So there’s this thing that happens when spring hits: Lots of people want to have sex. This is standard. It’s natural. As the sun starts to get brighter, the days longer, and spaghetti straps reappear, people get, well … randy. The fact is, with all the societal and cultural weirdness – oops, I mean “norms” – around sex, it’s easy to forget that we are biologically impelled to mate. It’s the only way the species gets propagated.
Nature wants us to fuck, which means we want to fuck. It’s normal. The problem? A lot of us don’t have the opportunity to (or believe we don’t). There are a variety of reasons for this.
Lack of Sex
Some people are in sexless marriages. They don’t have access to sex (or believe they don’t) and must determine how to handle this. Bring it up only to get shot down again? Cheat? Try to get their partner to go to a couples counselor or sex therapist? (Will it really make a difference? Can we afford it? Do we prioritize that over other things we need right now as a family?)
Other people are in long-distance relationships (LDRs, aka Lack of D Routines). They have to ration their sex, parse it out in mega-doses, then hang on, like holding your breath underwater for the whole length of the pool.
Others are simply single.
This is more the category I fall into. I’m not in a sexless relationship. Thank goodness. I’d most likely either address it or leave if I were. I just don’t have anyone with whom to share that special something.
It kind of sucks.
It also sucks because I’ve realized that as much as I really want to get laid, there’s a deeper reason I wish I was sleeping with someone right now: affection.
Lack of Affection
The fact is, in our modern world, if you’re not in a romantic relationship, you likely suffer from touch starvation (this is a real thing).
We used to live in tribes where there was a lot of touch. You lived in (extremely) close proximity to family who braided your hair or patted you on the back or with whom you did tribal dances on the regular. In many cultures, everyone helped with the children, which meant a lot of hugging, changing the equivalent of diapers, and sleeping closely.
Now, unless you’re in a relationship, you almost never get touched.
A psychologist named Dr. Sidney Jourard once did a study of how often two friends touched one another during a conversation at a cafe in different countries. In England, the two people touched each other exactly no times. In the U.S., they touched one another a whopping two times. In France, the number jumped to 110 times per hour. The grand prize winner? Puerto Rico. Friends there touched each other 180 times per hour.
A psychologist from Puerto Rico who has also lived in the U.S. had a fascinating take on it:
[T]here is a very different feeling in more collectivist cultures, such as those in Latin America. Social life feels more like the interaction of marshmallows—soft, full, sweet, and sticky. In contrast to being in mainstream US culture which feels more like the interaction of ping pong balls—everyone is going about their own business in a slick, quick and flat sort of way, with little sense of connection to others.
Among other things, this means if you are single and childless in the U.S. or U.K., you’re particularly vulnerable to ping-ponging your way right into touch starvation.
With the exception of a hug from a friend (which usually lasts a measly one to two seconds, not even close to the seven seconds required for oxytocin to start to release), you can go for days, weeks, sometimes months (years??) with no meaningful physical contact.
Last night, I was really upset. I had PMS in a big way – like one of those I-literally-hate-everyone-and-everything-right-now moods.
I didn’t really want to talk about it. What was there to say? I hated everyone. I hated everything. Of course, there are things going on in my life that my brain is more than willing to blame my mood on. But while there are some things that aren’t perfect about my life, there is a hell of a lot more that is going well and for which I am deeply, truly, really grateful.
That didn’t change the fact that in that particular moment, I just felt like shit.
Then something unexpected happened: A friend offered to play with my hair while we watched a movie.
Now let me tell you: It. Was. The. Bomb. It was just what I needed. I didn’t need more words. I didn’t need more discussion or distraction.
I didn’t need to FaceTime with someone.
I didn’t need to drink alcohol.
I didn’t need to eat sugar.
I didn’t need to have someone tell me I was loved with their words.
As she played with my hair, a part of me relaxed. After ten minutes, a larger part of me relaxed. By the time the movie was halfway over, I stopped feeling so much like the raging bitch I’d been when it started, and more like the soft squishy me that I really love feeling.
Touch starvation is real, and it’s something we should all be mindful of.
We can likely all do a better job of being there for one another in more than just a text message kind of way.
When we’re physically together, we can make it a point to play with one another’s hair, scratch backs, give or receive light massages for a few minutes, or cuddle up on the couch.
Particularly if we’re in romantic relationships where we’re getting our touch needs met, we can be mindful of our single friends who may not have access to such affection. We can be even more sure to give affection to those friends when we’re with them.
If you do think you’re touch starved, experts have some suggestions for how to alleviate it, some of which are pretty good.
But to all of you fellow touch-started humans out there, let me just say this:
I feel you.
I feel for you.
If I could, I would give you a huge, long-lasting hug.
Then I’d play with your hair, or, if you’re bald, scratch your head lightly for the duration of a whole movie.