Touch In The Time Of Corona: Understanding And Navigating Skin Hunger Amid Social Isolation

For anyone like me, who is flying solo during coronavirus quarantine, social distancing is really taking a toll on our mental health, for many reasons. I’m a couple of months into my solo-quarantine, and while my pantry is stocked and my belly full, one thing I am most definitely starved for… is touch.

Chances are if quarantine has in any way reduced how often you normally receive and experience touch and skin-to-skin contact from others, you’re noticing it by now. This well researched and documented phenomenon is called skin hunger, and it’s more than a human desire, it’s a need.

Studies have shown that not only does human touch positively affect our development, it also extends our life expectancy. A lack of consistent skin to skin contact can negatively impact our mental health. Why? For one, human touch releases oxytocin, a feel-good neurotransmitter, also known as “the love hormone”. Touch also activates the body’s vagus nerve, releasing acetylcholine, which lowers our levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone”. On the other side of the coin, a lack of touch has an adverse effect, putting people at risk for anxiety, feelings of loneliness, trouble sleeping, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. 

Not only does receiving touch, like hugs or cuddles for example, impact our mental health, it’s also connected to our physical health. Having access to nurturing touch can lower blood pressure and heart rate, boosts our immune system, and helps the body fight off infection. On the flip side, a lack of touch can have a detrimental effect on our physical health.

Thankfully, we do know that quarantine, while it may seem like it’s lasting a lifetime, won’t actually last forever. However, in the meantime, there are some ways we can mitigate the effects, and work to fulfill our skin hunger and invite the healing potential of pleasurable touch into our lives.

1) Cuddle a pet (if you have one)

If you’re so lucky as to have a (cuddle-able) pet during quarantine, cuddling with your pet is a great way to get your touch needs met. You can also benefit from treating your furry loved one to a little massage since it’s been proven that giving a massage is as good for you as receiving one!


2) Or a stuffed animal!


If you don’t have a pet, but have some stuffies, give them a nice cuddle or squeeze! Sleep with them during bedtime. Pet them or give them kisses throughout the day. Cuddling stuffed animals at night has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety in adults, and help you sleep better! (My personal opinion is that if you name them, it works better.)


3) Put household items to work 


There are many items in your house that could probably be doing some double-duty for you! Some copper mugs or other metal items? The coolness of metal can feel soothing against your skin. Have a fluffy rug? Roll around in it. My latest discovery is grazing makeup brushes (that are not in use) gently across my arms and leg. Some of these may seem silly at first, but honestly, who cares? No one’s watching you and it's not shameful to get your touch needs met!


4) Use a head-massager spider

These funky scalp massagers can be a fantastic and easy way to reap the same benefits of physical touch. They promote feelings of relaxation, lower stress levels, and release oxytocin, that feel-good neurotransmitter normally released upon experiencing human touch.


5) Make use of pleasure products


Some of your best options just happen to be sex toys! The classic magic wand was originally sold and advertised as a back massager until it garnered a cult following for its use as a vibrator. You can use most any wand-style “massager” on your back or anywhere else really!

Glass and stainless steel toys make for some amazing sensory pleasure. Heat them up by submerging them in hot water for a bit, or cool them down by throwing them in the freezer for a little while. Siclicone is very close in feel to human touch, so you can try rubbing silicone vibes or other silicone toys, like dildos across your skin. Softly rolling a Wartenberg pinwheel across your arm can feel just like someone gently grazing, tickling your arm, and is a personal favorite!

Make sure to give them a good clean before and after!


6) Self-massage


Don’t have a “back massager” and can’t afford one, that’s okay. You can also give yourself a massage. Try out different areas of your body, like your hands (find our hand massage guide here), your arms, your thighs and calves, your feet, your booty, and experiment with different types of massage patterns and intensities, like deep squeezes, gentle circular motions, soft pounds with a fist, or try the “chopping” method!


7) Take a bath or a long hot shower


Spending some time in a warm bath or indulging in a long, hot shower can soothe your skin hunger greatly. Be sure to take your time and really be mindful of how everything feels on your skin… the water, the soap you’re lathering on, your fingertips and rub yourself slowly with a nice oil as soon as you're out.


8) Wrap yourself in cozy materials


Treat your body to your favorite fabric sensations. Sleep in your softest blanket. Wear those comfy socks. Wear clothes made from your favorite fabrics and texture. Hell, you can wear a fuzzy robe for the entire day if it makes you feel comforted! 


9) Indulge in luxurious skin-care


This is a good time to be overindulgent in your skin-care routine, or develop one if you don’t already have one! Any amount of time you can spend showing your body love with self-touch is going to help to satisfy your skin hunger. This can be your facial care or can mean lathering yourself head to toe in your favorite lotion. Take your time, take in the scents, notice how each moment feels. 

The quarantine, while difficult, will be a testament to the innate resiliency of humans nature.  Expanding our understanding of intimacy and finding creative alternative ways to get our needs met when it comes to touch and physical closeness, will be how we all make it through.


Jamie J. LeClaire (they/them) is a freelance writer and sex educator living with chronic illness. Their work and writing focus on sexual health and wellness, queer and trans identity, body politics, nonmonogamy and more. You can find out more about them and their coaching, speaking, and workshop offerings on their website or follow them on Instagram at @JamieJLeClaire.