It’s not just that people feel there’s no one to talk to but also that there’s no one to touch. Psychologists call it “skin hunger,” the need for physical human contact, and its absence can have dire health consequences, including an earlier death.
In the face of such isolation, Americans are increasingly opening their wallets to feel the comforting touch of a stranger. For about $80 per hour, cuddlers provide intimate sessions of non-sexual embraces, and services are popping up all across the country.
Researchers are still trying to find out what’s behind the spike in American loneliness. Is it social media, smartphones, the demands of work? Is it something in the country’s collective psyche? One study showed that American adolescents touch each others much less frequently and are also much much more aggressive than French adolescents. The cuddlers are out to change the perception of Americans as cold and bellicose, as long as the price is right.
In the past few weeks I attended some private and group sessions with professional cuddlers in Los Angeles to understand and document how this new practice works.