The blistering cold wind hits your hands like daggers; you forgot your gloves, and are left without cover. Your partner reaches out to grab your hand, noticing how cold you must be. You see how your hands fit perfectly together. Later, the cold has you two cuddling together in the embrace of a blanket. You lay there, their back forming perfectly to your front, fitting together comfortably, and all you feel is pure bliss.
Various emotions can be painted on a canvas through the type of touch that sends shockwaves through our bodies. The sensation of touch has granted us benefits since birth both in our development and psychologically. The most personal and intimate form of touch is cuddling, and yet today, cuddling is generally reserved for romantic pairs of people.
The Benefits of Cuddling
Cuddling is more than just an act of physical emotion. According to Dr. Robert Bowen, a lecturer who specializes in the psychology of infant and child development at RIT, the act of touch is absolutely vital to the development of an infant. He even goes as far as to say that it would be detrimental to an infant to not feel the touch of a mother.
“There’s been quite a bit of research on the importance of infants having the right kind and the right amount of stimulation,” Bowen says. There has been an extensive amount of experimentation, especially with animals, on the effects and benefits of maternal touch. Psychologist Harry Harlow performed an experiment with young Rhesus monkeys that showed the need for “contact comfort,” as he calls it, as a basic biological need. The experiment involved a baby Rhesus monkey that was taken away from its actual mother and given two options for motherly replacements: on was simply made of wire while the other was covered in cloth. Every monkey chose the “mother” covered in cloth due to the contact comfort she provided.
Humans are not too far from the lineage of primates, science shows, so Bowen presumes that this is also applicable to human infants. This tactile stimulation releases healthy amounts of the growth hormone ornithine decarboxylase, and reduces the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Touching also stimulates the growth and development of the limbic system in the brain in infants which has to do with learning and memory.
The act of cuddling also has its emotional and psychological benefits. Bowen says, “It promotes the development of secure attachment,” which lowers the chance for behavior problems, grows the capacity for empathy, raises self-esteem, and makes it easier for children to form close relationships when they are older. “If [children] can develop this secure attachment, the relationship they develop with the parents is a model for how to relate to other people later in life,” Bowen says.
Jacqueline Samuels, a recent University of Rochester graduate with a degree in Brain and Cognitive Science, says that touch, as a relaxing gesture such as with cuddling, involves a number of neurological responses. Touch can raise serotonin levels, encourage the release of oxytocin and dopamine, and reduce cortisol. “Pretty much all of the chemicals that make us feel happy, connected, relaxed, are being elevated and the stress ones are being decreased,” Samuels says, adding also that intimate touching reduces blood pressure.
“People need human contact,” she says. “Everybody’s different; not everyone can connect verbally … Touch provides us with something that just verbal interaction can’t. People need to feel connected.” The greatest health benefit that come from touch involves relieving the body of stress and tension, very much like massage does.
Finding the Cuddles
Since graduating from the University of Rochester, Samuels has spent much of her time running a business she started called the Snuggery. At the Snuggery Park Avenue location, Samuels and her business partner offer cuddling services to paying clients. That’s right: Samuels is a professional cuddler.
When asked what inspired her to start such a rare kind of business, she responded with, “It’s just something I like to do.” Samuels has gotten much newsworthy publicity throughout the nation and from a few countries over this business. She has even been called a prostitute by some. However, her clients seem to have no problems with
The atmosphere of the room where the cuddling is done is incredibly calm, dim and relaxing. The floors in this small, slightly apartment-looking abode are a dark wood, complemented by a dim-colored green curtain on the windows. All the colors in the cuddling room are earthy and warm. There are unlit candles sitting by the windows, and there is softly playing piano coming from a radio close to what looked to be a double-sized bed.
Samuels spends up to five hours in one day cuddling with people whose ages range between what she estimates to be 20 and 85, and sometimes does no cuddling at all. Either way, she is paid $60 an hour for her service. And while an extremely large percentage of her clientele is men — some of which are brave enough to pay for the “double cuddle” option of cuddling with both Samuels and her business partner simultaneously — there are women that do it too. She even has regular clients who see her on a weekly basis for up to 90 minutes per session.
“I’m very clear with clients about the boundaries. We go over them — they’re in writing — verbally before we ever cuddle, so it’s very straightforward,” she says. Clients must also fill out a sheet that gives their consent and shows in writing that they agree with the terms on which cuddling is allowed.
There are other ways besides cuddling, however, that will relax and stimulate brain chemicals much like human touch does. Weighted vests and blankets have been used by people with autism and sensory processing disorders to help calm their nervous systems and to help them maintain focus. But the comforting pressure of these coverings can have these effects on anyone who uses them; it’s almost like carrying a person to hold you everywhere you go. For domestic pets like cats and dogs, a similar product known as the Thundershirt can alleviate their anxiety or distress when their owners leave the house. It also works through the pressure that is applied by the vest.
To put the two together, humans can acquire the benefits of touch by having pets or interacting closely with an animal. Even if those of us who live on campus cannot own pets, there are plenty of ways to get access to a loving animal. Some friends who live off-campus may have pets, or if you live close by, try going home when you get really stressed for some unadulterated love. Animal shelters also appreciate volunteers and the animals there would appreciate the extra attention.
Animal companionship has been proven to be especially beneficial with sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People with PTSD can suffer from extreme anxiety and panic attacks, and can find it difficult to calm down. Animals, however, offer a comfortable presence that reduces stress and calms anxiety. There are a few reasons, according to Elements Behavioral Health, for why this seems to work. Animals have a great need for attention, and can use this need to draw the PTSD victim’s attention and focus away from traumatic re-experiencing of events. Animals are also non-judging creatures, and will love unconditionally if they’re allowed. Most importantly, some animals, like dogs and horses, are conditioned to be able to detect signs of stress or anxiety being exhibited by a human, and change their behavior to attend to them. Dogs poke gently at their humans for a hug, and horses when being ridden will change their pace to reflect the mood of the human, therefore making apparent to the human how his or her emotions are affecting others. Hugging animals is generally a more acceptable form of cuddling in society’s eyes, and will still give you all the warmth you need.
Why Hire a Professional Cuddler?
As young children, our parents normally cuddled us when we were upset or lonely. Cuddling was an acceptable form of touch and showed an amount of love intangible through other means. Today as young adults, cuddling is often strictly reserved for romance and sexual intimacy in relationships. It seems that cuddling outside of these boundaries, especially between a man and a woman, is unacceptable without romance.
“People are uncomfortable with [cuddling],” according to Samuels, especially in the context in which she sells cuddling as a business. She says that people “make fun” of her business and “make light of it” in order to deal with the discomfort they have with it. “People outside of a relationship are lacking touch and meaningful connection. Not everybody is equipped for relationships … I think it’s unfortunate that [some people] have limited access to intimate touch to people who are in relationships,” she says. Samuels mentions that she thinks a lot of men are pushed into looking for other ways to be intimate, such as with strip clubs that “aren’t as nurturing or beneficial.”
Cuddling, according to Samuels, is seen as a vulnerability, which scares many of us in society today. When done with someone you trust is unlike any other feeling, and grants health and emotional benefits unique to its act. It’s more than a hug, but less than a kiss, and can — despite what society says — be shared between friends without sexual intent.