Saturday, August 20, 2005

Cuddle parties

What's a cuddle party, you ask? Let's start with the fact that it's strictly non-sexual. The Globe and Mail recently assigned a crack investigative journalist to infiltrate one such party:

Loving Spoonfuls

August 6, 2005
by Mike Miner

Cuddle parties are exactly what they sound like. Men and women just like you or me, heading out for an evening of pyjama-clad embraces with whoever needs a hug.

The result looks like a rewriting of a Roman orgy for the purpose of teaching boundaries and manners to preschoolers. It's adults lounging across pillows and each other, but it's all please and thank you.

And it's raising equal parts contempt and fascination from L.A. to the U.K. In The Times of London, columnist Julie Burchill called it "a hideous American invention," saying the "set-up allows affluent Americans to pay $30 each to some sort of prissy procurer in order to use their apartment for a three-hour, strictly non-sexual grope-fest.

Oops, let's pause for a moment. Note the price tag: $30/hour. And note that most of these people are strangers to one another:  they pay a "procurer" to assemble the requisite number of people. I imagine most of them arrive with a friend, but everyone else in the room will be a first-time acquaintance.

[Source for the photo, where you can read another report of the phenomenon.]

The rules are laid out at length at the beginning of each three-hour snuggle session. You must ask and receive permission before even the slightest contact. From there, it moves into more complex issues like hygiene (a must) and dry humping (verboten). Giggling and crying are encouraged, and consensual smooching is fine.

"The rules are worth going over because they work," says Cecilia Moorcroft, a Toronto-based cuddle party facilitator. "Everybody knows what goes and what doesn't. And this creates the safe environment we want."

There's no hard and fast rule about erections. According to cuddle party philosophy, erections just happen and aren't unusual in a cuddling situation. Just ignore it, no dry humping, and it will go away eventually. This was gone over at length at the party Moorcroft held last week, which was a special treat for me, the only man in the room.

What's that? The Globe and Mail reporter was the only man in the room?! I wonder whether this is typical. Does the cuddle-party concept appeal primarily to women? (The article doesn't say.)

Doesn't that make it soft-core homoeroticism? Not that I care one way or the other; it's just that I assume the majority of these women are heterosexual outside of the cuddle party context.

So maybe the participants aren't after a sexual experience, merely a sensual one. The coordinator of the Toronto party places the emphasis on affection:

Moorcroft attended her first cuddle party in New York, after seeing an item on TV. "It spoke to what I'd already been feeling, which was a lack of affection."

She was initially "terrified," she says. "Most of my concerns are fairly typical cuddle party worries. What if nobody wants to cuddle with me? What if only ugly people show up?"

But the experience met her expectations. "When I first lay down to cuddle with somebody, my body let out this sigh. I left feeling totally blissed out. I've never been that high."

She signed up for a training course in Los Angeles, went back for more in Alabama, and returned to Canada a certified cuddle party facilitator.

The phrase "certified cuddle party facilitator" sounds silly, but I imagine the training is a good idea. It must require some skill to manage the group dynamics, especially if some of the participants start to get carried away.

Some parties throw stuffed toys or musical instruments into the mix. But at last week's party, it was mostly small talk and spooning. Everyone had a chance to set their boundaries. One woman didn't want to be touched on her ears and feet, because that was strictly the domain of her significant other. Others patrolled the perimeter and dove in only occasionally. …

The evening wrapped up with a puppy pile, where all the attendees stack on top of one another. My friend and I made our exit before that could happen, but the others were beaming and clearly in their element.

I suppose this is just another fad that will quickly run its course. But I wonder whether it responds to a legitimate need in our society.

In the West, where individual autonomy is a core value, we're more isolated than human beings have ever been in history. And I think our isolation is exacerbated by technology. We bloggers appreciate the interaction we have with one another, but of course it's a poor substitute for face to face — or body to body — contact.

When Ms. Moorcroft speaks of a lack of affection, that's what I hear. I have also heard the phrase, "skin hunger", in reference to someone who had gone too long without being touched.

(Guess what sex the person was. A guy wouldn't have said, "skin hunger", he would have just said "horny". But I think guys experience skin hunger too, even if they fail to distinguish it from the other.)

What do you think? Is there any merit in the cuddle party concept? If "it's raising equal parts contempt and fascination", which camp are you in?


At 12:06 PM, August 20, 2005, Blogger 49erDweet said...

We have managed to mess up the ancient "rules" of society so badly over the past three or four decades, that lonely people will go to extreme lengths to facilitate the 'connections' their ego's require to maintain any sense of personal worth.

And I don't see it improving soon, either. Sad.

At 1:20 PM, August 20, 2005, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

And I thought that I had an orignal idea.

At 3:37 PM, August 20, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

While I certainly feel badly for those folk who lack a significant other or accessible (or amenable) family to give them their daily dose of comforting contact, this concept just makes me sad.

