one-to-one cuddling, a primer

I made a post on Facebook, and then another one, about cuddling.  Someone asked if there was a list of guidelines.  This is the result.

So you’ve decided you want to try this platonic cuddling thing.

You know there’s an epidemic of skin hunger.

You might even be part of it.

Or you might just be ready for some kickass touch that’s not about sex.

But in a world that sees everything touch except hugs as sex, how do you do that? has some great resources for group cuddles, including trained facilitators (and facilitator trainings) and providing support for organizing cuddle parties once you’re trained. has professional cuddlers for hire.

But some of us are ready to venture into the slightly more wildlands and try platonic one-on-one cuddling with people we know.  (NB: I make no assumptions about your relationship structures here.)

How is that MORE wild than a room full of strangers or a professional?
There are no rules except the ones you make.
There are no supervisors, no lifeguards, no one to hold you to your expectations and agreements, no one to boost your negotiations, no one watching…except you.
And in a touch-starved world, oxytocin and vasopresin are powerful drugs.
Which makes the ability to get your cuddles in without it leading to sex even more important, because this way you can choose your sexual activities completely separately from your body’s need to be touched.

There are lots of ways to do it:
  • You can have a formal cuddle date, where you plan to get together and cuddle, just for the sake of the cuddle.
  • You can curl up on the couch together and watch a movie.  
  • You can lie down on pillows or a bed and just hold each other.
  • You can lean on each other while you talk.
  • You can spoon, you can hug face to face, you can sit nested and sing together or read together.
It can be about human connection, it can be about deep affection and love, it can be about comfort, it can be about fun.

But to keep it safe and sweet, and to help you not slide into the dominant cultural narrative that says that All Touch Is Eventually About Sex Anyway Obviously, you might need some support:

Advance communication.
Common expectations.
Some guidelines.

It helps to set expectations and boundaries ahead of time, and communicate clearly.  In fact, this can also be good practice for other situations, both sexual and nonsexual.

These are my suggestions.
Your mileage (kilometereage?) may vary.
Tweak at will.  This is the beginning of a conversation, it doesn’t have to be set in stone.
Think it through.

  1. This is for pleasure.  If we’re not both here to enjoy ourselves, what are we doing?
  2. We are both capable of consent. (There are places and times where this is not actually needed, like if your drunk friend wants to fall asleep on your shoulder.  But I’m talking here about intentional cuddling situations, where you’re setting up a cuddle date.)
  3. Consent may be altered or withdrawn at any time, no harm no foul.  It cannot be retroactively withdrawn.  (You can say, “I don’t want you to touch my shoulders anymore.” You can’t say, “I said before that I was okay with having my shoulders touched, but now I wish I hadn’t and it’s your fault that you touched them anyway.”)
  4. If you have people in your life with whom you need to negotiate so you can do this without breaking your agreements, do so in advance.
  5. This is not about or for sex. We are agreeing not to have sexual contact.  (Again this is for a true cuddle date.  Want to see if it goes further?  Change this rule, but whatever you decide, be explicit and tell them ahead of time.  You’re a sovereign being, AND they should get to decide if they want to play by the rules you want to play by.)
  6. Sexual starts with kissing.  No kissing, no fondling.  Caressing is fine, but not on parts of my body that I feel are sexual, and if something isn’t obvious I will let you know.
    1. If you get turned on because we’re holding each other, your turn-on is yours to manage in a gracious way.  That is, without asking the other person to be sexual with you or being sexual in their presence.  Concretely, for example: if you have a penis and it becomes erect, gently move so it’s not pressing into my body and make a request to change what we’re doing so it doesn’t get stimulated further.  Your erection is not my problem.  You are in collaboration to maintain your agreed-upon boundaries.
  7. There’s a difference between sensual and sexual.  Sensuality is delightful and important.  Most people don’t even think about this line.  It’s actually very important.
  8. Clothes stay on. (Unless you’re both super comfortable with being naked and nonsexual, or unless you negotiate something else.)
  9. Clothes are not revealing or sexy: think cute flannel, not lingerie.
  10. Touch is restricted to not-usually-considered-sexual parts of the body.  Off limits for me: breasts, nipples, genitals.  Your list may vary.  Your cuddle buddy’s list may vary.  Talk about it.
  11. Set a time limit if you want to make sure you have an easy exit strategy.  Set a timer.  Do what you need to to make it a container until you’re comfortable.
  12.  Don’t take “no” personally.  If you hear no, accept it graciously and go to things you both want to do.  If you are not good at taking no with grace, practice.  If you need help with practice, I can coach you.
  13. Keep talking.  Communicate clearly.  Take the risk to be vulnerable about what you want, what you don’t want, and how to find the win-win.  Only say yes when you mean yes.  Only say no when you mean no.  Remember you can change your mind.
  14. Enjoy yourselves.  See #1

