones that balance the body and its functions. An often cited example in this research tells the story that 70 or 80 years ago babies in orphanages that were given all of the nutrition, cleaning and warmth they needed died at a rate of 70-80% until the caretakers were told to hold the babies.
Articles like “8 Reasons We need Human Touch More Than Ever” help us understand that touch is not a luxury, it is a basic human need that no one needs to be ashamed for wanting or pursuing avenues toward it in their life.
We know that cortizol in our system is stressful (it triggers that Autonomic nervous system to rise to meet perceived threat also called “nervous system arousal”), and loneliness increases cortizol levels (Vaughan Tremmel 2006). Why? Because human beings instinctively seek out companionship. There is safety in numbers and our limbic brain knows that. If we are feeling short on companionship or feeling dis-empowered around creating companionship because of low self-esteem, lack of motivation, a sense of unworthiness or shame then our brain will continue to send us messages motivating us to connect (I feel lonely) but our own beliefs about how we are perceived in the world (I’m not good enough and I will be rejected) can get in the way of us taking actions to get those needs met. Its a circular event of anxiety. Not fun at all for those locked into it. And, of course, the lack of human touch negatively affects our physical, emotional and psychological health which can contribute further to not being able to get those needs met.
Loneliness is also becoming more pervasive in our society (Entis 2016) with a documented climb in the last 20 years. Our culural norms are feeding into a greater sense aloneness than ever before. People sitting behind cyber screens fostering relationships can seem like a step in the right direction for those that are shy but is it really. There is a big component missing in communication over the internet as well as the what is for so many humans the ultimate goal, to be in close physical connection with another human being.
We also know that hugs decrease cortisol levels. Why? Because we feel safe and in companionship. Now companionship doesn’t need to be physical. There are many ways that we can all think of that create a sense of connection, a knowing look from a friend, words that convey you are understood, receiving a message inquiring about how you are from a friend but physical touch beyond all of those others has been shown to almost immediately reduce the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream.
How can we get more positive touching going on. One group has introduced CuddleParty.com which has become a worldwide phenomenon. Maybe this will become just like Tupperware parties one day. That would be fantastic.