I totally understand the concept of "skin hunger", but how depressing to think that people would have to pay strangers to provide it. Hmmm. Now that I think on it, if it's just contact they crave, then a massage should do the trick, but it seems that there's more required: the awareness that the other also shares the need. An emotional connection, and meeting of needs.

How sad that their options are so limited - limited by what? society? shyness? something else? - that they must pay for the "privilege" of a normal human interaction.

At 12:12 PM, August 21, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I had read about cuddle parties in the NYTimes about a year ago and I thought it was a silly idea. I still do.

At 12:39 PM, August 21, 2005, Blogger SimonGodOfHairdos said...

I've read about those, and while I don't personally understand the appeal, maybe somewhere a cuddle party is preventing some loner from snapping and shooting up his office building.

At 3:13 PM, August 21, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

That's an interesting point, Simon. Sometimes a little human contact is all that keeps us sane.

Mary P. and I have had an interesting discussion about this off line. At first she described it as "the prostitution of affection", but she had backed off that strong language by the time she posted her comment.

But I think it was an interesting perspective. "Prostitution" because it involves a financial transaction and you're getting the affection you crave from a stranger. But not prostitution insofar as it's a reciprocal experience; whereas prostitution is a one-way transaction.

Accordingly, you aren't paying the person you're snuggling with; they have paid for the experience, just as you have.

At 4:48 PM, August 21, 2005, Blogger Rabbit said...

I guess on some level it is sad that people pay to be snuggled by a stranger, but sometimes you just need a hug. If people are willing to fork over their hard-earned cash so they can cuddle with others without worrying about sex being a necessity of affection, why not?

At 5:33 PM, August 21, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Thanks for joining the dialogue, Rabbit. Nice photo, btw; clever way to publish the name of your blog.

I agree that there's nothing immoral about paying for a cuddle. The commenters who've described cuddle parties as "sad" meant only this: it's sad people can't get a cuddle from a significant other, instead of paying strangers to provide one.

At 5:50 PM, August 22, 2005, Blogger 49erDweet said...

After commenting earlier, I continued to ponder this interesting situation - where so many are so desperate for "cuddle" or "skin" time - the personal contact experience. From that mighty pondering effort sprang two puny additional threads of thought.

The first thought concerns "failure to thrive" syndrome. I didn't google it because I have first hand experience in my household with our foster son (of over 25 years). As explained to me at the time, during the initial few weeks of a newborn's development the baby must have occasional physical contact, petting, nurturing, whatever, in order for a "connection" to be made between two segments of the newly developing brain. When the contact is withheld, the connection cannot be made. The result is usually a form of cerebral palsy, with widely varied manifestations – most pretty devastating and life-altering. Can these “Cuddle Party” participants be instinctively protecting their human personas by using this method to maintain a healthy ‘ego’?

The second thought was actually a “blinding light” realization. There is a way for any thoughtful person to maintain a steady supply of “hugs” and “skin time”. Volunteer some spare time at any hospital or retirement home. There are thousands!. One can hardly get through the door as a volunteer without being thanked by means of hugs and hugs and hugs. More hugs than one may wish, at times.
Or volunteer at a repeated community special event. During the past five days, at an event with which I am involved, I have been hugged by non-family members at least 200 times. Maybe even more. I am not yet “hugged out”, but my hug tank is sufficiently full.


At 9:28 PM, August 22, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I wouldn't call those thoughts puny, 49er. I'd be interested to know more about your experience with your foster child — have you posted on it?

And I think your alternatives to cuddle parties are a brilliant suggestion. Do some good and receive a hug in exchange!

So much of our isolation just comes down to "not enough time". Investing a little time may not gain you a spouse — that's a bit of a lottery — but it will almost certainly gain you a little affection.

At 2:03 PM, August 23, 2005, Blogger Carolyn said...

Seems kind of creepy to me. When I cuddle, I'm cuddling mostly because of the connection I have with the other person (I'm not very touchy-feely in most situations). The idea of being in a big pile of people, and touching, makes me feel really anxious.

At 4:39 PM, August 23, 2005, Blogger 49erDweet said...

No, hadn't even thought of it. It is just a part of life. I can tell you that all the hubbub about Ritlin misses some of the mark. If it hadn't been for adequate supplies of it, he wouldn't have made it out of childhood. It woke up his brain so he could control himself, and learn, and learn and live. He needed it till he was 16 or so. And he turned out to be 6-2, so it sure didn't stunt his growth. But I'm sure others have abused it. Just that is does have a valid use.

Gotta go. Party awaits. Cheers

(btw, my last verification word was "sexty". come on, now).

At 7:40 PM, August 23, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Mary P. got "sxexlg" and you got "sexty"? I'm sure the words are generated randomly, but I won't be leaving the two of you alone together.

And I got "fmpfcha". Why do I suddenly feel inadequate?


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