When I was a kid watching Sesame Street, I loved the character of Aloysius Snuffleupagus. He was introduced in 1971 when Big Bird caught Snuffleupagus tending to his garden, and for nearly 15 years the adults that live on Sesame Street never saw him.
Platonic touch and professional cuddling is a little like Snuffleupagus. People have heard of it, but they are maybe not entirely sure it’s real. I feel a little like Big Bird in these conversations. I’ve seen Snuffy, and the good things Snuffy does. But convincing the people around me that he’s even real is a huge challenge.
Indiana, where my practice is based, is a conservative place. Mike Pence, our former governor, famously refuses to have dinner alone with any woman who is not his wife, as a way to avoid infidelity. This seems bizarre to me for two reasons. First, it assumes that the only reason people of different genders would spend time together would be for sexual interaction. Second, it makes his wife accountable for his behavior, as though he can’t control himself around other women.
Meanwhile, I am not only offering to be in a room alone with men but to snuggle up to them – insisting all the while that no sexual interaction is going to occur. Much like the adults on Sesame Street once scoffed at Big Bird for his stories about Snuffleupagus, many people scoff at my insistence that I can touch men without having a sexual interaction.
The idea that all touch is inherently sexual may go back to Freud saying all children want to have sex with their parents. These theories are widely-discredited but still a part of the dominant culture’s understanding of relationships. Under such a model, all touch is sexual and penis substitutes can be found in any oblong item
In reality, touch plays a variety of roles in healthy relationships. When our friends or family or even acquaintances are grieving or hurting, we know that a touch can help them feel better. My go-to description for touch nearly everybody recognized as platonic is a hug during a funeral. Other examples include business handshakes, helping an elderly person over challenging terrain, or kissing away the hurt from a child’s skinned knee.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to turn those situations sexual. I am saying it’s a bad idea, though. Remember Joey Tribbiani, from the (terrible by today’s standards) show Friends who could add sexual innuendo to anything? Dudes, he’s NOT A ROLE MODEL! Oh, I’m sorry, did I raise my voice? Perhaps it’s because I believe so strongly that role models are supposed to show us how to be happier and healthier, not sicker and sadder.
Touch is good for the body and the mind – the science is clear about that. I (and my clients) believe it’s good for the soul, too, though that one is tougher to measure. And yet, my colleagues and I are out here like Big Bird, trying to convince the people around us that Snuffleupagus was JUST RIGHT HERE>
In the mid-80s, the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) started hearing from people who worked with kids that the idea that nobody believed Big Bird (when Big Bird was telling the truth) could be harmful to real life kids. They were afraid kids who experienced abuse would not tell adults their stories if they thought the adults were likely to just mock them for telling outlandish tales, like the adults on Sesame Street mocked Big Bird for his imaginary friend.
In a similar way, the idea that platonic touch isn’t real has the potential to damage adults who need touch in their lives, but believe that other adults will mock them for expressing that need. As awareness of this issue grows, though, I hope that we’ll understand more clearly that platonic touch is real, and has an important place in our lives.
Once that understanding is in place, the people who need to find a way to heal their relationship with touch will have access to someone who specializes in platonic touch. As more people become aware of the benefits, the industry will grow and more people will study ways to do this work more effectively. CuddleXpo is a start in that direction. As the idea of platonic touch becomes normalized and more people are willing to talk about their experiences with professional cuddlers, word of mouth will become a more useful marketing tool, and it will become a virtuous cycle.
Are you one of the Big Bird people who believes in the power of platonic touch? Then come join me in my office for a private session, or one of my public group sessions.