I Went To A Cuddle Party.
The second I saw a post for a “Cuddle Party” on Eventbrite, I was intrigued — to say the least.
I also kind of thought it was a joke.
No, not so. The event’s description was too detailed to be faked. It described itself as a totally non-sexual, non-romantic deal. It was very specific, too: “PLEASE be as artificial scent free as possible,” it read. “[M]any people are very sensitive or have allergies to artificial smells. I CANNOT OVER EMPHASIZE THIS… Yes, it really matters that much to some sensitive people.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. I also couldn’t help but let my curiosity get the best of me. Ten bucks and a little time spent convincing my friend Melissa to accompany me later, and I’d purchased my ticket.
It was only then that I started to explore the phenomena that are cuddle parties. Pretty much every article I found on the subject noted that these parties primarily consist of people aged 40 and up. Not all of these parties seemed to be so terrible, necessarily. Far as I could tell, people actually follow the rules at the majority of these events. That said, a select few have been reported to feature uncomfortable conversation and some inappropriate behavior.
Even so, I pressed forward.
On the day of the party, I dressed in my best snuggle attire — sweatpants, a t-shirt and a hoodie — and made my way to pick up Melissa. Seems jitters had gotten the best of her: She still agreed to come along, and to wear a onesie, but she’d only do that; she wasn’t going to cuddle.
My nerves didn’t really kick in until we approached the door to the home where we’d cuddle. And still I knocked.
“Welcome!” a disarming greeter proclaimed upon opening the door. “We’re so glad you’re here!”
Then she pointed me in the direction of Kathleen, who checked our names off on a clipboard and sent us along to the living room, where the cuddling was to take place. Next, we sat there, feeling rather awkward, for a good 20 minutes until we were to be led in a cuddling workshop, which was to last about an hour before some free-style cuddle time.
At some point, a nice man named Kent sat down and started talking to us, sharing with his experiences at other cuddle parties and reassuring us that the organization that puts on these parties is legit. I asked him point blank: “Do these things get sexual?” He assured us that it wouldn’t, that while people may get aroused and that it’s normal if they do, they’re instructed not to act on it.
As if on cue, a woman then came up to Kent.
“Can I sit next to you — really close?” she asked. “Rest my head on your shoulder?”
“Yes,” Kent responded to her very-specific request, before turning back to address us. “That’s verbal consent.”
A few minutes later, we started to learn more as the workshop began. My A.D.D. self really struggled to sit and listen for Kathleen to break down the rules with unnecessarily long explanations and analogies, but I maintained a respectful demeanor, and, soon enough, we delved into the first icebreaker, going around the room as each person said why they were at the party. The words “community” and “therapeutic” came up frequently.
Next, we practiced saying “no” to each other. Then, we discussed what we thought we’d be comfortable doing on this night, as well as what we didn’t like — or at least what we didn’t think we’d be OK with in this session. One guy I spoke with said he really enjoys having his hair played with while receiving back rubs. He’s been to a few of these parties, he told me. It took him several until he felt comfortable enough to full-on spoon with anyone.
Also: Hey, turns out, there’s more to cuddling than spooning! Lucky me, I love having my hair played with and though I always ask my friends to play with it, it’s always such an ordeal to get them to ever agree to do so. Paying $10 to get massages and have my hair played with is kind of a steal, actually.
Better yet, my fears about awkward sexual conversations, non-consensual touching and the like were all for naught. There were no blindfolds. No one tried to grope me. All requests were polite — and just as specific as when the girl asked Kent if she could sit by him and rest her head on his shoulder. People knew that if you were giving someone a shoulder massage, you’d damn well better ask before moving to that person’s back. Boundaries weren’t crossed.
But, for me at least, a barrier was broken down. I’m happy to report: Not all cuddle parties result in crazy, uncomfortable experiences.
The one I attended was actually pretty chill. So much so, that I’m probably going to go to another one soon.
Like I said, I really like when people play with my hair.
All photos by Carly Seitz.