This is Laura Whitney. She is my colleague, mentor, dear friend AND she is a Cuddle Professional (someone trained in giving platonic contact to adults). Make no mistake …. the thought of hiring a cuddle buddy made me raise my eyebrows. But since I love, trust and generally adore Laura and, if I was honest, it had been a LONG while since I had cuddled with anyone other than my shedding golden retriever, I decided to try it out. One sweet cuddle session later and … I realized how very deprived of touch I was. As vulnerable as that was to admit, it made sense. There is a lot of doing and activity in my life but as a single women and mom to two teens, not very much touch. And I imagine that many people, for a variety of reasons, face similar deprivation.
After Laura’s 30 year marriage ended, she realized that she too was touch deprived. This is what led her to train as a cuddle professional at the Cuddle Sanctuary in Los Angeles. The training gave her language in areas around contact, boundaries, consent, and being able to say ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to different kinds of contact. In a cuddle session there is a lot of communication around what kind of contact a person wants. Someone may want their arms or hair stroked, for example, or to be held very tightly in silence. Or someone may want very little physical contact …. just having a person to lie next to them is all that they need.
Another story Laura shares, is of a cuddle with a single mom who was nursing her two year old child. Laura was spooning her from behind when the mom started to cry and shared how much she had needed to feel that someone had her back, especially when she is nursing her son and all alone. She just wanted someone at her back.
In her home Laura has a beautiful cuddle space - created with the vision of being inside a heart. It has magenta walls, soft cosy matting covering the floor and colorful indigenous cushions spread all around. It is a warm inviting space that makes one feel relaxed and that they are in a place of beauty. Whilst her ,sweetly named, Cuddle Cove is perfect for private clients, it is also large enough to hold a bigger group.
An obvious question is how the cuddle doesn’t become sexual or what happens when that boundary becomes fuzzy. A cuddle is a reciprocal exchange between client and professional and it is supposed to feel good. In Laura’s experience it is pretty easy to know when it starts to feel sexual. Of course in men there are signs of arousal. Before a session starts there is a very non-shaming conversation around arousal and how normal that can be. If arousal happens the professional will suggest that they change physical positions and/or the conversation. It is also quite nuanced because what feels sexual is a different line for everyone.
Laura says that Oxytocin (and caffeine) is her drug of choice. Oxytocin is a hormone that is released inside our bodies when we have skin to skin contact. It is a bonding hormone that creates relaxation and sense of ease and well-being. It is most well known as the chemical that is released during nursing and that helps the mother to bond with the infant. It is actually quite easy for it to be released in our bodies. We just need skin to skin contact with another human. It can be released just from one nice long hug. But if you spend and hour in individual or group contact, you would experience a surge of oxytocin. Laura explains that she feels when it is released and feels a sense of calm come over her, that can last up to an amazing 4 or 5 days.
Allowing people to feel more comfortable with contact, and creating conditions and permission for contact, is a really big part of Laura’s motivation. Sitting around a dinner table with good conversation is nice, but when you add in the element of having physical contact, it is so much richer. In general. people are longing to have deeper connection and a group cuddle after dinner could really help with that!
For the full version of Laura’s conversation visit the Deep Dive Collective Podcast by clicking the link below: