Snuggling Snuffleupagus

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.

How Touch Improves Your Health

Touch can be healthy in a lot of ways. We know that babies that don’t get touch can die, and children in low touch environment can develop cognitive and physical deficits that follow them the rest of their lives.

But how and why does touch make such a difference?

A lot of it has to do with the body’s relaxation response.

Did you know your body had a relaxation response? We don’t talk about it much.

We’ve all heard of the “fight or flight” response, the state in which the body release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Have you ever heard stories about people lifting cars off their loved ones in  crisis? That’s stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol at work, and we get pretty excited about the impact those substances can have on us. Strength, endurance, lowered sensitivity to pain – all of those things are valuable in our broader society. And as long as we’re using those stress hormones to fuel these sorts of efforts, they aren’t bad for us.

Problem is, a lot of the things that stress us out today aren’t and can’t be resolved through physical labor. We aren’t generally running away from predators in a jungle, or trying to clean up after a mudslide, or other tasks that take a lot of physical energy and strength. We’re sitting at a computer, or talking to a customer, or reading the news on our phones, which doesn’t give those stress hormones a function in the body.

Now stress hormones are a bit like teenagers; full of energy and strength, but if you make them sit around with nothing to do they might cause some trouble. In the case of these substances, the trouble they cause is called inflammation. If you have a lot of inflammation, it can become chronic. Chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue, and a host of other issues.

Touch helps to trigger the relaxation response, which is created by the parasympathetic nervous system and also called the “rest and digest” response. That one doesn’t get the sort of air time that the fight or flight response gets, but it’s important of for your overall health. If you don’t figure out how to help the body relax, it’s going to cause problems.

There are lots of ways to help the body relax, touch and cuddling isn’t the only option, but it might be an option that you haven’t tried yet. The Holding Space office is set up to facilitate relaxation. We have designed everything from the lighting to the furniture to the fishtank to the music to help people relax. Even having an office at all is unusual in the world of professional cuddling, but we wanted to take that step to help our clients have a space away from stress triggers (like your chores or work) while still being comfortable and welcoming.

Touch also increases the immune response in other ways, increasing the number of white blood cells in the body and the presence of natural killer (NK) cells. These NK cells are the ones that go after germs and viruses in your system to keep them from making you sick.

Between these responses, the body clearly responds positively to safe and nurturing touch. If you don’t have a good source of it in your life now, you can get those needs met in an ethical way at Holding Space. Whether that means a one on one appointment, or a visit to one of our group snuggle sessions, I hope you’ll support your own health by giving it a try.

Getting More Touch

Last week, I wrote about the physical and psychological benefits of touch. This week, I want to talk about how you can get more touch into your life.

There are lots of options. One is to work with a professional.  Massage is one common way to get more touch in your life. In fact, many of the studies I talked about used massage as the methodology of touch. And massage is great – but also, not everybody loves it. Professional cuddling provides the benefits of touch with a slightly different purpose. When I work with clients to provide therapeutic touch, I don’t come into the session with an agenda about what parts of them I plan to touch. A cuddle is a collaboration – I create an experience with my clients that serves their needs.

A lot of professionals besides massage therapists and professional cuddlers provide touch at some level to their clients. Hairdressers, estheticians, nail technicians, health care workers, various forms of alternative medicine like acupuncture. As Doctor Field says, “It seems that as our culture places more restrictions on touch within human relationships, alternative forms of touch become more popular. It is as if we needed a minimum of touch for our emotional well-being and physical wellness, so we find acceptable ways and sometimes functional ways (e.g. going to the hairdresser) of being touched.

But you don’t necessarily need to go to a professional to get more touch in your life. You can increase the amount of touch you share with your peers, and there are even some practices you can do by yourself that work pretty much the same way as touch in your body.

Self Touch

Let’s talk next about some of the things you can do that help you get the benefits of touch without actually having to interact with another human. Being aware of these techniques can help make it more comfortable to approach others for touch because they help reinforce the idea that we can get our needs met even if someone else tells us no.

Solo snuggling is an effective way to create a sense of comfort and nurturing. I use the word snuggling because you can snuggle up with a blanket or a pillow or a sweater, and not need another human to be part of the equation.

