Sometimes all you want is a hug. In fact, scientists say human touch benefits our health. But not everyone gets that interaction on a daily basis. That’s why some people in West Michigan are going to “cuddle parties.” A cuddle party is a social event where people snuggle up in a platonic, non-sexual environment.
"What I found through my own work post-divorce was that I was looking for affection a lot of times and I only knew how to get it through sex," says professional cuddler and cuddle party facilitator Michelle Renee.
"But platonic touch really filled what would have been a need for me earlier that I didn’t know I had. I didn’t know how to meet that need without it being through sex."
Michelle Renee says many people are touch-starved and don't know it - or if they do, they don't know how to fulfill that need.
"We come out of the womb needing to be touched. There’s a million studies that talk about touch-deprived babies that don’t thrive, that need for touch doesn’t change," she says.
The Rules Of Cuddling
So what goes on at a cuddle party? First - and Michelle Renee says most importantly - there's a 45-minute long workshop on communication and consent. In the workshop, they go over the rules of cuddle party which are as follows:
- Pajamas stay on the whole time
- You don't have to touch anyone at a Cuddle Party, ever.
- You must ask permission and receive a verbal "yes" before you touch anyone. (Be as specific in your request as possible.)
- If you are a yes, say "yes." If you are a no, say "no."
- If you are a maybe, say "no."
- You are encouraged to change your mind.
- Respect your relationship agreements and communicate with your partner.
- Get a facilitator if you have a question, concern, or need assistance.
- Tears and laughter are both welcome.
- Respect people's privacy when sharing about Cuddle Party.
- Keep the cuddle space tidy.
The big takeaway - every touch has to be asked for and consented to.
Exercises In Saying "No" and "Yes"
People at the party also practice consent through different exercises. In one, Michelle Renee had cuddlers pair up and ask each other if they wanted a kiss.
Kissing is not allowed at cuddle party. So each time the person asked for a kiss, the other had to answer "no" - even if that was something they wanted to do.
There's a similar exercise involving hugs, but this one gives cuddlers the freedom to choose whether they want a hug from each person. Michelle Renee says exercises like this can carry into life outside of the party:
"Way back at the beginning when I first was doing my training, I had a party and I got feedback from a woman who was online dating. She had an offer for a date and she turned him down because she had been to my party, because she had learned to say no and that she didn’t have to do anything out of obligation. Wow - that can change your life. Making the best of your time, everybody else’s time. Not putting yourself in situations that don’t feel safe. That’s empowering."
Michelle Renee says she hopes to someday bring this workshop to teens
"I would love to have every school child - or every high school student at least - sit through a cuddle party and participate in learning how to say 'no' and 'yes' and why it’s important. All these things I think of as a young girl and how it that would have changed my life," she says.