- NEW YORK (Reuters)
-- It's not about sex and all about the touchy-feely experience of snuggling
up to perfect strangers wearing pajamas.
- The grab fests are called cuddle parties, and since they
started in New York in February, hundreds of people have paid $30 each
to touch and embrace others in intimate gatherings.
- Everyone needs to be cuddled, especially in lonely New
York, say creators Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski who say it's a good
way to meet new and interesting people.
- But the rules are clear. The PJs stay on the whole time
and participants are reminded of Rule No. 7: "No dry humping!"
- In case things get too steamy, a small chime is kept
on hand. Before the cuddling begins, the chime is struck several times
so everyone gets the message.
- "We've never used it," said Mihalko, who said
sexual arousal does occur, and that participants shouldn't be turned off
or scared by erections. "They happen."
- The idea for cuddle parties loosely came about after
Mihalko, a 14-year masseur, began giving massages to other masseurs who
never got the chance to receive them.
- Signs that people need to be touched were brought home
one day when Mihalko said he noticed a woman bawling from the emotional
release that a massage provided her at an outdoor stand in midtown Manhattan.
- "It started out as a joke," said Baczynski.
"Now we talk about cuddling all the time. It's just been amazing."
- Curiosity is a big driver for people who attend cuddle
parties, and it is a better way to meet people than going to a bar, getting
drunk and spending the night with someone just because of the need for
some affection, she said.
- A cuddle party is really about communication and not
therapy, say the organizers.
- Before any touching begins, participants gather in a
circle to hear the rules and voice any questions or concerns. The first
rule is that the event is not clothing optional, pajamas must stay on and
sex is not permitted.
- Participants team up into pairs and to ensure the boundaries
of what is permissible are clear, they practice saying "no" to
the question, "May I kiss you?"
- An introduction to cuddling ensues, first by hugging
three people. People then get in a circle on their hands and knees, rub
shoulders and moo like cows. After a bit of swaying, everyone falls to
their side, which puts them into an easy cuddling position.
- Cuddle parties are intended for people who are emotionally
sound. People in therapy or who are seeing a mental health professional
are asked to consult their doctor before signing up for a party and to
tell organizers of their situation.
- 'PLAYING THE DOZENS'
- One group on an overcast Sunday drew a mix of mostly
single people in their 30s and a smattering of older people.
- A repeat customer who called herself a born-again Christian
said it was good to cuddle up to another person, albeit a perfect stranger,
after a hectic week.
- "I felt good. I had a particularly stressful week,"
said the woman, who did not wish to be named.
- Friends had warned her that the parties would be nothing
more than thinly disguised preludes to sex, but she dismissed those worries
as alarmist and unfounded, saying, "It's not about sex."
- Like others, the chance to meet someone was a consideration
in attending a cuddle party.
- "People in a way are looking for a connection,"
said Fernando. "It's weird, but not unusual."
- A man named Dwayne H., who described himself as introverted,
said he thought the parties would help him relax before strangers and help
him express his feelings.
- "I have a problem showing emotion," he said.
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