Non-sexual healing: an app for cuddlers
More than 200,000 people looking for ‘no-pressure intimacy’ are tapping into Cuddlr. How confident is the app’s maker that it will remain about over-the-shirt encounters?
‘I’m hoping that by being very specific about platonic physical interaction, people will follow suit,’ says the man behind Cuddlr. Photograph: Getty Images
When hook-up app Tinder headed this year’s tech gold rush (at one point growing by 1 per cent a day), the race was suddenly on for other app makers to strike a similar chord.
Yet few could have predicted that Tinder’s latest potential successor would enable people to meet up for what they call “gentle, no-pressure intimacy”. Cuddlr, a location-based meeting service, connects strangers not for dinner, dates or even no-strings sex, but for cuddling. Chicago-born Charlie Williams hatched the idea last spring after realising what he calls an “opening in the market”.
So far, so bizarre, until it transpires that within a fortnight of launching in September, Cuddlr had almost 200,000 worldwide users (including 4,000 in Ireland). Of the 56 active users in my immediate vicinity (Dublin 6), the vast majority are male, in their late 20s or early 30s, and have the photoshopped, glossy sheen of digitally connected millennials. And – whisper it – they’re a heck of a lot more attractive than one might have imagined.
Men vs women
“We talk a lot culturally about hooking up and going down that established path of dating, but there’s not a path to say, ‘I just want some physical affection’,” says Williams. “We don’t collect data, but we’ve noticed a few more guys on there, which is interesting. I think women are more likely to think, I’ll wait a little bit and let this app establish itself before I jump in.”
But in today’s hook-up culture, how confident is Williams that Cuddlr will remain about friendly, over-the-shirt encounters?
“I’m hoping that by being very specific about platonic physical interaction, people will follow suit,” he says. “If two people meet and want a romantic relationship, that’s amazing. But what I want is people making it more about platonic hugs.”
Scratch the surface, however, and it’s not just Williams addressing our collective need for touch in an increasingly fragmented society. In the UK, “cuddle parties” are thrown regularly so that people can convene in a room and . . . well, be held. The Cuddle Workshop (cuddlework shop.co.uk) also holds classes for those who need a helping hand in “nurturing non-sexual touch”.
In the US, a steadily growing number of services now purport to offer paid cuddling. The Snuggle Buddies is one such professional service, with 11 outlets across the country employing 38 female and 13 male “snugglers”. Irrespective of the snuggler’s gender, an hour of cuddling is $80 (€63); a 10-hour overnight session will set clients back $400.
“I suffered from depression for six years, and I’d heard about a similar place of business that wasn’t available in my area,” recalls Evan Carp, owner of The Snuggle Buddies. “Because of my own life experiences, I felt there had to be people in my situation out there that wanted this. Cuddling was very helpful to me in my recovery. I felt really refreshed and revitalised afterwards.”
Of his client base, Carp notes that every single client is male and over 50: “Women just have family that they can rely on, or they’re more likely to get pets,” he says.
And, when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of his trained snugglers, Carp leaves nothing to chance. Boundaries are established before the session: a minimum of shorts and T-shirts are required wear for both parties, clients sign a lengthy service contract, personal hygiene is outlined in the regulations, and asking for sexual services leads to an automatic blacklisting.
“I tell everyone I hire to be aware that they have to sometimes redirect the client and say no [to sexual advances],” he says.
The myriad health benefits of cuddling have long been established: nurturing touch releases oxytocin in the brain, which promptly helps to combat anxiety, stress and depression.
The big question
The question that looms largest is: do people feel as though they’re not getting enough nurturing touch? And if not, do they really feel okay about formalising that need, articulating that vulnerability and asking a stranger for help with it?
“I believe some people have sex simply in order to be touched,” says psychotherapist and couples counsellor Fiona Daly. “And when it comes to getting cuddled, there can be a generational gap. Younger people are definitely more tactile and physical with each other.”
“The thing is, cuddles are usually something you get from someone you’re already dating or partnered with,” says Williams. “I personally don’t think that cuddling is more intimate than sex, yet Cuddlr has become something that seems to take an amount of mental adjustment for people. A lot of people on social media were shocked when the app came out. I hope we can shift that attitude.”
So is Cuddlr an app ripe for the way we live for today, or is it ahead of its time?
“I’m sceptical about whether Irish people would go for [Cuddlr]. I think more than anything, they’d have a laugh about it,” says psychotherapist Trish Murphy. “I’m not sure whether as a nation we’re open enough for that yet. I think the people who need it most probably won’t use it. In a weird way, we don’t feel as vulnerable when we say that we need sex.”
NO LUCK ON CUDDLR? OTHER DATING AND HOOK-UP APPS
- How About We (Apple, Android) Users pose a question designed to lure in like-minded souls: “How about we meet at a knitting class?” or “How about we go for drinks?”, then see who is interested. Great if you have a creative streak.
- Match.com (Multiple platforms) With more than 21 million users, you are sure to find someone you like. The app has undergone a Tinder-influenced makeover, making it possible to ignore profiles of those you’re not interested in.
- Mamba (Apple, Android) Ostensibly a “social dating network” for singles. User-friendly and boasts a VIP-status function.
- Let’s date (Apple) Billed as a sort of “Instagram of dating”, singles create a date card (curated via their Facebook account, much like Tinder). You can speed up the process by sending a flirt to someone (albeit for a small fee via iTunes. Who said romance was dead?)
- iHookup Social (Apple) Another GPS/localised app, iHookup Social facilitates connections (on the website, there is much talk of meeting “local people in real time”). The app has 100,000 users, and counting.
- Loveflutter (Apple) The lovechild of Tinder and Twitter, Loveflutter invites users to blur their photos (as if online dating wasn’t misleading enough) and lure people with a 140-character “quirky” fact about their potential match. If it catches their interest, you will get a clearer view of their profile.
- Hinge (Apple, Android) Prefer the devil you (sort of) know? Hinge only allows users to connect with friends of friends, or friends of Facebook friends. Which could come in handy if it all goes south and you need someone, somewhere to blame.