One of the keys to effective touch seems to be moderate pressure. Light pressure, more of a tickling touch, simply doesn’t seem to have the same benefits. A focus on the heart area is generally helpful. Pressing the flat of your hand into your collarbone region for 20 seconds or so will create a burst of oxytocin. Oxytocin is useful stuff – we have heard about it as the cuddle hormone or the love hormone or the bonding hormone. It’s the stuff that creates the strong bond between a newborn and its mother, especially during breast feeding. Interestingly, it seems to only work for that purpose when you already feel safe with the person who’s touching you.

Any sort of compression tends to help relax you. Weighted blankets are becoming more popular, because they can provide this compression. In the yoga classes I teach, we sometimes place a sandbag on our bellies while we breathe to create that sense of compression. Any object that weighs enough to make you aware of its presence will work for this purpose.

Another way to create sensation in the body is through some gentle stretching. If you stretch your arms toward the ceiling and then bend to the side, creating a curve with the body, you’re effectively snuggling one side of your body while stretching the other side. Literally giving yourself a hug stretches behind your shoulder blades, where tension is often stored. Be sure to do both sides…you want to evenly stretch your shoulders. Any sort of twist provides a hug for your insides. Again, be sure to do both sides, so that you get all the stretch even on both sides.

Another practice that provides the benefits of touch is from the traditional Indian system of medicine called Ayurveda – it’s skin brushing. You take a dry brush, and work it over your skin. The purists say you must always brush toward your heart, because that’s the direction that will help the most in purging the lymphatic system.

One last option is tapping. There’s a whole science around this, as well – but the basics are pretty simple. Moderate stimulation of the arms and collarbone and face area. It has the ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Remember that cortisol is released in the body to give it the energy to do something? So tapping gives you something to do with that a energy to keep it from turning into anxiety. It isn’t as strenuous as fighting or ripping all the carpets out of your flooded house -but it’s a lot more active than sitting still.

Social Touch

Now, I’d like to talk a little about how you can get more touch into your lives with your friends and neighbors. One of the biggest barriers to that is that people sometimes wonder what you “really” want from the touch you’re asking for.

Honestly, one of the most common questions I address about my own work with therapeutic touch is whether it’s “really” a thinly veiled form of sex work. It’s not, by the way – and one of the key benefits of that distinction is that I help people distinguish between touch and sex.

I understand that we live in a world that suspects that any touch might be sexual – but we know that suspicion to be wrong. In your experience of life, is it not true that sometimes when you need a hug the most, sex is the furthest thing from your mind. In situations where tragedy or stress is present, touch can provide comfort, and sex isn’t really what we’re after. Think about funerals and sitting with friends who’ve received catastrophic information and are trying to process it. Sometimes there literally are no words, and in those times, we often turn to touch to try and bridge that space between ourselves and those we love.

The first piece of advice I have for you in getting more human touch into your life is to be very clear about what you’re looking for. One of the biggest fears people have when engaging in physical touch is that it might “turn into” something different.

The second piece of advice I have for you in getting more human touch into your life is to overcommunicate. At the group snuggle events I hold at my office, we use a specific phrase to respond to people who tell us no – and that phrase is “thank you for taking care of yourself.” It can sound a little snarky to people – but the intent is really to be completely sincere. I don’t want to hug anybody who doesn’t want to hug me. (Have you ever been hugged when you don’t want to be? It’s miserable! Who wants to impose that on another person?) I sincerely want to know if the people I offer a hug or an arm around a shoulder or a full on cuddle to are actually interested in taking me up on that offer – and if they’re not, I am grateful that they let me know.

Now, I’m in a position to be sincerely grateful for that. I know that my touch needs are gonna get met. My personal situation, my social circle, and my business all work together to make sure that happens. Other people might not have the same privilege – and real problems tend to start when someone assumes they are owed touch. That’s why we started with ways to take the edge off your own touch needs – because that’s completely under your control.

Once you have clear in your own mind what you’re looking for, and you have come to peace with the idea that the person you ask might say no – and that their no, if it arrives, will be a gift to you – then you are in a position to ask for touch.


How Touch Makes Your Life Better

Touch is the first sense to develop, not only in humans, but in all animal species. And since you developed your sense of touch, you have never been without it. You can close your eyes and pretend you have no sense of sight. You can catch a cold and experience not having a sense of smell. You can plug your ears and experience not having a sense of hearing. You aren’t always using your sense of taste. But you are always touching something.

