Let’s talk about skin hunger

by Gigi Griffis

First, a truth: January was intense

If you’re a regular reader, you already know the year kicked off with a health scare. And while it had a happy ending, leaving me breathlessly grateful for so much in my life, it also revealed a need. One I thought I had under control.

See, I’ve been single for about two years now. And there’s not one day I have regretted that decision. It was the right choice, and I’m grateful for it. But I also know that, as most of us do, I need positive physical touch in my life.

Since I wasn’t particularly interested in relationships or casual encounters these last couple years, I found other ways to experience positive contact with other people. I came back to my old love for dancing. I booked weekly massages. I reveled in my physiotherapy. I even did the non-touch things experts say to do. Stretches and crunches and things like that. And, of course, I spent plenty of time (to Luna’s chagrin) pressing my face into the dog.

In other words, I made sure I wasn’t living in a complete wasteland of touchlessness. 

And yet.

And yet.

Suddenly, when the health scare knocked the wind out of me, my body’s need rose up to make itself known. 

I wanted to be held.

Not just touched. Not just danced with. Not just snuggling a little dog. I wanted someone to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay. To lace their fingers in mine and just sit with me there. To lay on the couch with a movie on, playing with my hair. To bear a sort of physical witness to my aliveness.

Experts call it skin hunger, and it’s been a pandemic within a pandemic. A lack of touch that leaves us with a growing sense of need. Depressed, flat, or breathlessly emotional. Hungry, really. But not for food. There’s a reason doctors recommend babies who are struggling be held against their parents’ chests.

Now, in the aftermath of my fear and my gratitude, I was the baby. I was the need. 

And so, what came next? What were my options? How does one go about finding that kind of touch? Obviously, I had my massages. I could dance more often, perhaps even take up a new form of dancing to get myself out even more. In the States, I remember hearing about cuddle therapy (literally you hire a professional cuddler, which is a genius business idea), so I started exploring whether that was a possibility. And then there was the most obvious answer: to ask someone I trusted.

Of course, with my closest friends living very far away and many of my local friends partnered, that’s easier said than done. So I thought and researched and waited.

But even after my health scare was over, the need didn’t go away, didn’t recede to its normal levels. In fact, a few days after the good news, I was knocked flat by more bad news (more on that another time). And the need doubled and tripled in on itself – a fever pitch – until I was forced to gather up the courage to ask a new friend:

Will you come over and just hold me?

That first ask resulted in an (extremely polite) no. (Which is fine; we’re all about consent ’round these parts. And hi friend, if you are reading: I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable at all.)

And so I still exist in this jittery deficit. Nearly crying when people hug me. Trying to figure out the safest, best way to meet this sudden, desperate need without sacrificing my safety or my peace.


It feels incredibly vulnerable to share all this with you.

But here’s another truth: when I’ve whispered my secret need to friends across the world, they’ve gasped and cried with the recognition. “Me too,” they’ve whispered back, and I can hear the longing in their voices. That catch in their throats. The truth behind the words.

If so many of my friends are reacting that way, perhaps that’s you too. Perhaps you’re feeling that deficit, left by covid or moving to a new place or any number of other things. And so I share a story without an ending, without a clear way forward just yet.

I haven’t solved my skin hunger. Yet. But I’m here to say I see you.

I see you. I am you. And if I was there, I’d wrap you in the biggest bear hug and I’d hold on for dear life and I’d tell you: It’s going to be okay.

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Kristen February 6, 2023 - 11:29 am

This is real. I was single for years, happily, by choice. But my single friends and I would talk about how we’d find ourselves bumping into walls and we couldn’t figure out why. Were we aging already? Unable to navigate? Then we realized it was as if our bodies were telling us that we needed to be held, hugged. At a minimum, I think the best way to surround myself with healthy comfort is to meet up with others regularly, where hugging is naturally how we greet and how we leave. During our chats, we are also likely to naturally hug one another as we converse, as a moment of comfort, when talking. There are also gatherings of all kinds, led by certified specialists of all kinds, and often the nature of simply being at gatherings to discuss and provide support (on whatever topic) naturally includes moments of comfort. Also, I’m not really religious, but I love attending various religious gatherings out of genuine cultural curiosity, and they almost always involve intentional moments where members reach out to greet and comfort one another, including (and sometimes especially) strangers. Sometimes, the smaller the gathering, the more the hugs. Other times, the larger the gathering, the more hugs go around. It’s so endearing and loving. Also, volunteering with elders can be such a sweet way of giving back and comforting others, which can feel comforting to us, as well. Our elder populations are everywhere, many without regular comfort and touch. I keep meaning to do more of this. So you are definitely not alone. This is real.

Libby February 6, 2023 - 8:43 pm

Oofdah. I am so sorry you’re feeling this. I have felt this. As a long time single person and survivor of a limited affection childhood, I feel like skin hunger was probably my default state for many years.

First: you are doing everything right and I commend you for reaching out here and to your friend. That’s brave.

And second I wondered if I might offer a couple of, not solutions, but practices you didn’t mention that you might add to your toolbox in this regard?

Self hugging. Apparently holding ourselves has many benefits. In this line I’ve done just a little bit of vagus nerve stuff which included squeezing and rubbing my arms and shoulders gently.

EFT tapping? I’ve Been doing tapping with brad vids on YouTube and the overall benefits have been fast and joufyl. It’s kind of blowing my mind. And it might be the catalyst for some really big potential life changes that have dropped in on me in the last couple of days.

And there’s always getting ample ‘me’ time if you know what I mean. In pleasure activism the writer (I forget her name) says ‘an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away and the worries at bay.’ I nearly died.

I’m not in any way suggesting that these tools are a replacement for human touch. Hardly. But maybe they’re useful tools in also helping to keep the edge off. Oh and maybe someone on tinder would like a snuggle? I don’t snuggle strangers well but maybe there’s something to explore there? I have a friend who does that on a first date. And it seems to work for her. Shrug.

Anyway. Please forgive me if these are unwanted suggestions. Mostly i hope you find what you need to feel full up. Sending my love.


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