Cuddle Party, What is all About?
The post below is dated 2004, when the Cuddle Party just started their history. It is just 12 years later, and they become very popular among hungry for safe touch and energy exchange not only among New Age people and tired Hi-Tech professionals, but also in other societal and cultural groups. Fast uptrend is logically justifiable, and multiple researches already presenting the scientific health benefits you are getting there.
Seeking out human touch has never been so anonymous, intimate or easy as in a new phenomenon called a cuddle party. Cuddle parties are the newest trend sweeping the country. Both young and old people are taking part. At a cuddle party, complete strangers nuzzle, massage, hug and sometimes even kiss.
"They are often experiencing a loss. Maybe they have just broken up with a boyfriend. Maybe they've just lost a wife. They really need the energy that comes from close physical contact and don't have another vehicle in which to get it," said Dr. Susan Kellogg, of the Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute.
Cuddle parties are private, personal and growing in popularity.
"It was unique. Nobody does this kind of thing. It was something missing. Something I don't get a chance to do very often -- get to cuddle with friends," said Mike Lehy, a cuddle party participant.
In the party, there is closeness between participants -- the kind you may only be used to getting from close friends and loved ones. But if you're looking for more than hugs, the creators say you've come to the wrong place.
"The first rule of cuddling is pajamas stay on the whole time. This is a nonsexual event and one of the ways we ensure that is nobody gets naked," said Reid Mihalko, a cuddle party creator.
For $20 to $30, you can attend a three-hour snuggle-fest to get your fill of intimacy. There are cuddle lifeguards to enforce strict 12 rules among pajama-clad strangers. For instance, cuddlers must ask before touching.
"It's safe, depending on the responsibility of the cuddle guard -- you can never say never. It appears to be safe. It is not a party driven for sexual activity," said Dr. Kristene Whitmore, of the Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute.
Some people are a bit touchy about this touchy-feely take on intimacy with strangers.
"A lot of people are very suspect of this new phenomenon, this cuddle party. They think it's just a fancy name for orgy, for really inappropriate sexual behavior. In fact, cuddle parties are for cuddling only," Kellogg said.
So, if you're in the mood to be touched by a stranger, and you like the idea of getting cozy in pairs, or in piles, cuddle parties may be just what you're looking for.
Why it is Popular?
Cuddle parties and professional cuddlers seem to have come at a good time in America. The data suggests we feel lonelier than ever. According to a study published in June 2006 in American Sociological Review, a quarter of Americans in 2004 had no one to discuss important matters with. That is more than double what that statistic was in 1985.
The numbers from that report were widely debated but studies that are more recent also show an increase in isolation. Pew Internet reported in November 2009 that Americans’ discussion networks have decreased by a third since 1985. Barna Group found that nearly twice as many Americans self-identified as lonely in 2013 (20 percent) as they did a decade prior (12 percent).
Loneliness appears to fluctuate with age. An October 2008 study published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health found that 60.2 percent of college students experienced loneliness. A study published in AARP in September 2010 categorized 35 percent of adults aged 45 and older as lonely. Of those aged 45 to 49, 43 percent were lonely, and of people 70 and older, 25 percent were lonely.
But what cuddling is good for? Can you stop being lonely just because you get a chance to touch another human being and get touched as well for several hours? Well, yes and no. On the level of physiology, cuddling releases endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin (“the cuddle hormone,” as some call it). All sorts of research have shown that cuddling, and oxytocin, can achieve incredible effects. It can bond mothers with their babies and make breastfeeding simpler; reduce stress and blood pressure; help enable sleep; improve communication among couples; increase happiness and well-being; increase trust and attachment; and much more. The release of oxytocin can have some negative effects, like increasing envy and gloating, but that will not necessarily happen during cuddling.
Dr. Paul Zak, a scientist and economist who has done numerous experiments with oxytocin and author of the book The Moral Molecule, said that the amount of oxytocin you release depends on how attached you are to the person you are cuddling with or touching.
“Based on my massage studies, a massage from a stranger increased oxytocin an average of 17 percent,” Zak said. “That's about the range for most oxytocin increases for all types of stranger interactions and likely applies to cuddling. Cuddling with a family member could increase oxytocin 50 to 100 percent. If you’re attracted to the stranger, though, an oxytocin increase of 100 percent or more would not be unlikely.”