Maybe this is why touch has the longest definition of any word in the Oxford English Dictionary. When we talk about our senses, we don’t talk about our seeings or our hearings or our smellings – we talk about our feelings – and maybe that speaks to the fundamental nature of touch.

Touch and Human Development

David Linen, who wrote a book called Touch, says “Touch is not optional for human development.” Babies who don’t get nurturing touch flat up die, in the most extreme circumstances. And if they don’t die, they have some lasting effects. A doctor named Saul Schanberg put babies who had been touch deprived into an MRI – where he saw evidence of stunted growth in their shinbones. That evidence will be there the rest of their lives.

Children who lack nurturing touch also have lower IQs – sometimes dramatically lower. But there’s good news in this research as well. If those children are adopted into a nurturing environment within a couple of years, they will completely recover the IQ they lost due to the lack of touch.

These same effects show up in adults.  Touch has physical and cognitive benefits. Let’s talk about some of those.

Stress / Cortisol Reduction

Touch reduces stress chemicals in the body. The stress chemical most often studied in this research is cortisol – and cortisol is pretty nasty stuff. It’s associated with heart disease, cancer, gastrointestinal problems eczema, asthma, and depression. It seems a little weird that our body would create such a toxic substance, doesn’t it?

In Bessel VanDerKolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score, he explains that stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are generated in the body to prepare it for action. Fight or flight – these are both physical actions. Expending the energy required to recover from a crisis is a physical action. All of those people in Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico who have spent the last month cleaning up after that series of hurricanes – they’re all doing a bunch of physical work to return their lives and their communities to a livable state. The stress they’re under is going to good use.

But the stress of modern life is often delivered to us on our devices or through a television screen, that may involve people we will never meet and circumstances we’ll never take physical action to resolve. In these cases, the cortisol that our bodies helpfully secrete to get us ready for action doesn’t have anything helpful to do. So, like a bored teenager, it wreaks havoc.

We can dissipate that cortisol, and the other stress hormones that go with it, with touch. This doesn’t appear to be particularly related to the physical exertion of touch – these studies were largely done on people lying around getting a massage, so they weren’t expending exercise-levels of exertion. But the touch they were receiving had an immediate effect of reducing the cortisol level in their body.

Immune Function

Touch also improves the function of our immune system. It increases the number of Natural Killer cells, or NK cells, in the body. These cells are the front line of the immune system, and more of them show up when we are touched. Immunoglobin A, an antibody that plays a critical role in the immune function of mucous membranes, is also increased in response to touch.

Cognitive Function

Those are some of the things touch does for our body…but it also plays a role in our cognitive function. Scientists think that humans evolved social relationships, at least in part, to distribute the problem solving across multiple brains. Touching another human tells our brains that they have help, and that seems to take some of the load off and free it up for other cognitive functions.

In a study, they had people hold hands with strangers, or with someone they know and trust. It turns out that, as Dr. James Coan from the University of Virgina says, “Holding the hand of really anyone, it makes your brain work a little less hard in coping.” Some scientists believe that we developed social relationships so that we could distribute the work of problem solving among various brains…and these findings support that conclusion. If your brain gets a visceral signal that there’s another brain in the area, it relaxes enough to perform a little better.

In that study that compared touch with relaxation, we found that relaxation puts you in a sleepy state, whereas touch can relax people into an alert state. In that state, people who had been touched were able to complete math problems twice as quickly as they did before the intervention – and with half the number of errors. So, for this study, they took people and had them do some math problems (adding the sum total of 7 randomly generated numbers). Then they had the intervention, either touch or relaxation without touch. Then they got another group of 7 numbers to add up.

Why Humans

Touch from a human is different than the touch you are experiencing right now as your feet touch the floor or your legs touch the chair. Our brains are very good at distinguishing a touch with emotion from a similar but non-emotional touch. A recent study by Matt Hertenstein, right up the road at DePauw University in Greenfield, shows that we can identify people’s emotions when they touch us, even when we can’t see their face or other body language.

Even when we don’t remember being touched, touch from another human influences our behavior. Studies show that students whose teachers touch their shoulders perform better, and diners whose waiter touches their hand when they deliver the check tip more. In one study, a researcher approached someone in a phone booth and asked if they’d found change in the phone when they arrived. Subjects who received a touch on the arm from the researcher are significantly more likely to return the quarter than those who did not – even when they did not remember being touched.

