Host Anna Borges interviews guest Zachary Zane about platonic intimacy.
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Mood Ring is a production of American Public Media and Pizza Shark.
Anna Borges: The first time I realized I was touch starved during the pandemic is when the world started opening up and one of the first things I did was go and get a wax for the first time. And as my wax tech was like painfully ripping the hair off my body, I thought, "Huh, it's so nice to be touched by another human again."
It's not that I didn't realize that I was lonely or could really stand to have been fucked or cuddled — I live alone and I'm single, so during the height of pandemic lockdown, I was … very, very isolated. But it wasn't until I felt this visceral rush of relief when I typically felt excruciating pain that I realized, Oh, I needed this.
Like, actually needed it. Because when I say I was touch starved, I’m not being cute or dramatic. Tough starvation is a real thing. It’s also known as skin hunger or touch deprivation, but whatever you call it, we know that going for too long without human touch has real psychological effects. Starting with when we bond with our caregivers through touch when we’re infants, we’re wired to need touch, for our development and for our mental health.
So what do we do when we’re not getting any?
Hey, I’m Anna Borges and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings, even when you’re feeling so untouched like a 2007 pop song.
Every episode, we’ll explore one new way to cope—with our feelings, with our baggage, with our brains, or with the world around us.
Anna Borges: Today we’re talking about cuddling with your friends, which might seem like kind of a leap from a bikini wax. But that's because I didn’t know until the last minute that I wanted this episode to be about cuddling your friends. Before that, I knew I wanted to do something on touch starvation, and, you know, ways to scratch that itch. We thought of massages, or loving self-touch and yep, getting waxed, but, you know, none of them really felt right. Because sure, all of that involves getting touched, but none of it is intimacy. And I was missing intimacy as much as I was missing the touch itself.
And then I had this exchange on Twitter.
SOUND OF KEYBOARD TYPING
I was doing what I do—AKA tweeting about whatever thought comes into my head and conveniently forgetting that my family and coworkers follow me—and I was basically like, “Hey, show of hands, who else hasn't had real physical intimacy since the Before Times?"
And lots of people chimed in and long story short, the tweet led to some talk about why platonic intimacy isn’t more of a thing. Like, why is so much non-sexual touch still reserved mostly for sexual and romantic partners?
And one of the people who chimed in is actually one of today’s guests.
I slid into his DMs like, “Hey, want to platonically cuddle?” and by that I mean, “Do you want to come on my podcast?” And thankfully, he said yes.
Zachary Zane is a writer who mostly focuses on sex and bisexuality in his work. He’s behind the erotic nonficiton zine Boyslut and is a columnist for Men’s Health. And most importantly, he’s someone who, quite frankly, seemed to have a lot of platonic intimacy in his life. So, I wanted us to learn from him together.
Anna Borges: Oh, I'm so excited to chat today! Were you luckier than I was during the pandemic and, like, got plenty of touch? What, what was it like for you?
Zach Zane: Um, I- initially, no, I did not get any touch whatsoever and that was not fun as I, as you can imagine. And then I actually, one of the few people that managed to find love during the pandemic, which I know is probably problematic to say. But uh-
Anna Borges: I hate you. I'm so jealous.
Zach Zane: And, and then, so we kind of cuddled up together. So I had a primary partner who I was able to see and cuddle with, towards the kind of end of it. Cause there was that lull kind of the middle, during the summer where I was like, okay, I feel safe meeting people, and that's when I met them. And then we kind of went back into lockdown and then we were with each other. So I was very lucky.
Anna Borges: Ugh. Oh, and for our listeners who aren't familiar with, like ethical non-monogamy and polyamory, can you just give like a quick one liner on like what you mean when you say primary partner?
Zach Zane: Sure. So primary partner for me, I … it, it just like, I actually practice, like, non-hierarchical poly, but so maybe saying primary is not the correct term. So essentially when you have multiple partners, this is kind of like, for me in the sense was kind of the, the main one that I was kind of hanging out with, the main one who I'm in love with, the one who I call my boyfriend. And then I kind of have more casual partners, which are almost like, honestly, friends with benefits. Although poly people just kind of love putting terms to absolutely everything, unnecessarily. But, so this was more the person who I'd spend my time with more consistently.
