Huidhonger in times of Zoom encounters

They are both professional and authentic women. Both experienced yet curious. Irina Hornstra is a sexworker and advocate for her work field and Sylvia Oude Egberink is a psychologist. A conversation about the meaning of huidhonger in their professional and private lives. We discussed the physical and the psychological, the body in the brain in conversation with each other.


Huidhonger, in English skin hunger, is the new phenomenon on the rise. It might sound a little obscure but it is an actual human need. Due to Covid-19 many of us were not able to physically touch anymore and this unveiled an underlying issue. The intens longing for touch and attention. Ironically this dialogue between two experts (quite literally) in terms of touch and attention did not take place physically, but as we are used to now, via zoom. The atmosphere was kind-harted and open-minded, Irina and Sylvia quickly started a friendly yet deep personal conversation with each other as if they had known one another for years. I asked Sylvia to introduce herself briefly to Irina, she starting by saying: “Well my name is Sylvia and I am a professional psychologist in an addiction program but the interesting thing is that I don’t necessarily help these people solve their addiction, I help them solve the underlying personal issues that caused them to get addicted. Apart from that I seem to attract men in my life, one whom I made two amazing young men with and I also just adopted a really cute puppy, who also happens to be a man.” Irina laughs and says; “Psychology always sounds like a pretty though job, right? But thank you for doing it, because it is important work.“ Sylvia replied by stressing the fact that Irina’s work is just as important. Only ten minutes on Zoom and the barrier was gone.  

Sylvia replied by stressing the fact that Irina’s work is just as important

“Alright, my name is Irina and I am single after multiple relationships and I absolutely love being single. As you can probably tell, I am a transgender woman and I did my transition about five years ago. Before my transition I was a banker on Wallstreet in New York, but after 17 years in the United States I came back to the Netherlands completely bankrupt. I moved in with my parents and took fulltime care of them for 7 years. My father and I were in a massive conflict because of things that he had done in the past so when I moved in with my parents I walked straight into my childhood traumas. It went in different facets but throughout the years I learned to cope with these traumas. When my father passed, it only took me a year to transition and this was the most natural experience for me”. Sylvia looks at Irina in awe, and says “thank you so much for sharing this with us!”.


We discuss whether they have experienced huidhonger, either professionally and personally to which Irina answers: “Definitely, especially during the corona. I am a real hugger and that is obviously something you really miss. And my guests have an overwhelming need for touch, they kept asking me when are you open again, when can I come by, are you working safely? As soon as I started working again, I had many guests come by. Officially we were aloud to start working in July but I started in May already”. Sylvia responded: “Wow, so the need for affection was so intens, you took the corona for granted?”. Irina quickly responded: “Yes, and especially for my guests”. I asked Sylvia how she experienced this and she said: “For the first time I noticed how natural it is to touch each other, and how unnatural it is to not do so. We talk in groups and in there is a lot of crying, comforting but also cheering when someone has been sober for three days for example. So it is really strange to comfort someone without being able to give them a shoulder to cry on”. Sylvia explained more about the psychological effects of not touching and she explained: “Well, there actually is a research with little orphan monkeys. The researchers made a surrogate mother with soft fur and body temperature. If the monkeys wanted to cuddle they could cuddle this ‘fake mother’. But as these monkeys grew older, they did not survive or turn out to be absolute psychopath monkeys. They lived only for themselves and that is what became an attachment theory. There are different ways children respond to these attachment issues, some children will break social boundaries and just sit on anyone’s lap thus attaching to anyone, other children are unclear in what they want, they will ask you; come hug me and when you are trying to, push you away. And we also see children who don’t want to attach at all, they don’t trust anyone, which is really sad because these are the people that will eventually need longterm psychological help because most of them will develop personality disorders.” Irina listens carefully and asks: “Is is also true that these monkeys were later not able to fullfil a mother role?”. “Yes, that is true. These monkeys are not capable of empathy and cannot live in groups. It is also about giving the genes to new generations”.

The intimacy of exploring
Sylvia asks Irina how she experiences this with her guests, do her guests have more need for affection instead of actual intimacy? She answers: “definitely, for some guests the only thing they want is affection, I have one guest who drives 2,5 hours to see me, just so he can stroke my lower leg. And  generally after the sex, they just want to have a chat, be heard and feel seen. You know I experience the craziest things in my work, people are discovering their sexuality and that is so intimate, you can’t just say; okay your time is up, you can leave now”.

People are discovering their sexuality and that is so intimate, you can’t just say; okay your time is up, you can leave now”

Sylvia wonders how Irina does that, because as a psychologist she faces the same issue of not wanting to throw someone out in the middle of an important conversation, just because time is up. For a while the women speak of the issues they both face, how to keep track of time and how to do your work safely. Here I came to the funny observation that both of these women struggle with the same issues within their work field. Essentially they both provide a service. The conversation shifts to the lack of respect for sexworkers, Sylvia adds: “well when someone calls you out for a whore, it’s not particularly nice” to which Irina answers: “I don’t mind being called a whore” and Sylvia quickly responds: “I understand, if someone calls me out; hey you psychologist, I also think yeah that’s correct!”. We all laugh.

“For most people it is so important to have physical touch, a sexworker can give you that. And the best part is, she will never leave you.” Irina points out. She continues by saying: “Sylvia, you and I are both helping people explore themselves, evolve themselves. For you it is a verbal process. I also help people experimenting but I just really have to be there, they can’t do that without me. So for me it will be impossible to do my work without physical touch, I can do Zoom shows but I can’t help explore someones sexuality online”.

Can robots solve our huidhonger?

We discuss how they feel this will evolve in the future and Irina explains her findings: “I am not worried that robots or sexdolls will replace us sexworkers because people want genuine touch by real people, but I can imagine that one will be able to have sex on distance by VR experiences or suits with sensors etcetera. However, this will still not solve the issue of huidhonger. And there will be one other problem left, you need a safe place to do these things. No one will say to their partner: “Honey, the coffee was good but I am going upstairs now to have sex with my virtual reality suit”. Sexworkers provide a safe place for people to explore, somewhere where there is no shame and where I can give you my undivided attention. A lot of my guests will leave and as soon as they close the door, they don’t have to think about it anymore, it never happened and that makes them feel good”.

No one will say to their partner: “honey, the coffee was good but I am going upstairs now to have sex with my virtual reality suit”

As we approach the end of the interview, Irina and Sylvia thank each other. Two hours ago, they were complete strangers and Irina points out: “You know, this conversation was really special. We got so deep and personal so quick and I feel like I really got to know you and how you look at the world.” To which Sylvia ironically replies: “Yeah and that through Zoom!”


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