Cuddle regeneration

cubsIt feels like a long time since I wrote about the explicit reason for starting this blog: to talk about non-sexual adult bodily contact. I was inspired by a dream, some other writing work, and Moulin Rouge (don’t ask me why) to come back to it, and make a massive fuss.

I have said before that I feel like the way society is currently structured means a great many people, far too many, are hugely unlikely to get as much tactile physical affection as they ideally need. Yes I know that kind of sounds like I’m just saying: some people need more cuddles. At which point you might smile kindly and say: some people should eat more vegetables, or some more people should learn a second language, et cetera. So it’s time to make my argument a bit hotter than that. (Hey, I do feel very strongly about vegetables.)

Cuddling is not a forgotten art, or a nice practice which correlates to coupledom and intimate family life. Cuddling is a birthright.

We don’t live in a society where everyone grows up getting plenty of cuddles, and then as we mature and turn into adults, we are divided into subcategories such as:

  • naturally affectionate people who are happy to hug trusted friends and family
  • people whose cuddling input was significantly compromised during/by adolescence and either re-learn over time as they mix with cuddlier adults, or drift towards a fairly low average cuddle rate
  • people who do not get cuddled because they are not that friendly or likeable, are mean or cold, or are not often trusted
  • people who do not get cuddled because they are anxious about physical contact
  • people who do not get cuddled because they prefer to avoid the social complexities that might follow on from establishing cuddle-positive friendships
  • people who hug and get hugged because they have learned that it is valuable for positive mental health and are pro-active in giving and in spreading the practice
  • people who get cuddled all the time because they are in a long-term relationship and/or family household where it is taken for granted

We are, I repeat, not living in a society where these categories I just had fun making up  explain anything at all. We are living in a society where cuddling has become much harder than it should be. Yes, I am using the S word. Should, should should should should get cuddled – more. Not could, should.

The more I come to terms with the various developed insecurities which my current relationship (and friendships) both reveal and heal, the more this primal, fundamental need shows itself for what it really is: a primal fundamental need. We have not simply evolved socially to be more independent, to be go-getters who can run for days, weeks, months and years without cuddle input, to no ill effect. We are tactile animals whose natural requirements for social belonging and emotional security include a lot of sleep-time contact with other warm individuals of the same species. This makes it sound rather psychological but it is a lot more than that. Emotionality is deeply physical.

We have evolved socially, to be expected to develop compensatory mechanisms for any lack of night-time sleeping cuddle contact to which we have become accustomed. I have no peer-reviewed scientific proof of this as yet, so sue me lol.

I am not sure to what extent hot climates and cold climates inform differences in the degree of cuddling which would be ideal for humans to participate in. Surely there are many alternative forms of physical affection, as well as of emotional reassurance and affirmations of belonging.

We are living in a society where several forces collude to deprive many individuals of night cuddle-time, regardless of how affectionate and demonstrable they are as they potter about their day.

  1. Many people live (and sleep) in households which do not contain other warm adults (or children) of the same species to cuddle up to at night
  2. Many people live (and sleep) in households which contain adults and/or children with whom cuddling at night would constitute a breach of social norms, such that cuddling at night would never arise, or if it did would be limited or be considered taboo – if it happened it might lead to anxiety, secrecy or shame
  3. The rise of individualism means it has become a cultural norm to perceive people who appear to be more or less independent of others in meeting their emotional needs as admirable and more likely to succeed in certain areas of life
  4. Showing the simple emotional need for affection, reassurance and affirmation has been discouraged in boys, sometimes brutally, over many generations in many countries – directly asking for these things has been particularly taboo
  5. Many women and men have experienced abuse by people who have close physical contact with them during their childhoods (conservative estimate about 12% globally)

Cuddling is a birthright, but to give and receive it requires relationships of trust and mutual respect and affection. Everyone knows a fake hug when they get one, though awkward hugs are not inherently bad. Ideally, they are necessary and valuable steps towards less awkward ones. Mutual trust and respect take time to develop. If we remain surrounded by an extended family and community network we grew up in we may be surrounded by people with whom we can take mutual respect and trust for granted, though see point 5 above. Even if we do not, we can, in principle, develop bonds with other humans at any time in our lives, and these can deepen over time. We can also make strong connections that are mediated by other people we have known for longer.

Cuddling is a human birthright, just as pecking is the birthright of chickens, and suckling calves is the birthright of cows. No wonder we can so easily take these rights away when we are so deeply adjusted to managing without our own.






Confession time Part 1: A crap idea?

And so to bed. I said I would start the ball rolling by sharing my own experiences of sleeping with friends without having sex, and so I will. Unfortunately, life keeps throwing up surprises that complicate and expand my mission.

Instead of living an interesting parallel between being in a sexual relationship, and exploring the ideal I talk about in this blog (being ‘free’ to expand bed/sleep sharing to any close friend as normally and easily as watching a movie together), I find myself bringing non-sexual elements more and more into my sexual relationship. As my lover and I get easier and more confident with one another, we talk about open relationships, the joys of snogging, and not-f*cking, and still I am nowhere even close to sharing a bed with a platonic friend.

So it’s time to get my own story straight: yes I have had non-sexual bed-sharing experiences; yes I have shagged friends as a result of trying to share a bed; no I have not given up sex nor have I any intention of doing so; no I have not asked a single embodied friend whether they want to share a bed from time to time (not since I started this blog, nor before then for that matter).

My heavenly ideal was that we could all become so free of sexual hang-ups, that we could fully enjoy the bliss of bodily contact with trusted others, without assuming sexual intentions. What I find on reflection is that we are too vulnerable to risk it. Is your friend in a couple? Then why on earth would they want to share your bed? Is your friend single? Then why would you confuse them by carefully explaining that you don’t fancy them but you do want to sleep with them? “You bastard, I thought you liked our great conversations and similar taste in movies, but all you really want me for is my body heat!?”

