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ISSUE 118 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/1/2004

Casual cuddlers

By Jennifer Hancock
Contributing Writers


Friday, October 1, 2004

The words "snuggle" and "cuddle" make my boyfriend gag. He says they sound like something from a bad personal ad: SWF. Blonde. Loves snuggling and cuddling. Although he finds the terms nauseating, he never passes up the opportunity for a good cuddle, or snuggle for that matter. To make the words a little more "guy friendly" we call it "S&C action." It sounds almost like S&M. How manly.

Of course S&C is nothing like S&M. It is gentle, tender and there isn't necessarily anything sexual about it. Or so say the proponents of "cuddle parties," a new social phenomenon sweeping the nation. Both People magazine and the Washington Post have featured articles regarding the craze in the past few weeks. Basically, an aspiring cuddler pays $20-$30 to spoon, hug and massage strangers and to be spooned, hugged and massaged in return. From their origin in New York City, the parties have spread to urban areas on both coasts. Supporters of the parties insist that they are not orgies, but fill a fundamental human need (besides sex!) completely lost in American society: the need for touch. I would have to agree that the lack of physical contact between people is definitely a detriment to our society, but I wonder if cuddle parties are really the answer.

New York City "cuddle parties" might seem faraway from St. Olaf, both geographically and ideologically, but students here know the need for touch well. As first-years, we miss the daily hugs from our parents and hometown friends, and therefore must find sources for affectionate touch elsewhere. Before long, first-year female students find same-sex friends to hug. But what about the men? It usually takes them longer to become comfortable enough with another man to hug him -- if it ever happens at all. A number of men fulfill their need for touch by obtaining a significant other or finding female friends with whom to engage in platonic cuddling. Apparently, it is more masculine to cuddle a female friend than a male friend. St. Olaf "cuddle buddies" are similar to the new cuddle parties, except that here no money is exchanged.

The cuddle party profiteers and participants may have to learn the same lessons learned by St. Olaf students. Touchy-feely friendships seem to end badly, when one party begins to feel that her platonic spooning partner is more than just a friend. At least in my experience, friends hug, but they do not cuddle, snuggle or spoon. These activities tend to devolve into something sexual; strong emotions get involved; someone ends up hurt.

With all their rules, even the urban cuddle-fests involve some risk of becoming sexual and psychologically damaging. People will inevitably become attached to those they cuddle with at the parties -- the dangerous part is that some will become more attached than others. What happens if a sexual attraction begins, which seems likely when touching others' bodies is the focus of the party?

Another problem I have with cuddle parties is that it seems strange and false to pay for affection. Have we reached a point where not only emotionless sex, but also affection can be commodified? It is a sad commentary on the state of our society when people must shell out $30 to meet their needs for touch. Remember, we do not touch for the sake of touch. We touch for intimacy and affection. Can our needs for intimacy and affection really be fulfilled by strangers? I think not. Only a loved one can fulfill those needs. In the end, cuddle parties only address the symptoms, rather than the root, of the problem. People who attend the parties crave real affectionate and intimate human relationships, not the touches of strangers.

Formal cuddle parties may never find their way to Northfield or (gasp!) St. Olaf. But students become involved in mini cuddle parties every day. We spoon a friend because we need some affection that day, or we run back to the arms of an ex to get that much needed intimacy. The risk for hurt feelings is high in these situations, so please, look before you touch.

 Any questions or comments may be sent to sexcolumnist@stolaf.edu.





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