Get in Touch: Alternative Sources of Affection for Singles

by Tierney McAfee

Single people need love too—especially since summer is only a few weeks away.  By now you’ve taken down the mistletoe, had or missed a New Year’s kiss and Valentine’s Day was ages ago. If the only thing you have to hold now is your iPod Touch, you may be feeling deprived of your body’s need for human touch.

CC Image courtesy of zaphodsotherhead at Flickr

Touch and other forms of physical contact are important for your health and emotional state.  It can lower blood pressure and heart rate, increase immune function, relieve pain and heighten alertness, making you healthier, happier, more productive and less anxious.

Touch is an important tool to reduce stress levels, said Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana. It lowers the stress hormone cortisol and increases oxytocin, a hormone associated with contentment.

“Oxytocin, which is also known as the cuddle hormone, or love hormone, leads us to socially connect with other people,” Hertenstein said.  “It’s the natural drug of love.  It draws us together with other people.”

The good news is there’s more than one way to touch and be touched. So instead of staying home alone and crying into your tub of ice cream, try these alternative sources of affection.



Attend a cuddle party.

A new West Village event space called The Garden hosts bi-monthly cuddle parties—an innovative, albeit unusual, way to meet and snuggle with strangers in a non-alcoholic, non-sexual setting.

Cuddle parties kick off like any other parties—the first hour is devoted to mingling and chatting with new people. But that’s where the similarities end. Party-goers then change into their PJs and organizers go over the rules of cuddle partying: you must ask others’ permission to cuddle, abstain from using drugs or alcohol, and most importantly—keep your pants on.  Once the rules are established, participants engage in “freestyle cuddling,” which could be anything from hugging to back rubbing to spooning between two or more people.

Len Daley, the executive director of Cuddle Party Headquarters in Montgomery, Ala., said cuddle parties are a great way to explore alternative acts of intimacy in a safe, non-threatening environment.

“A lot of people think that the only way they can get touched is if they agree to have sex,” said Daley, who has worked as a massage therapist and marriage counselor for almost 40 years. “Sex is the most postponable of needs. The need for touch is not postponable.”

Andrew Riddles knows this all too well.  He attended his first cuddle party in December, and by February he was already craving cuddles and back for another party.

“Emotionally, they’re really a very affirming experience,” Riddles said. “They really make you feel good about yourself. It’s kind of a natural high. You come away from a cuddle party feeling almost elated from having intimate contact with people.”

While Riddles isn’t nervous about getting up close and personal with strangers, he said some people go into a cuddle party with reservations.

“One of the most interesting things is to see people at the beginning who are really nervous or emotional because they’re really missing physical touch, but they’re not sure about the scenario,” Riddles said.  “But by the end of the evening, they are radiantly happy, so it’s very touching to see that transformation.”


Get a massage.

Barbara Goldschmidt, the director of public relations at the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences in Chelsea, said to think of touch as “vitamin T” because it’s so necessary for overall health.

Studies show that massage is helpful for reducing muscular tension and stress levels, managing anxiety and depression, and boosting immunity.  But it also provides people with gentle care and comfort from another person.

“We touch all the time and that helps a little, but touch really becomes therapeutic and comforting when the touch is intentional, when you’re touching for the sake of touching,” Goldschmidt said.  “When you have an intention of healing or comforting, and when the touch is sustained, touching can decrease stress responses in the body.”

Brief or random touching doesn’t have the same effect as a touch that lasts for 15 minutes to an hour, she added.

Nicole Greene of Brooklyn was recently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and the extra stressors that come with living in a city like New York don’t help, she said.  To cope, she treats herself to some vitamin T—in the form of a Swedish massage—once a month.

“A massage releases the built-up tension in my muscles and also gives me an hour of complete silence, where all the focus is on my health and well-being,” Greene said.

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