Just like everyone else in the world, Kingyo, a college student in Texas, has been washing his hands a lot these days. He, though, does it a lot differently than everyone else, purposefully running the ends of his sleeves under the water while doing so. “I love the feeling of wet sleeves around my wrist; it’s the absolute best feeling,” he confides. “Texas can be so hot, and the heat makes my body feel fuzzy and uncomfortable. But cold water is just so biting and sharp. It’s refreshing and keeps my hands cold.”
It’s been this way ever since one fateful day in high school when he was running late to school. “I was in a big hurry,” he recalls. “So when I used the bathroom and washed my hands, I didn’t pull my sleeves up since I thought it would be a waste of time. My sleeves got soaking wet, but as I drove to school, I realized it just felt so nice on my hands, like everything felt so cooling and relaxing.”
Ever since, Kingyo soaks his sleeves with every hand-washing. He’ll even sometimes indulge while washing the dishes, though usually he’ll avoid dish water because “that water is dirty and that’s gross.” (Also gross — when his sleeves end up soaked. “I run them under and then squeeze them so the excess water drips out,” he explains.)
Andrew, a pseudonymous 23-year-old in the Czech Republic, says he’s been a wet-sleeved bandit for more than a decade. “It was the first time I was washing the dishes all by myself,” he says. “A bit of water splashed right onto my sleeves, and at first, I didn’t really like it. The shirt felt all sticky and weird, but as time passed, I started to enjoy the way the shirt stuck to my arms ever so slightly.”
Next, Andrew dunked his arms into the dish water completely, after which a total sense of relief rushed over him. “I didn’t have to worry about getting my shirt wet, because it was already soaked,” he says. “So I was free to continue without anxiety.”
Like Kingyo, Andrew has continued getting his sleeves wet every chance he gets. “From washing my hands, to cleaning the shower, to watering the garden,” he explains. “I like the dampness on my skin, and I really enjoy the clothing sticking to me.”
Not surprisingly, dermatologist Fayne Frey says she doesn’t know of any studies regarding why people love or hate the feeling of wet sleeves. As for her own diagnosis, “I’m unaware of skin on the wrist being more sensitive to temperature or moisture than other body parts,” she tells me. “My concern would be that the moisture in the sleeves, like on any moist surface, might act as a reservoir for bacteria that could be transferred back to the hands by direct contact. Although I have no proven studies showing this to be so, it would still be a concern of mine.”
Frey also points me to a scientific review of literature in the New Statesman, which states that humans, unlike other species, “don’t have wetness sensors on their skin, so understanding how we differentiate the sense of wetness from other sensations is a puzzle.”
Essentially, we don’t actually perceive wetness, we simply infer whether something is wet or not by gauging various temperature and pressure sensors. “Researchers have shown that if you reduce the skin’s temperature using a dry cooling method, people feel as though their skin is wet,” the New Statesman reports. “If you put something wet in contact with the skin, but at a temperature warmer than it, people don’t perceive it as wet.”
Beyond a few mildewy shirts, you might think Andrew and Kingyo’s love for cold, moist fabric pressing against their wrists all day is harmless enough. But in line with the outpouring of visceral hate whenever one of their brethren bubbles up on Reddit, both Andrew and Kingyo say they’ve been driven to hide their wet sleeves from their family and friends.
Andrew, in particular, learned this the hard way at summer camp when he and some other kids were washing some tents. “Someone mentioned my wet sleeves, and I couldn’t think of anything else but the truth,” he tells me. “For the rest of the week, I was made fun of and deemed the weird kid until the fascination passed.”
Years later, Andrew continues, “my father mentioned that I always have wet sleeves, and accused me of being very clumsy.” But when Andrew told him the truth, his dad wouldn’t hear of it. “He just refused to acknowledge it,” Andrew says.
Kingyo, too, says he’s forced to keep his sleeves dry when he’s out with his friends, lest he be made fun of. Even at home, he says, “my mother will give me weird looks.”
Not that it will stop him. “I just love the feeling of wet sleeves,” he says, unwaveringly. “So I don’t see myself washing my hands and ending up with dry sleeves anytime soon.”