That was the point of climax of this cuddle party, a private get-together of people who crave physical affection in a safe environment. This isn't a sex party—no nudity and no sexual acts. But that doesn't mean there's no sexual charge in the room. Perhaps that's why my palms are sweaty and I keep shuddering. What a prude.
Veteran cuddle partier Monique Darling put the event together with Nathan, her husband. It was her 89th cuddle party and the 48th one she's facilitated. She assured me that feeling sexy is not discouraged. In fact, it's only natural.
“We're OK with people kissing. We say it's OK to like someone at a cuddle party; it's OK to find someone attractive. It's even OK to be aroused. You just can't act on it,” Monique explains in her warm, yoga-instructor-like coo.
“It's just being able to be in that joyful atmosphere and feel like you're worthy,” she continues. “In fact, one of the chemicals we get from sex is called oxytocin. They've done studies that when you're cuddling, it brings oxytocin in your body. You feel really, really good. It's a beautiful experience.”
Upon arriving, I walked up some candlelit steps and entered a red room decorated as though there'd been a blowout sale at Cost Plus World Market. I maneuvered around blankets and a mattress that had been set up on the floor to shake Monique's hand. Dressed in pink pajamas emblazoned with “Love,” she asked if she could hug me instead. It had begun.
Things started with a 45-minute workshop on the rules. Rule No. 1: Pajamas never come off. That's to keep things from turning into the movie Caligula. To fully comprehend rule No. 2, Monique led everyone in exercises on saying yes and no.
Always ask before you make any sort of move. Say yes if you're into what is offered, no if you're not. There's no such thing as maybe. At one point, they all recited, with the eyes of the converted, “If it's a maybe, it's a no.” Uncertainty, fear and politeness are for the less-evolved. This is a space where you can be true to your needs and not feel bad about it.
Someone made a joke about establishing a safe word. In my nervousness, I quipped, “My safe word is ‘Harder.'” Luckily, rule No. 3 is you're allowed to change your mind, or else that joke could've really come back to haunt me.
Once introductions were made and rules were established, the “freestyle cuddling” commenced. Amid bodies draped over each other, eyes closed and goofy grins on their faces, I grew to understand why they do this.
Cathleene, who spent much of the night clutching and kissing Kurt heatedly, describes herself as a “touch-positive person” yet never had an outlet to touch and be touched freely and without judgment. “A lot of people don't want that or accept touch,” she says. “It's not accepted. Here I get to communicate what I want. We're taught to ask first. Here I get more yesses.”
Vina, who was the meat in a snuggly sandwich with Monique and cuddle-party virgin darnell, loves that you can be honest and get what you crave physically in a loving environment. For Kurt and Stephanie, cuddle parties provide an opportunity for freedom within their marriage that is non-threatening. Stephanie even describes the parties as “healing.” These people love to feel loved.
After being the creepy voyeur staring at this hippie love fest, I decided it was time to cuddle. I laid next to Lawrence, a 28-year-old who found like-minded company in cuddle parties. Had it been my boyfriend, I'd naturally throw my leg over him, snuggle into the crest of his armpit then argue over what to watch on Netflix. Instead, I was stiff as a board, struggling with the idea of what to do with my hands and making nervous, mundane small talk. “Have you seen Coming to America?” I could've used half a bottle of wine and more recent pop-culture references to fall back on. Lawrence was respectful, never stepping out of my boundary zone. Later on, he asked if he could kiss me on the lips. He must've been high off all that oxytocin.
The evening wrapped with a puppy pile, in which everyone lays on top of each other like human lasagna, followed by a massage train. Everyone had a dreamy gaze and took turns thanking someone for being open with their spirit. The women were revered for being goddesses. Kurt kneeled with his arms around his wife and Cathleene, giving them kisses on the mouth when the mood struck. Before leaving, we held each other and yelled out “Yum!” They asked me if I'd be coming back for the next cuddle party. I said maybe, and they laughed.