Cuddling with a stranger or acquaintance, then, at a cuddle party or private session, may not be as beneficial as cuddling with a parent or significant other. But it releases oxytocin nonetheless and is an alternative for those embarrassed to admit to a loved one their need for cuddling. Sadly, that might be true for many people.
Touch As a Human Need
Touch is one of the first senses to develop inside the womb. A young baby is unable to see clearly or differentiate between sounds and will interact with the world through touch. We work out how safe and valued we are in the world by what we experience through our skins. Touching is an innate need. If you look at little kids, they are natural huggers. Experiments have shown that if infants are given insufficient touch, they will not do well – the condition is called “failure to thrive”. Research has shown that touch reduces stress in babies, helps them to gain weight, cry less and sleep better. Studies have shown that babies and children who receive healthy touch grow up to be well adjusted and capable, whereas those who are touch deprived are more likely to become sociopathic in adulthood. According to anthropologist Anthony Montagu “touch is a basic behavioral need and the absence of it causes abnormal behavior and physical development.”
Much of Western Culture is “touch negative” and we are socialized out of this very normal drive to touch and be touched in a safe, welcomed way. What develops next is “skin hunger”. According to Cherie Sohnen-Moe, author of The Ethics of Touch: “We misinterpret the need for touch as sexual desire, physical hunger or depression. We may seek out sexual relationships less out of love than out of a need for contact. Or, in the absence of someone to hug our outer skin, we hug our inner skin by over-eating.”
Interestingly, many people who have been long-term Cuddle Party attendees in the US have reported significant weight loss.
“Touch psychologically grounds us as human beings,” said Reid. “We are social animals and touch is a large part of that. There are huge psychological benefits to receiving peer to peer consensual touch – benefits which a cat or dog can’t give you.”
Benefits of attending a Cuddle Party
Socially, it is a brilliant and innovative way to connect with new people in a fun and relaxed environment. Pajamas are a great leveler!
Emotionally, we are meant, as humans, to be touched and feel a sense of belonging – so it is no surprise that participants emerge from the party with feelings of bliss, wellbeing and connectedness.
Physically: When our brain registers that we are receiving touch that is pleasurable/ relaxing/ welcomed/ safe and soothing, the parasympathetic nervous system (nicknamed the rest and digest system) kicks in. This:
v Reduces high blood pressure
v Boosts our digestive function
v Slows down breathing
v Promotes feeling of relaxation
Cuddling leads to the production of the hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin, which benefits us in the following ways:
v Creates feelings of calm and connection
v Reduces cravings
v Lowers levels of cortisol (the hormone linked to stress)
v Acts as an anti-depressant and lowers anxiety
v Lowers the risk of heart disease and lowers blood pressure
v Promotes wellbeing, social interaction and healing.
v Improved communication skills. Cuddle Party is also a communication workshop where guests practice setting boundaries around touch, communicating their touch needs and saying “no” powerfully. These are all empowering skills to put to use outside of the Cuddle Party environment.
Cuddle Party Rules
In most cases, you will be explained the rules of the Cuddle party at the very beginning for about 45 minutes, so there is no points to go in details in this post. However, I would like just to list them here to let you feel where you are getting to, and what the natural limitations of this event are.
1. Pajamas stay on the whole time.
2. You do not have to cuddle anyone at a Cuddle Party, ever.
3. You must ask permission and receive a verbal YES before you touch anyone. (Be as specific in your request as you can.)
4. If you are a yes, say YES. If you are a no, say NO.
5. If you are a maybe, say NO.
6. You are encouraged to change your mind.
7. Respect your relationship agreements and communicate with your partner.
8. Get your Cuddle Party Facilitator or the Cuddle Assistant if you have a question or concern or need assistance with anything during the Cuddle Party.
