Calling All Skin-Hungry Cuddle Sluts

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How viable is the concept of sexual self-sufficiency? Single woman looking at cuddling museum work

Feeling "off" and wondering what to do about it? You could just be touch-starved. If so, solo sex may may not heal the feeling that something...isn't right.

Turns out that sexual needs aren't just orgasm needs. Sexual needs are also intimacy needs. For tribal pair bonders like humans, affectionate touch and close, trusted companionship are "mood meds." That is, our brains are set up to reward us for engaging in them by producing neurochemicals that offer balanced feelings of well-being.

To state this differently, the prime directives of our brain's primitive reward circuitry are food, water, bonding and mating. Now that modern life isn't meeting our needs for close contact and bonding very well, our reward circuitry is "looking around" to fill the void in good feelings however it can. Like junk food, Internet porn is such a stimulating substitute that it fools us into thinking we've found a really valuable activity. As one guy explained, "There is no woman in actuality who is into you, but you feel like there is. You are getting a reward for staring at a glowing rectangle, which motivates you to stay there instead of going out."

Sadly, solo orgasms don't offer the same soothing neurochemical cocktail as real contact—and their pursuit can easily become compulsive thanks to today's hyperstimulating porn or superhuman vibrators. As we engineer more orgasms with stronger stimuli, overall feelings of anxiety can, paradoxically, outweigh feelings of satisfaction.

It's great when all our sex/touch/companionship needs are met in one magnificent, convenient package: a lover. But most of us also have to cross some deserts in our romantic lives. What do desert travelers traditionally do? Head for an oasis. Here are four twenty-somethings who found their oases by snuggling buddies.

First person (male):

I have a female friend with benefits, but the benefits are that she likes to come over once a week and just cuddle as we watch a movie. She's a virgin, and it's probably a good idea for us to never have sex given her history. It's so liberating for me to let go of the NEED to have sex. In the past if a woman who was romantically interested in me was at my place, I would single-mindedly pursue sex. But now I can just relax and be.

Second person (male):

After a long explanation to my friend about how I thought I was touch-starved, she very promptly took off her coat and snuggled with me in my bed. I was pretty shocked at how readily she took to it. We cuddled for about 2 hours, sitting up against my headboard with my arm around her and her head in my chest. We talked most of the time, with periods of silence here and there. The conversation was so open. We revealed secrets and it felt so natural. I'm positive this wouldn't have happened had we not been snuggling.

My god, the feelings of safety were incredible. Just soooo, I don't know, RIGHT. I think now to myself: This is how man and woman should relate to one another. In a very non-erotic way, I just felt so manly tucking this girl into my chest and sheltering her. I could see it in her face too. She just looked so relaxed, ready to fall asleep. I've never deliberately tried to cuddle for sustained periods before, so these feelings are quite new. I must admit that some of the touching was arousing—again, I'm not used to non-goal oriented contact—and I did have some blue ball sensation in the evening but it wasn't bad at all.

After she left, I meditated for a bit and guess what? Very few thoughts. It was amazing! I'm definitely going to ask her to do this again.

Third person (female):

We both knew it wasn't going to lead to sex. It wasn't even going to lead to kissing. It was just snuggling, cuddling and possibly caressing if we felt like it. It did involve almost complete nudity, however. And do you know what? That was fine.

We didn't set boundaries before we started, but he never crossed any of my internal ones. He was slightly turned on when we got into bed together, which he was completely matter of fact about. He said it was nigh on impossible for a guy not to get slightly turned on when getting into bed with an attractive, nearly naked girl—and that he would probably also get morning wood. But that 'being physically turned on' and 'mentally wanting sex' are different.

He was careful to keep his genitals away from me when erect, and I never felt at all uncomfortable. It was gloriously asexual. It was also bonding. We'll probably always be friends now, and we had an amazingly long, honest conversation about relationships and sex and all sorts of things. Breaking the taboo about being naked together made it easier to break taboos about what is acceptable to talk about. It was a beautiful, trusting experience being able to safely lie naked with a guy who could both honestly say that I was attractive and yet not abuse his position even slightly.

