How Cuddling Can Make Or Break Your Sex Life

March 2, 2018

A controversial theory seems to suggest cuddling could be the ultimate kryptonite for your sex life.

If you’ve spent much time on the OkCupid app, you may have come across this compatibility question: Do you like to cuddle? 

That question always gave me the creeps, so I skipped it. Cuddling is for children and teddy bears – and besides, the thought of cuddling with some weirdo from the Internet was enough to make me swear off online dating altogether.

But the truth is, I actually sort of do like to cuddle. I just don’t like to call it that. Of the five love languages, touch is my primary one. I’m a hugger, a hand-holder, a foot-rubber and a shoulder-squeezer – if I love you, that is.

What does that really have to do with anything, though? Does cuddling matter? What is OkCupid getting at with that question, anyway? It turns out there’s a lot more to cuddling than you may have thought – and experts are divided on how it impacts your relationship.

Cuddling: the great passion-killer?

Psychotherapist Esther Perel, author of the groundbreaking book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, controversially advises couples not to cuddle if they want to have a steamy sex life. She argues that being too emotionally connected to your partner is like pouring a bucket of cold water over yourselves: all feelings of lust will immediately dissipate.

While I can appreciate her point in theory – apparently, people have had hot sex with their pizza delivery guy – in practice, I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve had my share of physically passionate encounters with people I had zero emotional connection to, and most of the time, they ended up with me either crying on the train on my way home, or mainlining vodka tonics until I couldn’t feel anything at all. And the best sex of my life has been with people I truly loved and felt connected to. At this stage of my life, I can’t pretend anymore to be the cool girl who has sex just for fun. If there’s no emotional attachment, then for me, it’s not fun.

Cuddling: the key to great sex?

Psychologist John Gottman, bestselling author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, says his research findings dispute Perel’s theory that cuddling is anathema to a good sex life. He refers to a study by Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte, authors of the book The Normal Bar, which collected data from 70,000 people in 24 different countries to find out what behaviors couples who have great sex have in common.

Although the study’s findings are self-reported, and therefore perhaps less scientifically reliable than one might hope, Gottman finds them compelling. He pored over the data, along with his own findings from studying more than 3,000 couples over 40 years, and came up with a list of 13 things that couples with satisfying sex lives do. Number seven on the list? Cuddling. (Others include saying “I love you” every day, kissing frequently, having regular date nights, taking vacations together, showing affection in public, and making sex a priority.)

Cuddling: a great business idea?

On the other hand, some people enjoy cuddling as a thing in itself, completely independent of sex. How else to explain “Cuddlist,” the buzzed-about new business that offers “therapeutic cuddling” from professional “Cuddlist practitioners”? Cuddlist has effectively separated cuddling from sex, and claims that cuddling, in and of itself, is enough to make people feel good.

Madelon Guinazzo, the site’s co-founder, explains that we need to “discover new ways to provide healthy nurturing touch. Separating it from sex is essential.” Cuddling, she says, is “tremendously nurturing, even healing, in and of itself.” Guizzano believes that “we need to experience physical closeness as adults without the complications and pressure of sex.” I guess it’s true that people are starved for human touch and physical closeness: if I didn’t have my kids to snuggle every day, maybe I’d be signing up for a professional cuddling session myself…or actually, maybe not. The idea of cuddling a complete stranger is not appealing, professional cuddler or not.

Cuddling: men and women weigh in

So, if you’re in a relationship, I guess it’s up to you (and your partner, naturally) to decide whether you subscribe to the Esther Perel touch-me-not school of anti-cuddling, or the John Gottman pro-cuddle theory of great sex. However, sex therapist Sarah Hunter Murray, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today that men and women tend to view cuddling differently.

In interviewing many different people about their attitudes toward cuddling, Hunter says she’s found that women often prefer to cuddle before sex, in order to shift gears and get into the mood. They’d rather not have their partners initiate sex without a little cuddling first. Meanwhile, men don’t need to cuddle to get into the mood – but while cuddling, they often get excited and suddenly find themselves ready to go.

The common factor here? Both men and women seem to feel that cuddling enhances their sex lives, not dampens them. (Sorry, Esther Perel.)

Images via tumblr, teamcoco, giphy, nbc

Comment: How do you feel about the role of cuddling in your relationship?

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