Cuddle Party? For most of us who have never attended a cuddle party, it sounds like group orgy. But it is not.Jamie Garde, a 61-year-old certified Cuddle Party facilitator, defines it as a social event where adults gather to exchange non-sexual touch. Clothes are kept on at all times.
Research shows that touch – a hug, high-five or massage – can reduce pain, lower blood pressure, alleviate depression and increase oxytocins. Getting touched or doing the touching makes us happier and less stressed. A native New Yorker and the oldest of five children, Garde grew up with parents who were not affectionate and she never received many hugs. In 2005, she attended her first cuddle party and enjoyed it so much that she became a facilitator after she got separated from her husband of 16 years in 2007. Since then, she has hosted seven to eight cuddle parties a year.
Plump and rosy, the 5-feet-tall Garde stresses that Cuddle Party is about effective communication. Her blue eyes dances as she lists cuddling positions: the massage train, puppy pile and rack of spoons (spooning in one direction then another). Her favorite is a long gentle stroke with a flat hand.
Are you ready for a good cuddle?
Q. You mentioned that your parents were not big on displaying affection, how did that impact you and your need for touch?
A. I knew I was touch-deprived. I think I very often wound up in relationship with people because of touch. I wanted touch and that was a way to get it. In this culture, unless you are in a happy relationship or have children, you don’t get a lot of touch.
Q. How did you find out about Cuddle Party back in 2005?
A. I heard about Cuddle Party through another group that I am also involved with, the Human Awareness Institute, or HAI.
Q. What attracted you initially?
A. I always had a hunger for more touch. I feel closer to people when I have a physical connection with them. But it had nothing to do with sexuality or sensuality.
Q. What trainings did you need to become a facilitator?
A. It was a two-parts training course. There was a weekend course on facilitation. Then there was a remote course met with ten conference calls.
Q. That’s a lot of training.
A. Sometimes cuddle parties may seem very informal and playful, but they are actually very controlled. There’s a lot of skill that goes into making sure nobody’s boundary gets violated. It’s very hard to create the same kind of safe envelope that a Cuddle Party facilitator creates.
Q. How do you create a “safe envelop”?
A. I have a cuddle room in my apartment, very comfortable. I put foam on the entire floor, then three layers of quilt on top, and then pillows. I make sure the temperature is right, have some lights (not too bright) and play New Age music.
Q. One of the rules is that you need to get a verbal YES before you can touch someone, what about a verbal NO?
A. The rule is that you are allowed to say no and encouraged to change your mind. Say yes when you mean yes, say no when you mean no. There’s a lot of communicating.
Q. What happens when someone gets aroused? What do you do?
A. One of the rules is you are allowed to be aroused at a cuddle party. But you cannot act upon it. It’s rare. The energy is more mellow, silly and happy.
Q. You charge $16 for women and $25 for men, why do men pay more?
A. Plain supply and demand. If I have 18 people, ten women and eight men, I would have twice as many men on the wait list.
Q. I see that men are much more willing to go to a cuddle party.
A. Yes, men are usually like, sure I’ll try it. But women, they worry about being mulled by horny men or “Am I pretty enough? What if nobody hugs me because I am not pretty?”
Q. For reluctant first-timers, do they end up enjoying themselves?
A. Everybody has to decide how far they are willing to be uncomfortable. You can leave in the middle if you want to, but I’d say 90% of the people come to a cuddle party, loved it and come back.
 Oxytocins, present when a woman is breast feeding, are known as love hormones. People often get happy and silly.