Now I'll hug anyone. I'll cuddle anyone, of any sex, for as long as they like—so long as they are clean and they make me feel comfortable. It isn't hurting anyone. It makes me, and whoever I am cuddling, happier.

Fourth person (female):

[A month after this woman swore off men for a time to study for professional exams she developed severe, uncharacteristic insomnia, which wouldn't respond to any remedies.]

One day, while talking with a friend, I wondered aloud, "When was the last time I was touched?" It had been so long since I'd been touched, that even a hug from a friend felt foreign. I realized that I yearned to be held; I felt empty and depleted inside.

I also realized that my energy had been fluctuating in an uncharacteristic way, leaving me less able to give as much love and energy to my friends and family. A female friend, with whom I discussed this, said that she noticed that when she is not cuddled for a month, she becomes angry and resentful towards men, decreasing her future chances of being intimate with them. 

Just after this conversation, an opportunity arose for a guy friend to come over. The space was clear for us to comfort each other with no other agendas. We snuggled for an hour, just chatting about our day. I thought, "I'm going to sleep well tonight!" and voilà. For the first time in three months, I fell asleep the moment I lay down and awoke refreshed. The next evening, we watched a movie and cuddled. I felt fantastic for weeks. (He traveled to South America shortly afterward.)

Speaking to a new friend, I learned that he had an agreement with a woman he was dating. They both knew that they weren't ultimately "right" for each other. Yet their regular, sensual contact let them avoid going out in the world as needy, single people.  He explained, "I think men get off their game if they haven't dated in a while." His energy was balanced; he was able to focus on fulfilling his life's purpose, and enjoy life. Meeting new women was effortless for him, as he was an altogether healthy and easy-going man. When he did meet a new woman with mate-potential, he didn't feel the need to rush into bed and trash the opportunity to develop deeper intimacy. Read more of her experiences in "Are You Skin Hungry?"

Cuddle buddiesHow viable is sexual self-sufficiency?

The modern push to make us all sexually self-sufficient via masturbation underrates our fundamental needs for touch and trusted companionship. Consequently, many of us are ignorant of how evolution has molded us. For example, it has only been a matter of decades since scientists discovered (to their astonishment) that orphaned monkey infants prefer soothing terrycloth "mothers" without milk to "mothers" of chicken-wire with milk. (Listen to a fascinating radio show about this experiment.)

The benefits of generous touch arise in part from the fact that oxytocin, a hormone produced in response to affectionate touch, counters the effects of cortisol (the stress hormone). Oxytocin can also reduce pain (i.e., increase pain thresholds) by triggering the release of endorphins, thus increasing feelings of well-being and even performance. (More on the science behind touch's benefits.) Above all, safe touch activates and comforts our primitive reward circuitry, so we aren't as likely to fall for synthetic substitutes.

So, who is your next oasis? Know anyone with whom you could you cultivate a cuddle-buddy connection? Here are some tips:

  1. Not sure how to broach the subject? Share an article about the concept and find out what your buddy thinks.
  2. Friends who have gone through massage therapy school, or training in other hands-on healing, usually welcome exchanging healing touch and have training in healthy boundaries.
  3. Attend a cuddle party, or plan one of your own with friends.

Keep in mind that cuddling is a service to everyone. Your touch benefits your buddy as much as it does you, and glowing people make the planet a happier place.

Warning: If you try this idea, you may soon conclude that the modern, Western assumption that 'humans can thrive on a narrow diet of intermittent casual sex plus masturbation' is...well...damned peculiar.


I thought this woman's comments were inspired:

It's a bit like training an animal really. If you are training a dog you start out simple and don't expect that much. Once they have mastered a few basics like sit, come, and drop it you can start on the more complicated commands like 'walk to heel'. At the start you have to expect that they will misbehave, and some days they won't respond at all. But if you are patient then they will stop chewing your slippers and peeing on the kitchen floor and you will have a faithful companion. I think it is easier to train cousins than long married wives because they haven't really got any negative experiences with you to forget first. A cousin is like training a puppy and a wife is more like a rescue dog...