And how have I managed to do this in the past? Okay, confession time: firstly the one boy I have slept with platonically I had snogged on a previous occasion. We are very close, so after we snogged and it didn’t spark us up we both worked really hard to protect our friendship. We have since agreed to share a bed for convenience – because we had already invested so much effort in being close while not being sexual. Last time I stayed at his house he slept on the sofa. (Then again, this is moot, he has a single bed.)

Is that the best I can do? It pretty much is. The worst part of this confession is that it is only as I am writing this post that I realise that we avoided touching. The point of my groundbreaking night time experiment was always to increase our opportunities to touch and hug other people, not just to fill empty spaces in double beds.

A number of early conclusions present themselves at this point. 1. I can give up the idea of the sleep project as such; in here I can happily just talk about sex, or whatever else passes through my delirious mind that day. 2. I can try harder to sell the hypothetical benefits of my imaginary movement – a great uprising of “cuddle sluts” as Marnia Robinson put it – until slowly the first hand experiences start to trickle in – in maybe a year or ten. 3. I can widen my remit.

A blog whose purpose was to invite people to send in any stories at all about, er, bedtime, might be stretching the point a bit too far. But surely there is still room to think about increasing our overall cuddle output as a society – is being cuddled a recognised human right yet? The case studies in MR’s article all reinforce the fact that there is a problem: the cuddling they managed to create, or discover, came as a surprise, and they loved it. How can we possibly create a culture, from where we are at right now, in which being close to other adults at night doesn’t mean anything heavier than that?

Hidden love

If somebody is in love with you and you have not noticed, you either don’t want to know or they don’t want you to know. If you don’t want to know, then you are not going to dig are you? If you are going to do Sleep Project experiments, do them with somebody else.

If they don’t want you to know, they are going to refuse to sleep with you anyway, unless they are a closet masochist. The worst that can happen if you ask is that you find out. Maybe that will save them several years of inner turmoil and allow them to get on with their lives. Or, they may say yes to the Sleep Project and then try to seduce you. Plan ahead if in doubt. What will you say? What will you do? Thinking about this is a good idea at any time.

Maybe secretly you want them to be in love with you. Are you secretly in love with them? Maybe you are curious because you are fed up with an existing lover. How fed up? Maybe you just get that they are keen on you and since they are very fanciable you don’t want to put them off, just in case. Fair enough I say, but still best not to sleep with them for scientific purposes. If you really fancy them, don’t torture yourself. Whatever reasons you have for not trying to seduce them directly, honour them.

I think people who could potentially be sexual partners have to pass through a sort of sexual sound barrier if they want to become friends. It’s part of getting to know somebody properly – finding out how deep their relationships with other people go, what they are based on and whether they are healthy or not, and then finding out how deep your relationship with them is likely to become, is the core of close friendship. We don’t have to be able to solve all somebody’s problems to be a good friend, but it matters that we know what their problems are.

Many times passing through this sound barrier (sex barrier? pain barrier? Barrier of Eros?) causes much trouble. With opposite sexes it gets translated as “there is no such thing as a Platonic friendship” and of course, made into countless movies. What does this mean? It means that when sex came up on the radar people either gave up or gave in. Sadly I suspect there are a great deal of cases where people do give up, or give in to sex which can’t last, or just avoid becoming close friends with person after person in spite of feeling that there are many rewards to be had – richer connections with other people are always valuable.

Partnerships which start up when this barrier is breached are only different to the extent that there is the space for them to continue being sexual. Lots of people get together through having had an affair, this is well known, and many friends who have sex manage to continue to be friends without falling in love or starting a sexual relationship. The Sleep Project isn’t about any of this. It’s about all the beds where people who are sure that they aren’t going to have sex can sleep together – because that feels good too.

Welcome to the Sleep Project

The basic idea behind this project is that sleeping together shouldn’t have to be sexual. It doesn’t have to be sexual. I get the impression that, while some lucky friends can curl up together and pass out happily after a drink (or drugs) binge, most of the time sharing a bed means having to deal with a bundle of sexual implications.

If you are caught in a situation where sharing a bed with a friend would be sensible – more comfortable for you both than the alternatives – do you find it easy to sleep together? Do you hug while you’re in there? Do you have a sexual partner who will feel anxious when they find out (or be jealous, or angry)? Will you have to avoid telling them?

If you decide that it is not a good idea, and so one of you sleeps on the floor/sofa/armchair, or staggers home, is that a way of saying: “If we sleep together in this bed tonight, at least one of us is going to have sexual feelings”? Do you say “It wouldn’t be a good idea would it?” to each other, and then laugh loudly and agree?

If you are lusting after each other already, that’s a different kettle of fish, and certainly, a lot of perfectly good sex happens because people find themselves in bed together and get horny (or lucky). Come to think of it, one of my sexual relationships did start this way.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not against sex – seriously. But I have come to think that sex gets in the way of a lot of perfectly good sleeping together. Couples have to negotiate with sex when they get into bed together; so do friends, it seems to me. I think a lot more affection and emotional and physical intimacy would be possible if it was widely understood that sex and sleeping together can be separated without too much trouble. My view is that the benefits are potentially great.

There are a lot more questions and answers that need to be added to this for a decent conversation to be possible. I will be adding some of these, but it is an open conversation, so please send your questions and answers, your opinions, and above all, your experiences.

And I am happy to be proved wrong from the off. If you have close or casual friendships, or tactile family relationships, and regularly bunk up with other people without giving it a second thought, I salute you. Please share your experiences – regular or one-off.