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.

 

 

 

 

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Problems without solutions

Well I have asked myself a difficult question now, and one I can no longer keep asking you lot and avoiding myself – not if I want this blog to have any integrity whatsoever, or rather, to relate to it’s title!

My epic-fail example of asexual sleeping together (see Confession Part 1) and Marnia Robinson’s case studies illuminate the problem we are facing in the same way – albeit from two sides of the same coin. Her witnesses are amazed that their cuddling worked out, despite obstacles so obvious that we can all just fill them in. Then they loved it. On reading these I get the sneaking suspicion that, although some are clearly not destined to couple up, some could well go that way – in time – precisely because they have created a safe space to share love and affection. By subverting the expectations of sex, they have laid the foundation for trust that many couples never achieve.

What? Yes, here I believe there is a real problem. Many couples who don’t develop open communication about sex and non-sexual cuddling experience some anxiety almost every night: whether it’s about getting or not-getting sex or about giving or not-giving sex. The biggest stereotype is the sex-hungry man and the exhausted woman, but whatever truth there is in that, we know it will be happening in every possible combination, every night. In a relationship, do you know with certainty before you go to bed at night, every night, whether you want to be sexual with your partner or not and whether they do? How can we ever have this certainty?

Before I list so many problems I start to give up hope, bear with me while I try to break it down a bit:

  • It is normal for human beings to cuddle, and this includes to cuddle overnight – an obvious winner in any geographical region not sweltering at 30° all year round (IMHO).

  • Most adults in the West (which is all I know about) only share a bed with another adult regularly when they are in a sexual relationship with that person.

  • Couples may enjoy non-sexual cuddling at night, or may feel tense about sexual willingness/performance, depending on clear communication about sexual desire.

  • While many couples do enjoy non-sexual cuddling, a lot of people who are not paired up sexually miss out on night time skin contact or even clothed contact, maybe for years on end…

The so-called cuddle sluts show all this perfectly: we are conditioned to pair up and to keep sex in couples. People who have casual sex while not paired up don’t get guarantees for the level of pure cuddle contact they’ll get from temporary lovers. Which brings me back to my first aim with this blog: a nosy-as-hell call out to those of you in-betweeners who evade the strictures of a trad relationship – for whatever reasons – but have established bed relationships which do include affection and trust. Maybe one person, maybe several, maybe never the same person twice; maybe you had sex only to find you both wanted the cuddle more and struck a deal…

This is not to forget that a lot of people are engaged in non-trad relationships with unique rules, no rules, multiple partners and so on ad delirium and infinitum. Do these experiences enlighten us about the path to a cuddling world? You tell me. And what about age? Do young adults and older teens spend more time sleeping in beds with friends, without sex, than older people? Do you know?  Tell me tell me tell me.

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?