‘Touch is a human need. It’s not something we grow out of. Studies have been done with babies. They can be cared for and fed but if they aren’t physically touched, they stop thriving and they die. We don’t outgrow that, even as adults. We convince ourselves that we don’t need physical contact but, in reality, it’s a basic and fundamental human need. I think people need to find a healthy way to get their touch needs met. In our culture, touch is all mixed up with sex and they think, when it comes to touch, that it’s either sex or nothing. I think that idea is so harmful and detrimental and there are so many ways to create connection between people that is somewhere between sex and nothing.

I am a professional cuddler and a cuddle-party facilitator. We have agreements among ourselves that we’re going to have a non-sexual event. Clothes stay on. You have to ask permission and receive a verbal yes before you touch anyone. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. You’d be surprised how many people feel they need permission to refuse to do something they don’t want to do. In our group meetings, we have some time to mingle and chat. Sometimes, I have a separate workshop topic about holding space and boundaries or about consent. Then we start with introductions. We’re trying to create community where we all support each other. Everyone introduces themselves and they’re invited to share something personal. As we get to know each other and feel safe, I invite everyone to stand up and to hug each other, getting permission first, of course, and then it’s open time for conversation and cuddling. The conversation is often amazing. People don’t sit down very often to talk to someone and to be completely present and engaged with a stranger. We’re just promoting communication on a human level and building on the idea that we need each other. We are social animals and so I try to create space to bring strangers together and give them a chance to become acquainted, and then, in a wonderful way, they’re not strangers anymore.

Sometimes, being hugged can bring out emotions that aren’t easily brought out, especially if you haven’t been hugged or touched in a long time. I’ve hugged people who need to be held and they’ve cried in my arms. It’s important to have that kind of release from time to time. I’ve had people tell me how wonderful and freeing it is to be able to hug another person, regardless of gender, and to connect without fear or judgment. It makes me feel good to know that I’m out there offering free hugs and seeing people respond. Their faces light up and I love that I get to be a part of that light.’

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