Touch has always been very important to me. I have such fond memories of cuddling with my mom when I was still young enough to mostly fit in her lap. My mom was a big woman, soft and comfortable to lay against. Being held was comforting and reassuring on a deep level. It made me feel like everything was right in the world. Being held by my dad was kind of a thrill because it was much more rare, sadly. He had a distance that was difficult to get past. My sisters and I had a lot of incidental touch like kids do, but it wasn't the same as cuddling with Mom. After I no longer fit in her lap, she became a great hugger.
But when I hit puberty, the cuddling part of the touch stopped. Sure, my mom still gave me those awesome hugs, but my dad's hugs were now stiff and perfunctory, and no cuddling happened anymore with either of them. My 3 older sisters left home, one by one. I remember always craving touch, never feeling like I could get enough, but getting subtle messages that now that I had a woman's body there was something not okay about cuddling with my parents, and maybe not anyone, lest they think I wanted sex.
Looking back, it's clear to me that what I really wanted was touch, when at 16, I started saying yes to sex. Sex was a way to get touch.
I wrote a story when I was in high school. It was for a creative writing class. It was about a time when the power of touch was finally understood, embraced and valued. My story was a futuristic one, since nothing like what I envisioned existed at the time. The story was about professionals who simply held people. They were in the same general category as psychological therapists and massage therapists, but their form of therapy was simply to cuddle with and hold people. In my story I called them 'professional holders'. I was writing a story about what I wish existed; what I needed.
I dove into a bit of alternative healing/therapy later in life. I accessed a place that felt so dark, hopeless, and alone. I was puzzled what that place inside me was all about, until I recalled a long ago conversation with my oldest sister. She shared her memories of my mom leaving me alone in my crib to cry myself to sleep at night. She wanted to go in and comfort me but my mom forbid her to, saying that was the only way I would go to sleep. Even as I type these words, the tears come.
I became a mother. I raised a daughter. The maternal instincts were more powerful than I ever could have imagined. The urge to protect and care for my daughter was undeniable. I cannot begin to fathom the extent to which my mom would have had to disconnect from her mothering instincts to be able to leave me there to cry myself to sleep. To be fair to my mom, she had my 3 older sisters to care for, and my dad was in his last 2 years of alcoholism before he found sobriety (which thankfully lasted the rest of his life). So her plate was full. But the damage was done, nonetheless.
Before I go on to talk more about touch, let me say something to new parents, and anyone planning to have a child. The only thing you teach a baby when you leave it to cry itself to sleep, is that you will not reliably meet that baby's needs, so eventually the baby gives up and stops trying to get you to respond. You are not teaching your baby self-sufficiency, you are teaching them you won't reliably respond to their needs.
From our deepest wounds spring our greatest gifts. So perhaps not surprisingly, I became a massage therapist. I've now practiced massage for 26 years and counting. I am well acquainted with the power of touch. The ideas I wrote about when I was in high school have been reinforced over and over again during my life. Touch is powerful, healing, calming, and therapeutic. Now there is even science to back it up.
Why is it, then, when you ask people if they're getting enough non-sexual touch, most people say no? Even people who are in relationships? Why is this a need we all have, the comfort and soothing of simple touch, and yet so few people are getting as much touch as they want and need?
Sometimes touch is not simple. Science shows us how important touch is, but our puritanical society is still stuck in conflating non-sexual touch with sexual touch. There are other considerations, too. This subject can get complicated.
Can women engage in non-sexual touch with men and feel safe? Can men engage in non-sexual touch with other men and not have their sexual identification questioned? No matter what your gender, can the person you are enjoying touch with respect your personal boundaries about how you want to be touched? Can you relax enough to engage in non-sexual touch with someone you don't know very well? If you seek that touch from someone you do know well, like a friend, will it affect your friendship negatively? Should you only ask for touch from your partner, if you have one? Will your partner see you as needy? What if you ask for touch and get rejected?
What at first sounds so simple, getting non-sexual touch, can be anything but.
The subject of touch has been at the forefront of my awareness since late June, when I made the decision to take a year off of dating. Scheduling massages for myself helps. Attending bdsm parties where I engage in scenes with others has provided a fair amount of touch, too. Then there's my Game of Thrones marathon cuddle parties. Season one was fun, but not nearly enough cuddling happened. Season two was better. I greeted everyone who walked in the door with a long hug, long enough for Oxytocin release. I created a cozy cuddle space on my floor, and much more cuddling happened at the season two party.
Oxytocin does more than just make us feel good. It lowers the levels of stress hormones in the body, reducing blood pressure, improving mood, increasing tolerance for pain and perhaps even speeding how fast wounds heal. It also seems to play an important role in our relationships. It’s been linked, for example, to how much we trust others.
So remember that story I wrote in high school, about the 'professional holders'? They exist, now!
Professional cuddlers offer one on one services as well as lead cuddle parties and are becoming more popular across the country. They create safe containers, teach clear communication in negotiations and facilitate people coming together in search of simple non-sexual touch and the Oxytocin it provides. Negotiating touch, knowing how to say no, not taking a no personally, being able to dis-engage when you feel like it, and asking for what you want are just some of the skills you learn at a cuddle party before the cuddling even starts. Cuddle parties are amazing.
Here's the best part. I'm having one of those parties this Sunday!! Getting ready for the Oxytocin....getting ready for the cozy piles of bodies all celebrating and enjoying touch on my couches and living room floor. Yes.
My friend Michelle Renee from Michigan is a certified Cuddlist™, and will be brilliantly facilitating my cuddle party. She has a calendar on her website so you can see her availability and locations. Do it! You know you want to.
(If you know me, have not received an invite to the party, and would like one, please PM me.)