Cuddling can create feelings of intimacy and closeness. But it’s not necessary for a healthy and successful relationship.
Every couple of years, headlines around “professional cuddlers” make the rounds, telling stories of people who make a living by offering cuddles for a fee.
This might seem odd to some people. It did for local authorities in some cities who suspected that cuddling was, in fact, not just about cuddling but about sex. But the truth is, cuddling doesn’t have to have anything to do with sex — and it can even be good for your well-being.
Well, it turns out there are quite a few benefits that come with cuddling, both for our psychological and physical health because most people crave touch, especially a comforting touch like a cuddle.
Cuddling can have many benefits because, at its core, it’s a form of hugging. Research has shown that physically embracing can benefit our well-being, whether romantic or not, because it releases endorphins.
Although cuddling can be beneficial even when done platonically, when cuddling happens in romantic relationships, it can benefit the relationship in several important ways.
First, explains Lanae St. John, a board certified sexologist and trained cuddlist from San Francisco, “cuddling is a physical way of showing that you care about each other and want to be close.”
In other words, it’s a way to be intimate without necessarily having sex.
Second, cuddling can impact our bodies on a hormonal level.
“When we cuddle, our bodies release serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin,” explains Stefani Goerlich, certified sex therapist and licensed social worker. These hormones make us feel good, happy, and bonded.
In particular, oxytocin helps us bond with others, form memories, and, as Goerlich noted, feel “warm-fuzzy feelings.” So when the cuddles are romantic, the embrace can make us feel more infatuated, in love, or generally romantic toward our partner.
In other words, “it bonds partners together,” says David Tzall. “It is a way to be close with someone without making it sexual.”
This kind of touch also reduces cortisol in our body, the hormone that is connected with stress. This lowers our heart rate, helps us breathe slower, lowers blood pressure, and generally makes us feel less anxious, particularly after a stressful day.
Can improve sex
While cuddling doesn’t have to be sexual or lead to sex, for some people, it can be a form of foreplay and can improve your sex life simply because it makes you feel closer to your partner.
“When you feel safe being physically close to your partner,” explains St. John, “it can lead to more passionate sex.”
Yes. Cuddling, like all touch, can be a form of intimacy.
“Cuddling is an excellent way to express physical intimacy and affection in a relationship,” says St. John. “It can help create a sense of closeness and security and can be a very intimate experience.”
But how intimate the experience feels depends on who it’s with and how it’s conducted. For some people, cuddling can be more friendly than romantic, which is why there are people who work as cuddlers.
Can cuddling make you fall in love?
On its own, cuddling is unlikely to make you fall in love with someone. But, as noted above, because cuddling can cause your body to release certain hormones, like oxytocin, it can make you feel loved or bonded with someone that you’re already falling for.
Can cuddling help build a healthy relationship?
Just like cuddling can’t alone make you fall in love, cuddling on its own can’t make a relationship “healthier.” However, it could be a tool to build intimacy and work on making your relationship healthy, depending on what it means to you and your partner.
“The hormones that are released when cuddling [can] directly influence how we relate to our partners,” says Goerlich.
For instance, releasing dopamine, the hormone that regulates the pleasure regions of the brain, may be able to lower anxiety. Goerlich also noted, “if you’re navigating feelings of jealousy, cuddling can help regulate those fears at a physiological level.”
Additionally, she says. “studies have shown that physical touch—even things as simple as holding hands—can increase our feelings of compassion for others.”
That’s why she often tells the couples she works with to hold hands when arguing or engaging in a heated conversation. Even that simple touch may help couples relate better to each other’s feelings.
Plus, since cuddling can help you bond, it can make you feel generally closer to each other.
“The closer connected the couple is, the more they are likely to work out their issues in a healthy manner, speak openly about their needs, decrease the risk of conflict, and have longevity,” says Tzall.
As often as you both want! “Physical touch is so important to us both as individuals and as partners,” says Goerlich.
However, there is no set amount of cuddling time that will make you feel the maximum benefit, because ultimately, how effective cuddling is depends on the individual. In other words: it’s going to mean more to some people than others.
“I recommend that a couple agrees upon when they want to cuddle,” says St. James. For example, some couples like doing it while they fall asleep.
That said, cuddling isn’t necessarily for everyone.
“Some people find cuddling uncomfortable or awkward, and others just prefer other forms of intimacy,” St. James continues. “If cuddling is not something someone is interested in, there is no need to force it. There are plenty of other ways to express love and affection.”
What does cuddling mean to a woman vs. a man?
Unlike what some 90s rom-com may have suggested, there is no inherent way women and men feel about cuddling. It just means different things to some of us than others.
“I think we all make a lot of assumptions about what cuddling is,” says St. James. “So many people, regardless of gender, think of it as a precursor to sex.” But other people will just see it as a way to bond or be comforted during difficult times.
“Rather than seeing it strictly from a heteronormative lens, all different types of couples can cuddle and it is important to note it might mean something different to that person, despite their gender or sexual orientation,” he says.
Tzall added, “I know clients that have no issues with sex but will not cuddle as it feels too unsafe or vulnerable.”
Cuddling can be incredibly beneficial to both individuals and couples, especially when two people both enjoy it. This form of touch can make you feel safe, less anxious, and more bonded as a pair, which in turn might make you both feel closer and more empathetic to each other’s needs.
But bear in mind, some people simply don’t like cuddling as much — and that’s OK too. Other forms of intimacy can be just as beneficial to your relationship.