But there’s a big question to consider. Even if no sexual activity were involved, would you be comfortable letting your partner or spouse cuddle with someone else?
As we’ve written about before, there’s no shortage of services, apps and websites that connect platonic snugglers. One of these websites, CuddleComfort.com — sort of like an OkCupid for cuddling — even advertises as a handy resource for people in long-distance relationships who are looking for non-sexual intimacy while their partner is away. Other websites require its users to sign a contract promising not to kiss, flirt or come on to their “cuddle partner.”
But even if you sign a contract, couldn’t it just lead to an affair anyway? Not necessarily, says Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers, a family therapist and sexologist who founded the Northwest Institute on Intimacy, as long as nobody in the relationship keeps their cuddling a secret. Sellers says she works with many couples — often, long-distance relationships, or relationships where one person is sick or doesn’t like being touched — who have created these kinds of arrangements.
“I think [these websites and apps] are speaking to a need that has been looked down or poo-pooed for a long time — this idea of just platonic touch,” Sellers tells Van Winkle’s. “We have sexualized touch and forgot that being held is an important thing men and women really long for and miss. This is something we’ve kind of stopped talking about.”
Amanda Pasciucco, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Connecticut, agrees that extraneous cuddling isn’t something couples and counselors should be so conservative about.
“It’s a much better alternative to infidelity or cheating,” she says.
Not everyone agrees. Rick Brown, a therapist and marriage counselor based in Florida, says that even if a person starts “cuddling” with honest intentions, it can easily lead to an affair.
“If such an experience is done right, it is an intimate experience,” Brown says. “Such intimacy can, and often does, lead to a deeper connection with the other person. This would become confusing and threatening to the significant other. I would advocate such experiences only between partners in a committed relationship.”
Anita Chlipala, a relationship therapist in Chicago, agrees these apps and websites can only lead to trouble. “If you’re browsing through pictures to find a ‘platonic’ cuddle buddy, I highly doubt someone would pick someone who they are not attracted to,” Chlipala says. “Signing a contract that no sexual activity will happen will not keep sexual activity from happening.”
And if a person in a committed relationship is really that desperate for touch, Susan Winter, a relationship expert in New York City, has a suggestion: Get a pet.
“I don’t believe hugging someone else reduces straying,” Winter says. “If anything, it could be a catalyst to ignite a romance with someone new. If you feel starved for attention, consider getting a puppy or kitten. The effect will be the same, and the rewards are long lasting.”