I just started hugging him every day, for as long as it felt like he was comfortable with. At first it was just a quick squeeze, now it is proper hugs. I got my other flatmate on board and we started to initiate group hugs. My cousin is still a bit like 'you two are weird', but I think he kind of likes it now. Now that he is pretty comfortable with cuddling I try and push the boundaries a little: Massaging his shoulders, or holding his hand briefly. He is usually momentarily surprised, but doesn't recoil. This afternoon I went through to his room to talk to him and while I was talking I unthinkingly started to stroke his shoulders. He asked me why I was there and I told him that I was there entirely to pester him because I was bored and our other flatmate is out. I asked if I was freaking him out and he said no so I started massaging his shoulders properly. He complained that I was going to make him fall asleep at his desk, but I took that as a compliment.

I think it is more about the meaning behind the touch rather than the touch itself. I think some people could read what I have just read and think 'stroking her cousins shoulders??? That's wrong'. And if I was doing it because I found him sexy then that would be wrong in my eyes. It would be like incest. Thing is, I don't find him sexy. I love him more like a brother than a cousin really. We were close growing up and we're now both in our early 20's and living together. Thing is, in other families then massaging a brother or cousins shoulders would be a normal level of touch, and a level of touch which is much healthier than what most people in society today experience.

You need to be conscious of what you are thinking when you touch the person, and be aware of what you intend from your touch. If your intentions are not loving then try and refrain from doing it. It's hard when you are feeling needy but you'll get the rewards too.

[from a forum member]

"I met up with a female friend at her friend's place last night too, and she wanted to go to bed, and I wasn't sure where it was heading."

Did it seem like she was inviting you to go to bed with her, or were you not sure?

"Thing is I don't particularly want to have sex with her (Looks and just a lack of wanting to get physically intimate with her), and am quite happy to just be friends."

Even if you got in bed with her, you don't _have_ to have sex!

It sounds like there is no sexual attraction, but you are pretty good friends.

Would you enjoy giving her a nice, long, hug? If so, you probably WOULD enjoy sleeping with her, without sex. Here are some ideas about how to handle the situation:

If there is some uncertainly about whether she is really inviting you to sleep with her, you can clarify: "Are you inviting me to spend the night with you?"

And if the answer is yes, you can say "Well, I don't want to have sex, but I _would_ enjoy snuggling up and sleeping with you. Would you like to do that?"

DO NOT give a reason for why you don't want to have sex, unless she asks. If she asks, you can say that you have ED and probably wouldn't be able to get it up. (That should alleviate her concerns that you are rejecting her.)

If she backs out, you are no worse off than if you had just run away without asking. If she accepts on your terms, then great!

After spending a night together, you will probably both have a better idea of whether you want to do it again. You might find the attraction has increased. If you want to sleep with her again, be sure to tell her! (She probably can't read your mind.) Give her a nice, long hug and tell her, "I really enjoyed sleeping with you. Would you like to do it again sometime?" If she says yes, you can suggest a time to get back together. Note that you haven't said anything at all about whether you love her or want to have a relationship with her. You can continue to sleep together, and still date other people if you wish.

If she has difficulty choosing a time to get together again, or it seems like she was just being polite and doesn't want to sleep with you again, you can say "Well, if you'd like me to come over again sometime, just give me a call." That leaves the door open in case she changes her mind. Of course you are free to call her, too.

If you really don't want to spend another night with her, just thank her politely for having you over, and don't make any offers to sleep over again.

And of course if you don't feel like sleeping with her at all, you are under no obligation to do so! But then I don't understand why you sounded so confused in your first post. It sounds like you were second-guessing yourself, about whether you should have gone home with her.

"I felt really awkward and anxious as I didn't feel very manly!"

If you make a commitment to yourself (and your partner) to _not_ have sex, it takes the pressure off, and you can just enjoy some cuddling and getting some rest (which it sounds like you needed). You don't even have to make out, if you don't want to. It's up to you, since you set the terms. And if you do pop a boner, and she gets all excited, you can tell her it probably won't last, especially if you try to put on a condom. You can say, "I just want to enjoy holding you - and I also want to get some sleep!"