Getting More Touch

I’ll talk more in next week’s post about how to get more touch into your daily life – but it probably won’t surprise anybody that I suggest booking an appointment with a professional cuddler as one of the possible techniques. Professional cuddlers are an excellent way to find ethically sourced nurturing and emotional labor.

Cuddling and Creativity

Two people cuddling

Creativity is a sort of magic – or at least some of it is. If you study creativity, you find out that there are two types, Apollonian and Dionysian. If you know Greek mythology, you may remember that Apollo was the god of rational thinking and order, while Dionysus was the god of wine and dance, emotions and instincts. The phrase “write drunk, edit sober” sums up this divide pretty neatly.

Apollonian creativity is based on the need to keep grinding. Editing, polishing, carving, sanding…finalizing the work so that it contains precisely what you want it to contain. Milton Glasser described this sort of creativity by saying

“Creativity is a verb, a very time-consuming verb. It’s about taking an idea in your head, and transforming that idea into something real. And that’s always going to be a long and difficult process. If you’re doing it right, it’s going to feel like work.”

You can boost this sort of creativity by using stimulants. It’s no coincidence, then, that the industrial revolution showed up in our culture about the same time the breakfast beverage of choice changed from beer to tea or coffee.

As you might expect, cudding isn’t a great boost to this sort of creativity (though it could be a nice reward for sticking with things.) But that’s not to say it doesn’t help with creative output overall. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said; “Perhaps the most important duality that creative persons are able to integrate is being open and receptive on the one hand, and focused and hard-driving on the other.” If Apollonian creativity is the focused and hard-driving part, how then can we help people get to the open and receptive part?

The open and receptive brain state that correlates with Dionysian creativity is called a hyponagogic state. Your brain waves are at 8-12 Hz, they’re called Alpha Waves, and it feels a little like you’re floating. It’s that state you get into when you’re half asleep, or daydreaming…or cuddling!

This is the state where creative breakthroughs are made, from Archimedes figuring out how to solve a math problem as he was stepping into a bath, to those ideas that float into your head when you’re falling asleep.

Scientists think this happens, in part, because the world we live in is so complex that the brain needs to see it in two different ways at the same time. The left hemisphere of the brain handles denotation or the literal meaning of things. The right hemisphere of the brain handles connotation, or the symbolic meaning of things. Both are required to solve really complex problems. Getting them to work together – that is the part where the cuddling comes in.

By relaxing the flow of information between the sides of the brain, we can create an opportunity for insights to arise. Scientists can see a shift in the brain waves slightly before you make an insightful leap. (The study used riddles. For example, “I have two US coins whose total value is thirty cents. One of the coins is not a nickel. What are the two coins?” When you figure out that it’s a quarter and a nickel because one of them is not a nickel but the other one is, you’ve had a burst of insight.) Your brain waves shift enough for science to measure about 8 seconds before you figure that out. (Okay, so that example is a pretty old one, and it might not have taken you the whole 8 seconds to puzzle it out, but you get the idea, right?)

This Dionysian creativity part happens when your brain relaxes. If you’re trying to solve a tough problem, one that feels like it has you stumped, one of the best ways is to step away from the problem and relax your brain and just let the solution come to you. You’ve probably had that experience, when a tough problem solved itself while you were taking a walk or a shower or thinking about something completely different.

The challenge, then, is HOW do you relax your brain. There are lots of ways to do that. Meditation, spending time in nature (watching patterns like waves, grass rippling in wind, open flames, or swaying tree leaves helps). You know what else helps? CUDDLING!

How would cuddling help, you ask? Because it relaxes you. For most people, moderate intensity touch reduces heart rate and blood pressure. It also increases cognitive capacity and reduces anxiety. People who hold a stranger’s hand before they answer math problems get more math problems right. People who hold a stranger’s hand before speaking in public report less anxiety about speaking in public. The research points to a physiological response to touch (probably mediated through the vagus nerve and the oxytocin response) that helps people in a variety of ways – including helping them to relax their brain.

Nobody has studied breakthrough creativity and cuddling – yet. But what we do know about the way our brains work points to a strong possibility that that stubborn problem you can’t quite crack might just cough up a solution if you manage to relax your brain for a few minutes. Cuddling isn’t the only way you could do that, but it’s probably something you haven’t tried yet. Come check it out.