Further advice: being cagey about what you want will not cut it.  Our cultural scripts leave too much room for error, and when you don’t say, then people guess. Based on the scripts.

If you want to include kissing as acceptable, say so. If you want to make sure the person you’re with knows your elbow is an erogenous zone and they should avoid it, say so.  Say it.  Just say it.  Start with, “I know this is kind of awkward but…” or “I don’t want to give you the wrong idea but…” or “I’m going to be explicit about something that most people aren’t but…”  Or take a page from Reid Mihalko and his Awkward Conversation Formula and say, “I’m afraid to tell you this, because I’m concerned that you’re going to (think/do/say)… but I feel like I need to tell you anyway.  I’m really hoping you’ll… after you hear me out.”  Talk about the insulin injector that you wear or the pacemaker or your back injury or how you love it when people tuck their heads on your shoulder.  Say it.

So how does this look in real life? What if you want to cuddle with someone you usually watch movies with anyway?  Use these as guidelines to have a conversation about it:

“Hey, I was wondering if you’d like to platonically cuddle while we watch Terminator 4 tonight?”

“Platonic cuddles, what’s that?”

“Well, we’d lie on a big pile of floor pillows with some blankets, with our clothes on, and hug and touch gently, but not trying to get turned on, just because touching another human is nice.  Like a really long hug.”

“What if we get turned on?”

“We just agree not to do anything with the turn on.”

“Not do anything?”

“Yeah, so like, if I get turned on I won’t start touching you sexually or kissing you or anything, I’ll just know I’m feeling that.”

“And what if I don’t want to do something you’re doing?”

“Then you just say so and I stop.  And if you want to do something we just talk about it.”

“OK that sounds kind of awesome. Weird, but awesome. Let me text my sweetie and see if we need to talk more before I do this.  We’ve never really talked about it but she’s really affectionate with her family and friends, and she likes you, so it’s probably fine….[typetype] She says it’s cool, but no hands under clothes.”

“Wasn’t planning that anyway, but it’s nice to have that clarity from her.  Awesome, let’s get the throw pillows.”

If you like this idea, and you want to see how people you know might respond, here’s the post I made on Facebook:

Okay folks, I would like to make this abundantly clear: I like to cuddle. That’s platonic, bodies touching, clothes on (off is a different conversation), makes you drowsy and floppy cuddle. If we are friends, and you would like to cuddle, please feel free to ask me for a cuddle date, or ask for cuddles when we are already hanging out (if you have partners who need to be negotiated with, please take care of that first).

I am committed to promoting platonic cuddles where they are wanted. I am tweaking my living room because more cuddles are good.

And if I don’t want to, I will tell you that. Obviously no means no. But I will not be mad at you for asking.

…and a particularly wise friend and experienced cuddler, Brian Buchbinder, commented:

Some might think of it as “just” cuddling, as if that were a limitation. Really, though, whether it’s cuddling or kissing, setting a clear boundary about what’s going on means you can play as all-in as possible. When there is a tension about intent, the power of the interaction is limited. Funny about how setting limits allows for unlimited participation and connection. 

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

I invite you to take the words from my Facebook post, tweak them, and make your own invitation.  See what you get.  🙂  The world changes by changing its parts, and we are its parts.

Happy cuddling!