Anna Borges: Got it. Got it. And I love, I love that you say friends with benefits because immediately my brain goes, okay, well, this episode is about cuddling your friends. First, I would love to just hear about your experience with platonic intimacy and how, and what that means for you and what it looks like in your life.
Zach Zane: I think I'm very … lucky that I've been able to have it, but I'm able to have it because I am queer. And I recognize that, where cuddling with another man platonically, I feel like it's much more accepted in the gay community, in the queer community, than if I was completely straight. And then I think it would just be more challenging if, you know, if you're straight, you have to be really comfortable with your masculinity to be able to platonically cuddle another straight friend.
Anna Borges: Hmm, absolutely. What kind of experiences have you had in this area?
Zach Zane: Yeah. And I really think in that regard, it's more like relationship anarchy. Again, there are a million terms and I know it's annoying, but kind of relationship anarchy, one of the key … parts of that is the idea that you don't prioritize kind of romantic relationships over your friendships and your friendships can be equally as important and equally as fulfilling, even though you're not sexual, even if you’re not in, in a romantic relationship. And I kinda love that about relationship anarchy.
Anna Borges: But I’m curious how you, if you ever had the expectation that touch and physical intimacy was only for romantic partners and if you had to release the expectation of that and accept that it could be with platonic relationships, or if it’s always been that way for you?
Zach Zane: No, I think I definitely had this idea that … you know, touch, whether it's cuddling, or touch that extends beyond sex, was definitely still for romantic relationships or sexual relationships. I think the only exception is when you were, like, sad or crying. Is, if I'm looking back on it, it's when you're crying. That was the only time it was kind of more acceptable to have these elements of platonic touch as a means of comfort. Like why do I have to reach a point of such despair in order to, for it to be socially acceptable for me to have platonic touch. But I really think, the thing that changed was, again, I- was being queer, and just, I was part of this community where people were platonic touching. Being like, Hey, let's cuddle, let's get in a bed or just holding each other or in a way that was just the norm … or definitely more of the norm in a way that wasn't weird or necessarily sexual.
Anna Borges: Absolutely. So it does sound like you have, like, no lack of channels for platonic intimacy.
Zach Zane: No I 100% agree, but I also wanna be like, I'm in the minority and I'm very lucky to have this, and I'm lucky to have my friends and my community and my partners. And again, it's all part of the queer and poly world, and that's why I've been able to get this.
After a break, we’ll get some advice for listeners who might be ready to snuggle up with their friends but don’t know how to ask, so stay tuned.
Hey, welcome back to Mood Ring, I’m Anna Borges. Let’s get back to my conversation with sex writer and activist Zachary Zane about cuddling our friends.
Anna Borges: So, I'm curious if you would have any advice for listeners who aren't in these communities, but who might wanna take some of this wisdom to apply to their friendship. And they're like, I really want platonic intimacy, but as you called out, unless you're in a space where that's normalized and acceptable, it could be really awkward.
Zach Zane: I’m, I'm always just a fan of asking for what you want and then being, the key about asking for what you want being okay with rejection and not being weird. That’s the key to asking for what you want, is being super okay with rejection, not making it weird when they get awkward or uncomfortable. Cause they've never been asked that question before. And they might just say no, because like they're like, no, no. And then they might come back being like, actually that sounds really nice. So just, the key is in how you take their rejection or they might be like, Hey! Actually, yeah, I’m really touched starved, too. And especially now, I think because of the pandemic, it actually creates more of an entry point than potentially what you've had before, because you're like, I had no touch for two years completely and I’m starved for it. Makes it an easier entry point, I think.
Anna Borges: Yeah. And, and that's on, even on the physical side, and on the emotional side, it does involve being vulnerable and admitting like, Hey, I'm seeking something because I lack it. And I'm lonely. Or I, you know, I wonder if, because this is so normalized in your circles, if you still deal with that or if you ever did, or if it's something that's come with practice.