When is a Compliment not a Compliment?

I had someone I’ve never met send me an electronic message yesterday that said “you have amazing boobs.”

Was that a compliment?

Or was it an insult worthy of me immediately blocking this person on multiple social media platforms?

On its face, it was clearly a compliment. They were saying something positive about my physical form.

In context, though, it was an indication that, although they were contacting me on a profile I’ve set yo for professional purposes, they were actually uninterested in the professional service I provide and thinking about me instead as a sex doll.

Would you take that as a compliment?

“What do you expect?” I imagine you thinking. “You offer a service where you literally press your body against someone else’s body – how could that not be sexual?”

I understand that some people literally cannot conceive of any interaction with someone of the gender to which they’re sexually attracted without sex being the focus of that interaction. Powerful public figures assert that they cannot be alone with a member of the sex they’re attracted to unless they’re married to that person, and people nod along as though that was not the most ridiculous thing they’d heard all week.

And yet.

Most of us have had experiences of touch that are not remotely sexual. We have held or been held in pain or grief and been grateful for the simple comfort science tells us is present in human touch. We’ve picked up a laughing or crying child and had no sexual feelings aroused by that interaction. We’ve shaken the hands of people we work with with no interest in sexual interaction with them. We have had conversations about business or sports or pop culture, we have cared about their opinions and respected them for their personhood and not as a sex partner.

And also.

Most of us can think of situations where, if we knew that the other person in the room was thinking of us in a sexual way, it would not feel like a compliment. What if you found out your boss or mentor at work was fantasizing about you as a sex object? What if it was a leader in your religious community, wondering what you looked like naked while they were answering your deep spiritual questions? What if your sibling-in-law expressed a sexual desire for you?

Some relationships do not benefit from sexual tension. In those cases, a “compliment” that tells the recipient you’re thinking about them in a sexual way does not make their day better or their life easier. It complicates it in ways you can’t take back. This is where the idea that some compliments are impolite comes from. Whatever you think, some things you keep to yourself because sharing them – much like the impression that your neighbor’s treasured infant is the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen. No good comes from sharing that thought, it’s hurtful to the people you share it with, and once it’s said it can’t be unsaid.

Part of being a mature adult is learning not to make all of your feelings and thoughts someone else’s problem. If you are in a position of power over someone, or your sexual thoughts about them make their life awkward – especially in situations like a workplace where it’s not simple for them to entirely disengage with you – then you need to recognize that you’re not paying them a compliment, you’re dumping a burden in their lap.

When someone who starts off asking me about my cuddle services makes blatantly sexual comments about my physical appearance, they’re not complimenting me. They’re telling me clearly that they are not interested in the service I provide, but they would like me to provide a different service to them. They don’t see anything wrong with asking for my attention, and they are not even a little bit interested in paying me for my efforts. They are telling me they don’t value my time or my professional experience and training. Put that way, it doesn’t sound as much like a compliment, does it?



Professional Cuddling and the Sexless Marriage

I’ve had several requests lately from men who report that they are in marriages where they no longer have physical or sexual contact with their spouses, and who are looking to find a source of touch in their lives. As I’ve communicated with these people, I’ve thought a lot about how professional cuddling could benefit them.

First, being cuddled creates a deep sense of safety and comfort. As one of my colleagues puts it, “the safer you feel, the more risks you can take.” Doing the difficult work to figure out what your own needs are and get those needs met in an ethical way is risky and scary. The sort of relaxation you receive in a professional cuddling session – time spent deep in the body’s “rest and digest” response, with a side order of oxytocin which can help to develop feelings of trust and well being, can support you in doing that work.

Second, professional cuddling provides a safe environment for you to rework your neural pathways around touch. Many relationship counselors recommend troubled couples intentionally abstain from sex for some period of time to help reset their relationship with touch. If the idea of touch without sex seems foreign, it can be helpful for one – or both – members of the couple to work with a professional who can support them in holding the “not sexual” boundary as they explore the types of touch they enjoy. This can deepen your relationship to touch, and the pleasure you experience from touch, without ever moving into sexual intent.

