It’s Valentine’s Day, when all thoughts turn to love. Or sex, anyway.
While every ad, website, and TV station is busy talking about (or winking about) sex, almost no one’s talking about cuddling. Not seriously, anyway. I’m not talking about a five-second, wishy-washy, absent-minded hug. I’m talking about a full-attention, full-body physical experience involving two enthusiastic people. It can last a minute or much more—hopefully much more—and it can be deeply satisfying.
Most of my patients tend to be somewhat dismissive about it—they call it “just cuddling” or “only snuggling.” Partly I think the problem is the sound of the words in English—they sound almost childish, something involving teddy bears or six-year-olds.
Mostly I think people hear “not sex” when they hear cuddling or snuggling. Which is a shame. Whether it’s sex or not, cuddling can be passionate, erotic, and energetic, as well as relaxing, soothing, connecting, and reassuring. When two humans put their bodies together, they can create a wide range of excellent experiences.
Most of us learn that “sex” is a binary—either something is or isn’t sex. And while people can disagree on how to categorize something—some say oral sex is “sex,” some say masturbating with someone isn’t “sex,” etc.—most people agree that everything can be categorized as sex or not.
For most people, “sex” involves genitalia—penis or vulva. For many it involves becoming increasingly aroused. And for many it requires—or at least leads toward—orgasm. “Completion,” as some of my patients say. “Satisfaction,” some say, which really limits the nature of satisfaction.
I’m not talking about “cuddle parties,” a new kind of event at which people get together, often in pajamas, for wholesome non-sexual touching under the friendly supervision of a facilitator (and not just in California, for you cynical readers).
I’m talking about something that is as wholesome or non-wholesome as people want to get. For some people, that means a passionate, active holding-and-being-held combination of caressing and embracing. I encourage couples to do this, especially if sex has become a battlefield, a site of ongoing disappointment, misunderstanding, and conflict. There is no “dysfunction” when people cuddle—it’s all about intention and presence, rather than “performance.”
And yet it’s a struggle to get my adult patients to appreciate, much less look forward to, cuddling. And so sometimes I’ll tell a patient:
Imagine you’re in high school. Imagine I say I’m from the future, and I know what’s in store for you: one day, you’re going to be with some fabulous man or woman who, feeling close to you, is going to want to take off some or all of their clothes, have you take off some or all of your clothes, and lay around with you, limbs entwined, doing nothing but enjoying your body while you enjoy theirs.
Imagine yourself hearing that in high school. Sound pretty great? You bet!
And now as an adult, if you’re in a couple, you can do it frequently. On this Valentine’s Day, and in the year ahead of us, I encourage you to do just that.