Would you pay to hug a stranger?
Trending ... Cuddle party.
An alarming number of ordinary Australians are forking out upwards of $30 to spoon complete strangers, according to a Fairfax report published last week. And despite climaxing with a communal hug known as a “dog pile”, the pastime’s USP (unique selling point) is its NSC (non-sexual contact).
Welcome to the up-close-and-personal phenomenon known as the “cuddle party”, which can attract up to 100 people at a time. Touching is in. Touching up is out. Foot massage is in. Foot fetish. Out… well, you get the picture. Clothes are comfy and, most definitely, compulsory.
Cuddle parties began in the US in 2004, and the antipodean chapter took off in earnest a few years later. In Australia, Melbourne is currently its epicenter and its self-ordained guru is a life coach known only as Marus, who runs the events as an arm (pun intended) of his Sensual Healing website.
I tried, I really did, but not even a thorough search of the site unearthed any signs of deviancy. Even the initially dubious “cuddle party facilitator” accreditation came through with a little research, and while Marus (pronounced Maroosh) relies a little too much on his touchy-feely credentials, on his webfomercial he comes across as a likable, decent, transparent kind of guy.
Yep. For all intents and purposes the cuddle party seems like the genuine article, and with a genuine following; even Channel 10 The Project’s Dave Hughes giving it the thumbs up (in fact, Hughes and radio co-host Kate Langbroek are hoping to hold one of their own).
I’m as partial as the next person to a spot of communal snuggling, as long as it involves a party of three (one husband and two kids). And it’s not hard to see why we “need” rather than “want” a hug. Cuddling reduces stress and blood pressure, with recent research suggesting that if you really want to boost your oxytocin then simply throw your arms around someone.
So we know physical intimacy can act as a social adhesive, but could something as innocuous as a cuddle really facilitate social change? Well, read on…
The spritual embrace
There’s nothing like a hug from mum, so just imagine falling into the arms of Motherhood herself?
For almost four decades, the “hugging saint from India”, as Mata Amritanandamayi Devi—or Amma—as she’s better known has been promoting, caring and sharing the “spirit of motherhood” via a few moments of maternal hugs.
She’s no slouch, either. Not only has Amma taken her message to the world, including Australia, but she’s been known to put in an 18-hour day and, to date, has hugged more than 30 million people. Regarded as a pre-eminent spiritual leader, Amma says the only religion she’s interested in is love. Amen to that.
Let’s get fiscal
Taking the maxim: “your body your temple” to the next level is 29-year-old New York real estate agent Jackie Samuel. Seeing a vacancy in the singles market, Samuel opened up her one-stop spooning shop, The Snuggery.
For $60 an hour clients get to lay down, relax and “be comforted” by Samuel—but that’s it. Samuel is serious about keeping it all above board and her aim is to make the “world a gentler place, one snuggle at a time”.
Bringing comfort in crisis across America since 2001, to date US non-profit organisation, Hugs Across America, has provided more than 410,000 teddy bears to children in traumatic circumstances.
Recently, 160 teddies were sent to victims and families involved in the recent Colorado cinema shooting. “Teddies have been for many, many years a symbol of security and comfort,” founder Susan Lucarelli says. “Hugging your teddy has taken on universal proportions.”
In 2004, a lone man took to Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall with a sign “Free Hugs”. It took 15 lonely minutes before Juan Mann (a pseudonym: One Man, giddit?) got his first hug. Then the floodgates opened.
The YouTube video featuring Mann and the song “All the Same” by Australian band The Sick Puppies became an instant viral hit. It’s been viewed more than 73 million times and spawned an international Free Hugs campaign.
And there we have it. I think we can safely say that we’re onto something with cuddle parties, but why limit them to a specific venue? In the words of Hunters and Collectors front man Mark Seymour, let’s shed our skin (but remember, not our clothes) and get started—at the bus-stop, playgroup or at the water-cooler. Who knows, the idea might just rub off on our politicians.
“How serene Canberra would be,” a Sydney Morning Herald editorial mused last week, “if Christopher Pyne took Christine Milne gently to his bosom and said ‘there, there’. Serenity in the House? Wouldn’t that be something? But it also sounds a lot like common sense. What is it that they say? Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?