Third, professional cuddling – in either an individual or a group setting, can help you learn to ask for what you want – and to respect the boundaries of the people around you. If you are dissatisfied with the state of affection within your primary relationship, there’s a good chance you’d benefit from increasing your skill in one or both of these areas. Like any other skill, you don’t get good at this until you practice it. Professional cuddling can provide that opportunity. It’s like a flight simulator for boundary practice. Because it’s not your primary romantic relationship, you don’t run the risk of crashing in your real life. It also allows you to practice these skills – asking for what you want, respecting boundaries, managing feelings around not always getting what you want –without the added distraction of whatever other issues are at play in your personal relationship.

Finally, professional cuddling provides a safe place to get your touch needs met. A professional cuddling relationship is not going to turn into a sexual or romantic affair. I consider my work a professional service, like coaching, therapy, massage, or personal training. Maintaining boundaries is a part of the service I offer, as is keeping the focus on relaxation rather than arousal. After all, much of the benefit of this practice is spending time in a deeply relaxed state, and arousal is inconsistent with that level of deep relaxation.

As I communicate these benefits, it turns out that some people consider that final one a bug and not a feature. I’ve talked to people who apparently believe that complimenting my appearance or describing their sexual prowess is going to change my stance on sleeping with clients. It’s also possible some of these people are checking to find out if I’m being vague in the description of my service for legal reasons. I’m not. I’m being as clear as I know how to be.


I provide completely asexual services – and asexual is one word. It means without sexual feelings or associations. Comforting, nurturing, healing, relaxing – I’ve created an environment that promotes all of those feelings. Arousal my occur, but if it does that’s a sign that the situation is not as relaxing as we’d like it be and we’ll take steps to refocus on relaxation rather than arousal. That might mean taking a break or shifting position or slowing the pace of breathing or having a conversation about what experience the client is having that is leading to sexual arousal. But ultimately, I work very hard to help people understand that sexual interaction is not going to be a part of a professional session.

For those who are sincerely looking for a source of platonic touch with no sexual edge, this is all welcome news. If that’s you, I hope you’ll contact me for a session.

Cuddling and Depression

You may have heard that cuddling helps alleviate depression, and thought “well sure, everybody feels better after a hug.” We’ll leave aside the part where that’s not really true (and that’s okay), and focus instead on some of thet things science tells us about depression and touch.

Depression (and many other diseases) is Increased by Inflammation

Growing evidence supports the theory that some forms of depression are linked to inflammation in the body. People who are depressed are also more likely to have a whole host of diseases that are linked to inflammation. One in five people with cardiovascular disease also experience depression, and a diabetes diagnosis doubles your odds of facing depression. Nearly three quarters of people with autoimmune diseases like arthritis, lupus, or fibromyalgia also experience depression.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation Fights Inflammation

One way to fight inflammation in the body is through activating the vagus nerve.  Researchers have had impressive results in reducing arthritis by activating the vagus nerve with an implanted electrical device. This may be because the vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s “rest and digest” response – the state we need to be in to heal from the “fight or flight” response brought on by stress. Activating the vagus nerve calms the inflammation reflex in the body. There are lots of ways to do this. Long, deep breaths can activate the vagus nerve (especially if your exhale is longer than your inhale.) Mindfulness and relaxation exercises like meditation and yoga activate the vagus nerve.

 Touch Activates the Vagus Nerve

Oh, and cuddling.

Were you wondering when I’d get to that?

Touch sensations start in the Pacinian corpuscles in your skin and travel through the vagus nerve to your brain. The word vagus means “wandering” in Latin, and it describes this nerve in part because the it goes all throughout the body – including to every major organ except the adrenals and thyroid. It’s also key to the release of oxytocin, the cuddle hormone. Higher “vagal tone” is connected to both physical and psychological well-being. Comforting touch has the potential to improve the function of your vagus nerve. This may help to relieve inflammation in the body, and may explain some of the other benefits science has shown that touch creates.

So What Does This Prove?

Nothing. I’m not proving anything here. However, I am suggesting that comforting touch may have health benefits that go beyond just feeling good. This might be a deeper reason that touch helps to ward off depression. Our mood is affected by the chemical makeup of our blood and our body – and what’s happening in our mind and our body are intimately connected. As Neuroscientist Candace Pert, PhD says, “As our feelings change, this mixture of peptides travels through your body and your brain. And they’re literally changing the chemistry of every cell in your body.”

