Aniket Patil (name changed), 33, a designer based in Delhi, says that he feels lonely and frustrated as his wife doesn't give him a single hug the entire day. "We've had multiple arguments about this. And this problem started only after the pandemic, once I started working from home. I feel that she doesn't desire me anymore and that I am taken for granted." Patil says that physical affection is really important to him, and he wishes his wife understood that. Amana Singaporia (name changed), who has been in a long-distance relationship since Covid-19 began, feels the same way; that her partner doesn't desire her at all. "We hold hands when we meet, we cuddle, but when it comes to having sex, he doesn't take much of an initiative. He doesn't talk much when we are apart or doesn't indulge in sexting either. It makes me feel less about myself," she confesses.
Both Singaporia and Patil are experiencing what is commonly known as touch starvation, defined by Kratika Gupta, counselling psychologist and the founder of Gen-Z Therapists, West Bengal, as the lack of physical touch between oneself and other human beings. "Humans have an innate need to receive skin-to-skin contact/physical touch, and when we don't receive this physical touch in the forms of hugs, handshakes, cuddles, high-fives, hand-holding, kisses, sensual touch, etc., we tend to feel touch starved," she says.
Touch starvation, she adds, greatly impacts one's well-being. "A person who is undergoing touch starvation can have higher levels of stress, feel anxious, substance abuse, and a higher risk of having depression," she says, pointing out that touch starvation can also show up in physical ways, leading to higher heart rate, increased blood pressure, the tension in the muscles, digestive issues and sleep-related problems.
Swati Ghoshal, a counselling psychologist based in Kolkata, throws light on the biological aspect of touch starvation."Touch helped us survive as species," she says, pointing out that it plays a crucial part in the baby's bonding process with the mother or any primary caregiver. "In fact, researchers suggest that infants who have not received enough physical and emotional stimulation as they grow up are more likely to experience behavioural, emotional, and social issues," says Ghoshal.
And yes, touch is intrinsic to romantic relationships. As Ghoshal points out, it is excruciatingly painful when a partner is deprived of something that is innate to human beings and a huge part of our social bonding. This is frequently one of the main causes of cheating, acting out, and other odd behaviours in relationships. And while sex is one aspect of this, of course, but physical touch goes beyond sex.
Gupta brings up the case of Treasure, a UK-based professional cuddler, who charges 75 pounds for an hour-cuddle session. As bizarre as this may sound, it clearly bears testament to the fact that people are starved of touch and crave it desperately.
Gupta and Ghoshal also offer some ways to work around touch starvation.
Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist