To Reduce Worry, Become a Professional Cuddler (Part 1)
"Fei Wyatt is a professional cuddler in Venice, California. Every Wednesday and Saturday she hosts Cuddling Parties, G-rated events where strangers pay about $80 dollars to spoon each other, or to touch and be touched (except for the bikini area) on the floor of a room called The Love Dome, which looks like an art gallery with cushion mats and pillows all over.[i]
Since the early 2000’s, professional cuddling and touch therapy have evolved from stigmatized fields with pay-for-sex undertones to legitimate tools for healing with proven health benefits.
Here’s the experience of Jean Franzblau, a traveling business woman who later became one of the founders of Cuddle Sanctuary:
I found myself isolated and lonely. I basically hijacked this guy's evening and I pushed for a sexual experience because I really wanted to spoon. I invested four hours in dinner, hanging out and the bottom of it was “Let's spoon” and he's like, “I won't do that.” It was humiliating, actually.[ii]
People attend cuddling events because they seek human connection.
Some just feel lonely, others are healing from sexual trauma, and yet others are older virgins wanting to practice touch in a safe environment where you can say “no” anytime and your wishes will be respected.
Touching is optional, and so is speaking. But my guess is that most people who attend these events crave the touching part.
According to psychologist Matthew Hertenstein, PhD, director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw University touch deprivation is a real thing. Hertenstein says that,
Most of us, whatever our relationship status, need more human contact than we’re getting. Compared with other cultures, we live in a touch-phobic society that’s made affection with anyone but loved ones taboo.[iii]
I can personally attest to that, because I come from a Latin American culture where we greet strangers with a kiss, we don’t ask for permission to lift and hug other people’s little children, or kiss their dogs, or pet our friends’s husbands.
My friends back home kiss and hug everyone in their household good morning, kiss them all again when they get back home from work or school, and kiss and hug everyone goodnight. So if you’re married with two children, you get at least 12 kisses a day (your mom obviously lives with you). Every day, no matter what.
I have to admit that my relatives down there think I’m a lazy bum that sleeps all day, because now that I’m Americanized and I visit them, I find the kissing and hugging overwhelming to the point that I hide in my room and pretend to be sleeping until everyone’s gone, and before everyone is ready to bed, because sometimes they just hug me all at the same time (or at all times) and I just want to pull my own hair because I miss my beloved American space bubble of about two to four feet. (Good thing this book won’t be published there.)
To me, Hispanic touch is too much, but American touch is too little. One summer, not long after we immigrated to the United States, my five year old daughter and her first grade classmates were going to be taken to a water park. I packed her lunch, clothes, towel, and a bottle of sunblock, and instructed her to make sure her teacher rubbed some all over her periodically. “No mom,” my little one explained, “teachers are not allowed to do that.” I don’t know how she knew that, but I remember being outraged that nobody would take care of my kid’s skin. Who would protect the parts of her back she couldn’t reach?
I get it now, but I think the reasons why we’ve come to this are unfortunate.
Anyway, people not only need emotional connection and support─we also need to feel we belong. In a previous section, I discussed the tend-and-befriend female reaction to stress. Well, the full story is that as a stress coping strategy tend-and-befriend is effective not only for women, but for men as well: lab studies have shown that
The need to form groups (“affiliate”) for mutual protection in threatening circumstances is as hardwired in humans as our need to calm our hunger or thirst. [iv]
That might explain, at least in part, why the popularity of professional cuddling services spiked right after the past presidential election, when so many people suffered intense anxiety and fear for their future, and the Facebook® wars had people passionately defending their views and unfriending those who didn’t share them. The political climate and divisiveness in our country became extremely stressful. Adam Lippin, CEO of Cuddlist, explained that the demand for its services increased before the holidays after the election because people were anxious about meeting with family members with different political affiliations.
So if you’ve been experiencing negative emotions, consider becoming a professional cuddler. (Or hiring one.)"
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This is an excerpt from my book Unshaken: Scientifically Proven Ways to Control Your Emotions Before, During, and After Difficult Conversations.
(It will be in stores on January 19, 2019, but you can pre-order it on Amazon at a discounted introductory price starting on December 9, 2018).
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[i] Volpe, Allie (2017). Why Professional Cuddling Is Booming Under Trump. Rolling Stone.
[iii] Spechler, Diana (2017). The Power Of Touch: How Physical Contact Can Improve Your Health. OWN, The Oprah Magazine.
[iv] Taylor, Shelley E. (2006). Tend and befriend: bio-behavioral bases of affiliation under stress. Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 15, No. 6, pp. 273-277.