Having the deeply relaxing and nourishing experience a professional cuddle can provide may have a very healing effect on your mind and your body. The science suggests reasons this might be true. If you’re curious, maybe take a chance and check it out for yourself.

Snuggling is an Experience

Snuggling with a professional is an experience. You don’t take home a ribbon or a plaque, you don’t get a physical memento of the time we spend together.

Which is AWESOME.

I’m getting ready to move – and there’s nothing like moving to make you question your love of material posessions. (Especially if you’re a book person, like I am.) My memories, on the other hand, don’t require me to find boxes to pack them in, and they aren’t heavy when I carry them up and down the stairs. Also, I don’t have to unpack them later, and they never gather dust. I just get to savor them wherever and whenever I want.

In addition to all of those benefits, science tells us that money spent on experiences actually creates more happiness than money spent on things.

That’s a little counter intuitive, right? This study thinks so. It says people who are trying to maximize economic value are more likely to buy things – but also that those decisions are based on “forecasting errors,” because “people enjoy greater well-being from life experiences.”

This article points out that feeling good is better for your happiness than looking good, and suggests spending money on experiences to make yourself feel better.

This study explains that money spent on doing tends to provide more enduring happiness than money spent on having. The authors explain their conclusion in two ways. First, we enjoy anticipating experiences more than we enjoy anticipating things. If you spend money on concert tickets or a vacation (or a snuggle), you get some happiness from thinking about the thing you are going to do before you do it. When you spend money on something physical, you tend not to get a lot of happiness from waiting for it to arrive. Second, money spent on having things creates happiness that fades over time. Your new car is really exciting for a little while, and then it’s just the vehicle you drive around. In contrast, money spent on memories provides “more enduring happiness.”

What does this have to do with snuggling? When you book a snuggle session you get to be happy anticipating the session plus during the session. Mindfulness during the session can help you create happy feelings that you can remember later to boost your happiness in the moment.

Curious? Book a session with me and find out how the science works in your own life.

Ask Me Anything

When I do my cuddling work, I encourage my clients to ask me anything.

I’ve had more than one person ask, for instance, if I’ll cuddle them wearing just underwear.

The answer, if you’re wondering, is no. I generally work in leggings or yoga pants and a t-shirt, though I would be a yes to snuggling in a tank top and shorter yoga pants if skin contact was something a client thought would make a difference.

I suppose there’s an argument to be made that I should be a little outraged at the request. But I’m not, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

First, I’m just not. I don’t feel a sense of outrage because someone asked me a question. I hope I never feel a sense of outrage over a question. It’s just curiosity. What I’m doing is not something people have a lot of experience with, and there are absolutely going to be questions about it. Questions are cool.

Second, being outraged is a shaming response, and I don’t want to shame my clients. Ever. Brene Brown taught us that shame comes from the thought “I am a mistake” whereas guilt comes from the thought “I made a mistake.” None of my clients or potential clients are mistakes – they’re people. They might make mistakes – but in that case I will simply point it out and guide them to make different choices in the future. We’ve got quite enough shame about touch in our culture, thank you very much, and I have no interest or desire in creating more. Also, shame tends to create more of the behavior it shames. If you shame someone for alcohol use, they’ll likely drink more. If you shame someone for being sexually inappropriate, they’re likely to do more of that, too.

I don’t have to shame someone to say no to them. If I’m a no to something, whether it’s snuggling naked or letting clients grab my ass or pull my hair, I’ll tell them. I’ll expect them to respect that (and, my experience so far has been that they will.)

Questions do tell me something about the people who ask them. There has been more than one potential client who I talked out of scheduling a session after a series of questions, because it became clear to me (and them) my service would not be a good fit for them.

I consider that a win. I don’t want people to come in to my office and be disappointed. I don’t want them to feel like I deceived them, or to feel like I was unclear about what I was offering. I don’t want to seduce clients, in either the literal or the metaphorical sense of the word. I only want clients who are looking for exactly what I offer – nurturing platonic touch. It’s awesome, it has lots of benefits, lots of people want it – it’s those people who I want to work with, not people who are looking for something close but not exactly what I have to offer.

 A lot of questions make it easier for someone to figure out whether my service is a good fit for them, so, ask away! I’m working on answering questions on videos – and I’d love to hear any questions from you that I haven’t already answered. I promise to get to them in a video soon.