When I first learned of Chicago’s Cuddle Group, I was really intrigued. It was out of my comfort zone, and I was curious to meet the people that actually do this monthly. En route to the event, my anxiety skyrocketed as I began to over analyze what could happen. I had no idea whom I would encounter before I arrived.
Would I be attracted to them? Was it important to be attracted to them?
What happens if I got an erection? Or, would I have to cuddle with some creepy older guy that hadn’t had sex in a millennium? All of these questions made me ask myself, ‘is this just a sex party with clothes on?’ After inquiring with some of my friends, one friend asked without hesitation, “Do Black people do this kind of stuff?” I learned that the answer is “yes.”
Believe it or not, getting cozy with complete randos is totally on-trend, thanks to the growing popularity of something called a “cuddle party.” The Cuddle Movement was started in 2004, 12 years ago, by two relationship coaches in New York. According the Daily Mail, a woman in New York spent hundreds of dollars to cuddle with a stranger for two hours. The idea of throwing a cuddle party was a way to bring shy people into attending their massage workshops. But the cuddle parties were so popular, they eventually started to franchise them. Today, there are Cuddle Parties around the world: in the United Kingdom, Europe, the US and Canada. They are also non-sexual parties where people can explore consensual cuddling in a safe space.
Before I arrived at the event, organizers asked everyone to bring a pillow and a blanket. Once you’ve set up your blanket and pillow on the floor, the group is asked to sit in a circle. The 20 people that attended were mostly white but there are a few Black and Brown folks there. Once we’re all in the circle, we covered ground rules to ensure the safety of the space and each other, and we were educated on the different cuddle positions we could partake in. Then, we were asked to stand up and hug everyone in the room for exactly one minute. I’ve never hugged a stranger for an entire minute before. It can be quite awkward but also very refreshing. Upon completion of the hugging experience, you feel a little more at ease and excited to get started. The organizers then instructed you to pair up with someone in the group to begin cuddling. As you nervously look around the room to figure out your cuddle partner, you can’t help but to think ‘who will choose me?’ Interestingly, I gravitated toward a Black guy that I found attractive and seemed to wanted to cuddle with me, too. A brief introduction between us commenced and then, we decided which cuddle position would fit us. We decided on the spooning cuddle. During our cuddle, something strange happened. His body, his warmth and how he held me so tight and comforting made it feel very familiar and authentic. Immediately, I became emotionally confused and wondered if this was more than just cuddling. I learned at the very end of the group that it was more than just cuddling for both of us. More on that moment later.
Generally, participants cuddle in 20-minute increments for two hours switching to different people and switching cuddle positions (i.e. Spooning, Face-to-Face cuddle, Three-Man Spoon, Reverse Bear Hug and Back Rub). I wasn’t even aware of the variations of cuddling.
Some therapists say that the very nature of cuddling is good. Research has shown cuddling reduces stress and anxiety. It also increases the level of trust between parties. Furthermore, cuddling is a powerful way to address isolation, depression, anxiety and aggression.
Dwight Okita, founder of Chicago’s Men Cuddling Men Group, says, “20-seconds into an ordinary hug, the brain releases oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that allows us to love and trust people more easily.”
Okita started this group in part because of his disappointment with online personals. He says that at Cuddle Parties, as a gay Asian man, sexuality was the elephant in the room that went unaddressed. He knew that he needed to start a group that spoke more directly to the community of color.
“I had been leading a meetup group for people with anxiety,” he said. “I’d been a single gay man for a long time, but still felt I deserved to get my cuddling needs met. We were always looking for natural ways to combat stress like yoga, chanting, walking. Cuddling seemed like a natural item to add to the toolbox. Ultimately the group has grown into a real passion of mine, seeking world peace through cuddling.”
After doing the cuddle Meetup group for a year, and becoming a professional cuddler with Cuddlist.com, Okita finally feels his cuddle needs are met.
“The more I heal others, the more I heal myself,” he said. “And as I heal my community, I heal the world. So many of the problems in the world could be solved with cuddling.”
Charles Gamble, co-organizer of the Men Cuddling Men Group, feels as a same gender loving black man, he often finds himself invisible to the Gay Community at large. Gamble, in his mid-50s, doesn’t appreciate the way gay black males are sexually objectified or labeled BBC (Big Black Cocks).
“We are so much more than that and we shouldn’t fall prey into some White male fantasy,” he reveals. “I was looking for an alternative way to meet men who weren’t getting their emotional, psychological or other nonsexual needs met. Through cuddling I have been able to examine my own blockages around love, sex, and intimacy, by allowing myself to be vulnerable around a group of total strangers and get my unspoken needs met through safe and simple touch! It”s a powerful transformation. Life changing.”
I feel this Cuddle group asks a much bigger question, ‘Can we teach men ways to find intimacy without taking their clothes off?’
What I learned is that there are many reasons people seek out cuddling. Couples, widowed gay men and, frankly, folks who are just looking to be held. Most participants revealed that from job stress or being single for awhile, groups like this means everything to them. The Group welcomes men who are gay, straight, trans, bi, questioning, married, single.
After getting to know these guys, I quickly learned that Cuddle Parties is a playful social event designed for adults to explore communication, boundaries, and affection. I now understand why a group like this is so important to society. It further confirmed to me that compassion, intimacy, and love from a complete stranger can exist – and, you don’t always have to have sex. During these troubled times in the world, this experience reminded me that love is everywhere…you just have to be willing to receive it – or, in this case, cuddle with it. You can meet new people, enjoy amazing conversations, touch or be touched, and, I think, most importantly, practice asking for what you want, and saying ‘no’ to what you don’t want — all in a setting structured to be a safe place for exploration and enjoyment. While the cost of the experience is $20, which I thought was a bit much to cuddle, I quickly learned that it’s definitely worth it. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I wouldn’t want anyone to miss this experience because of fear.
So, if you can answer “yes” to these three questions, I think you’re ready for a Cuddle Group:
Are you into intimacy without any baggage?
Are you ready to trust a complete stranger to help you feel wanted and loved?
Will you allow yourself to be vulnerable?
If you answered “yes” to all three, you’re ready.
As to the guy I cuddled with first and established a connection, it turned out he was married to a woman with four kids and struggling with his sexuality. I’d like to think that our cuddle experience allowed him some comfort and light as he works through life’s problems. He definitely changed me.
Listen to the full radio interview on “The Sip,” check it out here. We dive deeper into my cuddling experience and start a dialogue with our listeners to find out if they would take chance and cuddle with a stranger. “The Sip” is the only live radio show in the country that’s produced and hosted by four gay black men. You can listen to “The Sip” every Friday night on Urban Broadcast Media from 6pm – 8pm CST on our live stream at: http://urbanbroadcastmedia.com/the-sip or download the app.