9. Tears and laughter are both welcome.
10. Respect people’s privacy when sharing about Cuddle Parties.
11. Keep the Cuddle space tidy
I Went to a Cuddle Party and Nobody Wanted to Cuddle With Me
Ever since I started my new blog (http://mindfulwatch.blogspot.com/) on the holistic and entertaining events in Bay Area, cuddle parties and somehow related sexuality and tantra workshops, solidly captured its share in the monthly calendars. Well, that is one difference between party and workshop, and the difference is event structure. Workshops are usually structured events with prepared exercises and activities, when facilitators do their best to involve all participants in the related activities, encouraging switching partners, changing roles, and helping all to get actively participating in the course. Definitely, no one force you to take part, if you fill uncomfortable, but, if you are shy in the unfamiliar settings and environment, you get all opportunity to get what you came for. As for the party, it is quite different, as most of the event constitute a free form cuddling, massaging, kissing, and touching activities, all in structured consensual form. Here, if you are passive, you may not get your share of the anticipated benefits, feeling left alone, abandoned, and worthless. Please read below the blog post on the experience of one of the new participants at the Cuddle Party, and think how relevant this can be for you. I think, there will be people who can easily affiliate with this. I got private message at Facebook from one of my virtual friends, describing almost identical situation, and asking on what to do better, what to do differently, and how to deal with that. But first, let’s read the post...
I’ve never been to an orgy, but I have to believe it’s less awkward than a cuddle party. With orgies, you know what you’re getting into.
A “cuddle party,” however, is a strange, mysterious beast of its own. You’re not there to get laid. You’re there to cuddle — to receive the glorious high of oxytocins from a complete group of strangers. There’s nothing sexual about it, which in some ways makes it even weirder than just going up to someone and saying, “Hey, wanna screw?”
Cuddle parties are taking over the world. They’re being held everywhere from Utah to Canada to Australia. Along the same lines, “cuddle shops” are opening up in places like North Carolina, Maryland and Oregon where you can pay to spoon with strangers. In today’s touch-depraved society, people are willing to pay money for this kind of thing.
Fascinated by this so-called “cuddle craze,” I attended my first cuddle party in the basement of a New York City yoga studio. I was nervous, but luckily I was in the hands of a professional — my cuddle party facilitator, Monique Darling, told me it was the 378th one she’s facilitated. Don’t worry, she assured me. Everyone keeps their clothes on the entire time. Cuddle parties are not orgies. “I do run those also, separately,” she said with a smile.
The party was attended by about 30 people: men and women, young and old and of different shapes and sizes. We were all wearing pajamas, making it the most surreal slumber party I’d ever been to.
Before the party began, I tried to ease the tension by having a friendly conversation with the man standing next to me. Let’s call him Tom. “So what brings you to a cuddle party?” I asked.
“Well, you know, stress,” Tom responded with a sigh.
“Totally,” I said.
I could tell that Tom and I were really hitting it off. I made a mental note to ask him for a cuddle later in the evening.
Moments later, Monique went over the cuddle party rules with us. It was very Fight Club, now that I think about it: You have to give permission before you can let someone cuddle with you, and nobody can randomly start squeezing you like a victimized teddy bear. Unfortunately for me, there was no rule about cuddling the first-timers.
But it was still too early to be disappointed. At this point in the party, my ego was still firmly intact. I’m only five-foot-three, tiny and adorable, I thought, the most popular kid at the cuddle party. Everybody would be lining up, begging me for cuddles. That’s not quite how it went.
After a few icebreaker activities, Monique turned on some New Age music and the party began. I looked around the room: People who had only just met were now tenderly embracing each other’s bodies. Some were giving each other massages. Nearly everybody had found a partner within moments.
Me, I sat in the corner with a goofy grin on my face. Nobody was asking to cuddle with me. Damn it, I thought. Do they not see me sitting right here?
Quickly, I turned to another man who wasn’t cuddling with anyone. I’ll call him Larry. I didn’t want to touch Larry, and I didn’t want him to touch me. But, at least, I wanted someone to chat with. “So... Did you see the Mad Men series finale?” I asked.
After a few minutes of terribly awkward small talk (yes, he’d seen Mad Men; no, he didn’t want to discuss it), Larry abruptly said, “I’m going to go somewhere else now.” He went to the other side of the room and found a girl to rub his back.
