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 may be more inclined towards various compromises required by cuddle-rich couple-living)
  • 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 become taboo
  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 (such as where a competitive
  4. Showing simple emotional needs for affection, reassurance and affirmation has been directly and sometimes brutally discouraged in boys over many generations in many countries
  5. Many women and men have experienced abuse by people who have close physical contact with them during their childhoods

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 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 an so easily take these rights away when we are so deeply adjusted to managing without our own.






Sexuality politics

Sharp readers may be wondering whether I am assuming heterosexuality to be ‘normal’, especially when I suggest that friends of the same sex might already be regular sleep-together-ers. On the contrary, I think homosexuality and bi-sexuality have a lot to add to this discussion.

I don’t have much time for stereotypes such as ‘homosexuals are more promiscuous’. But I do suspect that when people have already had to wade (or fight) through a certain amount of ‘traditional’ morality to find out where their own sexuality lies, they have often learnt to take that morality with a pinch of salt. I think it’s easier for heterosexuals to get into a relationship and then just stay there indefinitely, for better or worse, because society tells us all that this is normal. Being normal doesn’t appeal to everyone, but it does make life a lot easier, and all creatures are lazy.

Bisexual, homosexual and heterosexual are all labels that we would not need to use if we were genuinely free to love, have sex with, and sleep with whoever we wanted. We do not need to identify as bisexual simply so that the correct group of potential sexual partners can identify us as potential sexual partners. We identify as bisexual in the hope that other people will not get confused by our behaviour and harass or intimidate us for not being what they thought we were.

Once society really gets that many people are not straight, we will be far less likely to assume that friends of the same sex are never going to be sexually attracted to us. When that finally sinks in, perhaps we will be less likely to assume that friends of the opposite sex are going to be sexually attracted to us as soon as we step into their personal space. Will we live to see that day? You decide.

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.