Zach Zane: I, I mean, I think it's scary. I think anytime being vulnerable or intimate or expressing, Hey, I, I miss being touched like, it is a challenging thing for a lot of people to admit. I mean, hopefully you're doing this with friends who you trust, who you feel. That's the point of friendship to be, you're allowed to be vulnerable. You're allowed to be intimate. You're allowed to share your darkest desires. They're here to support you. They're here to help you. So kind of let them do that. And I think it's one of those things that's actually, so everyone wins from this.
Anna Borges: Absolutely. Oh! So before we wrap, because we've had such an emphasis on like the importance of communication and I'm loving all the takeaways, I was wondering if we could walk through, which we've touched on a little bit so far, but a script for listeners to take away, like, hey, they want to make an ask for the first time of one of their friends. What exactly might they say?
Zach Zane: I think it's better to air on the side of being more blunt and direct. And I think, being blunt and direct is almost a learning curve, and then receiving someone being blunt and direct is a learning curve, but it gets easier. When you just kind of express what it is that you want very clearly where there’s no ambiguity, and that way they know what they're getting into, they are fully consenting with the knowledge of everything that you've told them and what this is gonna be. So I understand that this sounds on the side of maybe blunter than you would like, and you can always soften it yourself. But I think something along the lines of like, Hey, I have a question for you. I've just been really starved for touch right now, and really all of COVID. And so I was wondering if you'd be open to cuddling a bit. I just miss being held and holding people. And I really trust you, and would love to do this with you. And then if you want, you can literally throw out at the end, I promise no funny business.
Anna Borges: [laughs] The little kicker. Oh, I love that. That doesn't feel too blunt. That feels very vulnerable, compassionate and also complimentary. Complimentary? Complimentary.
Zach Zane: Yeah, no, I think it's that. I think you're, you're expressing your vulnerability and, and desire for intimacy in a way that … again, 99% of us crave the same thing. So this is a universal desire. If you wanted something completely out there, okay, then it's a different conversation. But I think if anyone, you know, they can easily empathize, sympathize or odds are, are craving the same thing. So you're not alone in your desires.
Anna Borges: Absolutely, ugh. And that, I think, is a beautiful note to end on. So thank you so much for this lovely conversation.
Zach Zane: Awesome, thank you so much.
Anna Borges: And where can people find you if they wanna see more of your work?
Zach Zane: So, my website’s always greatzacharyzane.com. Or Twitter and Instagram, both as zacharyzane_. So z-a-c-h-a-r-y-z-a-n-e underscore. Just know that I am extremely shadow banned on Instagram, so you have to type in my whole name and handle to be able to find me. But that is because I post hot and sexy photos along with hot and sexy content. So, so, hopefully you guys will enjoy it.
Anna Borges: See, it'll be worth the effort spelling the whole thing out.
Zach Zane: Exaaaaactly. Exactly.
So how many of you listened to Zachary’s script and can’t imagine being that vulnerable and straightforward? Because I feel you.
But the thing is, Zachary was so right when he said that this need for intimacy is universal, especially right now when so many of us are more disconnected than we’ve ever been. It might feel exposing to put yourself out there like that, but hey, when I think about getting that message from the other side of things? That kind of request is one I would be so thrilled to receive.
So maybe we can all be a little braver about initiating the intimacy we want to see in the world? Because hey, someone has to be the first one to ask.
Thanks for listening to Mood Ring, a production of APM Studios and Pizza Shark. We’re a new show, so it really helps if you rate, review and share this episode with your friends.
You can even tag me if you’re really into it. I’m @AnnaBroges on Twitter — that’s Anna B-R-O-G-E-S, because Anna Borges was taken. We wanna hear from you! You can get in touch at Moodringshow DOT ORG and click contact us, or you can follow MoodRingShow on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call and leave a message at 833-666-3746.
Mood Ring was developed by Kristina Lopez. Our executive producers are Maria Murriel, Isis Madrid and Beth Pearlman. Our story editor is Erika Janik. Mijoe Sahiouni is our digital producer. This episode was produced by Georgina Hahn. And as you know, I’m Anna Borges and I write, host and produce this show, too. APM Executives in charge are Chandra Kavati, Alex Schaffert and Joanne Griffith. And finally, our music is by Mat Rotenberg.
Thanks again for listening, and I hope to see you next episode!