The holiday season has returned, ushering in a time of football games, chilly weather (depending on your location), and the perfect excuse to cozy up with a good book. As winter wraps us in its embrace, have you ever considered the myriad benefits that come from cuddling with a good friend or a lover?

This article takes a light-hearted yet informative dive into the world of cuddling, exploring the physical and emotional advantages of this age-old practice. From reducing stress to promoting social connections, cuddling unveils itself as a powerful elixir for our well-being, proving that sometimes, warmth and comfort can be found in the simplest of gestures.

The Benefits of Cuddling

Physical touch decreases stress, releases good mood chemicals, reduces hyperactivity, and lowers the risk of heart issues. But you don’t have to get naked and sweaty to experience the benefits, though we have no problem with it if you do.

That kind of touch also meets physical needs, too. Sexual play may cool emotions centered around the genitals, whereas cuddling provides a full-body, gentler elixir.

Cuddling activates your brain and brain stem in ways that can create a physical feeling of relaxation even if you’re the type to cling to your emotional stress. So, a fully-clothed embrace, snuggle, spooning, or even tight-on-the-couch movie marathon provides benefits.

This means touch can make it better when you experience physical pain (like period cramps or an ankle sprain) or have a disagreement with your boss. Cuddling reduces anxiety. Holding someone when they are hurt does improve the situation. The opposite also appears to be true, that lack of touch may have a health cost.

Cuddling can help protect from other behaviors people might adopt during a crisis. Let’s face it— a hug is a healthier coping mechanism than eating a whole pint of ice cream. When wrapped in a “little spoon” embrace, you can’t participate in forms of self-harm. So why not channel your angst into warm snuggles with a good friend… or a friend with benefits?

As human beings, social lives play an important role in regulating stress.  As mammals, humans rely on their parents for survival— for food, warmth, and protection. The act of young mammals cuddling with siblings and parents is known as “huddling” and it may be the scientific explanation for why our bodies relax when we cuddle and automatically associate a warm embrace with a safe place (Morrison, 2016).

In our modern society, we face a lot of rules about when and where touching is appropriate. Another positive of a cuddle partner is the capacity to negotiate how and what kind of touch would benefit you both.

As a historical side note, it’s important to remember that especially for those of us in the United States, our country itself sprung up from a Puritanical religious movement whose conservative beliefs certainly impacted the standards of how and who we touch. That may be one of the reasons that cuddling often feels awkward or inappropriate.

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Cuddling because humans are social creatures

Cuddling is often attached to the foreplay or aftercare of sex. This contributes to our attitudes about what cuddling is for and when it is appropriate. People who cuddle typically find more satisfaction in the relationship. But this same idea applies to other relationships, too.

Cuddling with friends will maintain good feelings during times when the weather is cold or during the ups and downs of the holiday season.

Bonus— cuddling hones those soft skills that we all use every day in dealing with strangers, family, friends, and our sexual partners. The more we engage in behaviors where we comfort and seek comfort in others, the more we learn to read other people and interpret social cues.

Brief forms of cuddling like extended hugs or staying in close physical proximity to someone reconnect individuals after a physical separation. People can express and share the joy of re-establishing lost bonds through social touch.

Cuddling promotes and reinforces the human need for social living. In sharing cuddling activities, we remind ourselves how important it is to remain connected to the larger social group and receive the external reinforcement that the people in our circle care about us.

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Watching a favorite movie snuggled close to someone or encouraging more hugs and hand-holding among friends, regardless of gender or biological sex, can increase everyone’s well-being.

Cuddling, when not connected with sexual feelings, creates a safe zone where people can decompress and share space. Lack of sexual activity offers its freedom. Negotiating and participating in cuddle sessions allows us more practice expressing our own needs and reading the needs of others building our empathy and making us better— and happier— people (Santos, 2023).

Conclusion

As we navigate the complexities of modern life, the timeless act of cuddling emerges as a beacon of comfort and connection. From its evolutionary roots in the survival instincts of mammals to its role in negotiating touch within societal norms, cuddling offers a wealth of benefits beyond its intimate connotations.

This article has illuminated the science, history, and societal dynamics of cuddling, showcasing its power to reduce stress, enhance relationships, and contribute to individual well-being. So, as the winter nights grow longer, consider the invitation to cuddle, whether with a friend, a partner, or even during a solo movie marathon. Embrace the warmth, savor the moments of connection, and revel in the simple joy of cuddling—a timeless practice that continues to weave its way into the fabric of our human experience.

References

Morrison, India. (2016). Keep Calm and Cuddle on: Social Touch as a Stress Buffer. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 2, 344-362.
 
 
Santos P. (2023). Decoupling touch from sex: gender(ed) representations of physical intimacy in the cuddle industry. Front. Sociol. 8:998037.
 
 
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