Cuddling Strangers
Latest Craze For Singles

By Herbert Lash
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.
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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