In the progressive haven of San Francisco, complete strangers can literally come together for an actual “Cuddle Party,” a place where people pay money for “four hours of cuddling at a secret location in San Francisco’s Richmond neighborhood,” according to a patron of this affair.
Writing for SF Gate, Bay Area resident Annie Vainshtein described her foray into one of these cuddle parties at a place called the “Cuddle Castle” dedicated to making people feel more comfortable with intimacy. It’s also the kind of place where 40-year-old men wear cookie monster onesies.
“Not one cell in my body was in the mood for cuddling once I walked up the steps and opened the door to the Cuddle Castle,” she writes. “I was greeted by the Cuddle Party facilitator, Yoni Alkan. A bearded man who looked to be in his 40s, he had a wrestler’s physique and kind, confident eyes. I noticed he was wearing a fuzzy Cookie Monster onesie. ‘Hello!’ he says warmly. ‘Would you like a hug?'”
Apparently, the whole “Cuddle Party” scene came about in 2004 in New York City from Marcia Baczynski and Reid Mihalko, both relationship and sex educators.
“The idea was to create a safe space for people to experience non-sexual touch, practice boundaries, and feel more comfortable expressing consent,” writes Vainshtein. “The belief that touch is essential — a biological and social need — but often difficult to find without an intimate relationship is a guiding principle within the cuddling world, which in recent years has emerged as a major commercial industry.”
The movement has even sparked professional cuddlists who charge as much $100 per hour to do what any spouse or boyfriend can do.
The cuddle parties are structured into several parts, which often begin with guests mingling over snacks before segueing into the informational portion where rules are outlined. Finally, once everyone has been properly informed and introduced, the guests get busy … cuddling. The cuddle area consists of two large airbeds, a futon, and a large couch.
Annie describes several of the male guests and hearing their differing stories about how they arrived at the Cuddle Castle. She remains fairly comfortable at first until one creeper mentions that he sees the “Cuddle Party” as a good way to start a new life in polyamory.
“The mention of polyamory momentarily shatters the innocence of the space, which has been carefully designed to dispel sexuality, as much as can be in a room full of adults with bodies and hormones and thoughts,” she writes. “Alcohol and lacy pajamas are prohibited. The room, which is growing toastier by the entrance of every new Cuddle Party attendee, feels like the set of a slumber party. I wonder if we will build a fort out of pillows.”
Following the introduction session, the man in the Cookie Monster onesie (Alkan) delivers the rules. They are:
- Rule #1: Pajamas stay on the whole time.
- Rule #2: You don’t have to cuddle anyone at a Cuddle Party, ever.
- Rule #3: You must ask permission and receive a verbal “yes” before you touch anyone (Be as specific in your request as you can).
- Rule #4: If you’re a yes, say yes. If you’re a no, say no.
- Rule #5: If you’re a maybe, say no.
- Rule #6: You are encouraged to change your mind.
- Rule #7: Respect your relationship agreements and communicate with your partner.
- Rule #8: Get your Cuddle Party Facilitator or the Cuddle Assistant if you have a question or concern or need assistance with anything during the Cuddle Party.
- Rule #9: Tears and laughter are both welcome.
- Rule #10: Respect people’s privacy when sharing about Cuddle Parties.
- Rule #11: Keep the Cuddle space tidy.
According to Alken, a certified sex educator who turned to cuddling in 2011, people who come to cuddle parties looking for sexual gratification often filter themselves out upon realizing they will not be getting what they wanted.
Better that people in San Francisco are cuddling with each other rather than defecating on the sidewalk.