Things were not going well for me. I felt like I was back in high school, when nobody would sit with me at lunch. Luckily, I saw that my old pal Tom wasn’t cuddling with anyone at the moment. Thank god for Tom, a friend I could rely on! If no one else, Tom would cuddle with me. I walked over to this grown, adult man, and asked, “Can we cuddle together?”
With apologetic eyes, Tom looked at me and said, “No.”
My heart broke. “That’s fine,” I said. “That’s totally fine.” I felt an ugly mix of rejection and embarrassment. If I didn’t have Tom, I had no one.
I wish I could say the evening ended up taking a turn for the better. It didn’t. Three hours went by without a single person asking me to cuddle. What I did get out of the party, though, were some pretty great massages — I asked one or two people to rub my back, and they were happy to oblige. (Though they might’ve been doing it out of pity.) I spent most of the night staring into space.
When the party ended, my fellow cuddle club members were crying and hugging. A euphoric state of bliss had entered the room, and everybody felt it but me. They were exchanging phone numbers and Facebook information; they wanted to cuddle again.
“I came out feeling very at peace and comfortable and relaxed in my body,” one attendee told me. “My body feels at peace. Not just my mind, but my body.”
Why did everyone have a great time at the cuddle party but me? Maybe I should’ve gotten drunk beforehand. Maybe I’m not as adorable as I think I am. Maybe, as a reporter — a tourist in this world — I was giving off the wrong energy.
My bad night not withstanding, I do believe there’s something beautiful about cuddle parties. Monique told me she’s facilitated parties where people have met and later gotten married. She’s even writing a book about how cuddle parties have changed her life, out this fall.
The cuddle party culture is big, and it’s only getting bigger. It’s possible I’m just not the cuddle party type. Maybe it’s time to give orgies a chance.
— Jeremy Grossman
So, if you were ever in the situation Jeremy was, or you are afraid you may get in the similar situation, just note that many-many people have similar concerns.
Basically, it is all about fear of Rejection. That is Rejection with a capital "R", the kind of rejection that deeply scarred us sometime around 7-th grade when we had to walk all the way back across the gym after everyone heard us get a “No” to "Would you like to dance?" That rejection was proof positive that we were unliked and unwanted, and a loser. And it still means that today, right?
Well, actually, rejection is not proof of anything other than someone saying no. It could mean a million different things than what you are spinning in your 7-th grader mind right now. And, a no today doesn't necessarily mean a no next week or even an hour from now (and a yes today doesn't mean an automatic yes next week either for that matter).
Cuddle Parties have a significant workshop element, and they are designed to be a safe space to explore communication and experiment with making requests and extending invitations. As such, a lot of thought has been put into the element of rejection that can come with negative responses, and the Welcome Circle is structured to make Cuddle Parties a safe place to also experience and explore
"A safe space to experience and explore rejection?" Are you thinking that sounds like crazy talk?
Well, it is to most of us. Most people have absolutely no coordination with handling rejection in an adult way, and by adult I mean any better way of handling rejection than just thinking, "My life is over if they say No, so I'm not even going to ask!" We are all stuck in our awkward 7-th grader phase when it comes to anyone saying No to us. That is the bad news. The good news is that we do not have to remain tripping over ourselves, voices cracking when it comes to worrying about rejection.
A Cuddle Party becomes a safe space to explore and push through the worries concerning "What if no one wants to cuddle me?" when we realize the rest of the room shares the exact same insecurity. Go ahead, ask them - Yes, even the pretty people. Nearly all of us have the worry that no one will pick us. That is all of us, even if it is just for a fleeting second. Insecurity is completely normal. The only difference between anyone at a Cuddle Party is that with some of us, that fleeting second of a thought draaaaaags on for hours. At least seems like it does. With a little courage, some practice and a smidgen of safe space you will be amazed how quickly you can leave such insecurities behind and jump across that chasm of fear to see what it is like on the other side where the next concern becomes "What if someone WANTS to cuddle me?"
So, what you actually do if you got NO once, or even twice? Do not take it personally, and try to engage with other people, do not make NO a personal rejection obstacle which will spoil you mood and diminish your willingness to let your guards off and let yourself having some fun.
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