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Changing the World With Your Bare Hands

By: Jane Wurwand
Posted: June 25, 2008, from the January 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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What is left of life on Earth? I am convinced that finding the way back to our humanity won’t happen with politics or with law. It will happen through the alchemy of human skin touching skin.

Satisfying skin hunger

I am not referring to sexual touching, which often is used as a shortcut to satisfying what I call “skin hunger.” Although sex has its delights, it is not the entire story of the skin, and sexual touching is not what you crave most deeply as a sentient creature. The overemphasis on sexuality in today’s culture is evidenced in phenomena as wide-ranging as sexual dysfunction (rampant), the gluttonous abundance of cyberporn (empty) and preteens having their first sexual experiences at increasingly younger ages (scary).

Sexuality has become twisted precisely because humans are starved for a nonsexual connection. Because you can’t touch casually and in a purely friendly manner, all of it becomes sexualized. This is a problem when humans yearn to touch people for whom they have no flicker of sexual interest, but would like to hug and squeeze anyway—the spouse of a good friend, children, a kind neighbor or that sweet grandmother who sells organic tomatoes at the farmer’s market. Because you cannot touch these people in a socially accepted manner, you feel that your desire to connect must be somehow naughty, dirty or tainted.

For decades, research has indicated that touch-deprived infants—as well as the young offspring of all mammals—experience mental, physical and social retardation, even if they receive adequate nourishment in other areas. The lack of physical contact is an acknowledged factor in hastening the deaths of elderly people who reside in hospitals and nursing homes. It is not an accident that society’s most reviled criminals are kept in solitary confinement, and prison administrators report that inmates housed in this fashion often request that they be executed rather than endure the loneliness of living in their own skin without contact. Isolation kills, but to be branded officially as untouchable is a fate worse than death.

Some people confuse skin hunger with sexual desire. Others attempt to satisfy it with food, drugs and drink, entertainment and insatiable consumerism—shopping and spending, hours of anesthetizing television-watching and numbing workaholism. In my opinion, the American obesity epidemic has as much to do with the loss of socially acceptable casual physical touching between family members, peers and friends as it does with wolfing down pounds of the newly supersized M&M’s while surfing the Internet. All of these phenomena spring from losing touch, both literally and figuratively, with the wisdom and rhythm of the body.

Touch is truthful