It's a tale you've heard a thousand times: the moment a couple finishes having sex, the man turns over and commences snoring while his partner elbows him in the stomach, demanding some cuddle time. It's such a common trope that we’re practically trained to think of this as reality: Women adore cuddling, while to men, it's just a chore.
But as with so many stereotypes, this one steers far from reality. The truth is that cuddling is hugely beneficial physically and emotionally, for every human being — regardless of gender. And contrary to popular belief, men are just as into the joys and benefits of cuddling as their partners – in fact, a recent study indicates that men may need cuddling as much as, or more, than women in order to sustain a long-term relationship. And a British study conducted last year by Durex found that eight out of 10 people rated touch as the most important element of their relationship!
And why shouldn't they? From physiological effects to stress reduction, cuddling has a smorgasbord of health benefits that are good for mind and body (for both you and your partner) and they’re as easy to get as, well, a nice long snuggle.
The science behind cuddling's appeal all comes down to one word: hormones. A good cuddle, hug or loving physical interaction with another person (including sex) releases a trio of feel-good substances in your brain: 1) oxytocin, the chemical responsible for happiness; 2) endorphins, the chemicals released after a really tough workout or when you eat chocolate; and 3) dopamine, the hormone that regulates the pleasure centers in your nervous system and helps reduce blood pressure.
The result is a cocktail of great chemicals flooding your system, boosting your happiness, decreasing your anxiety and making you feel sexier, less stressed, and above all, bonded to your partner.
Of course, from a less scientific perspective, there’s another reason cuddling is such a crucial step in keeping a relationship healthy — and in making sure both you and your partner feel great about each other. "The reason men enjoy cuddling as much as women is because cuddling, unlike sex, gets to provide a place where it’s not about performance," says Reid Mihalko, a sex and relationship expert and founder of Cuddle Party, a workshop designed to explore cuddling as a form of communication. "Cuddling gets to be this activity where there’s intimacy, but for once it doesn’t have to be about sex."
Mihalko's Cuddle Parties have had over 40,000 participants in the last 10 years, in 7 different countries. Says Reid, "We almost always have had more men trying to come than women. And not because it's some front for an orgy; rather, men are looking for a place where they can have intimacy without all the pressures of sex."
Maybe the pressures can be traced to pop culture; namely, the views perpetuated in sitcoms and rom coms: Men want sex all the time, and women are more nuanced. As a result, we wind up with the cultural viewpoint that in order to be a strong man, a guy should always be trying to get into a woman’s pants. The beauty of cuddling is that it’s an activity that lets both men and women take a break from the pressures (and anxieties) of sex sometimes, but still enjoy the enormous benefits of touch.
But do you always have to cuddle with a romantic partner? Can you get the same benefits from cuddling with your dog or your best friend? You’ll certainly still produce some of the same hormones—especially oxytocin.
That said, there are few substitutions for the cuddling rush you get with your romantic partner. Cuddling gives you a chance to be with your partner in an intimate way and communicate a very simple message: that you love him, you understand and accept her, you feel safe with him. Consider it a necessary healthy part of a balanced relationship diet. Cuddling alone isn't enough to sustain us, but never cuddling isn't healthy either. If you’ve ever had a sexual relationship that had absolutely no cuddling, chances are it wasn't very fulfilling.
"The skills that go into good cuddling are the same kinds of skills that go into good sex: being able to express yourself physically, to open up intimately and to receive love and pleasure from another person," said Reid.
ARE YOU MAXIMIZING YOUR CUDDLING POTENTIAL?
A good cuddle is any kind of sustained touch that lasts longer than 5 consecutive minutes. Oxytocin flows as soon as you feel safe — and it starts flowing very quickly — but the other hormones take a bit longer. So while a 15-second hug can be great, it’s no match for a 5-minute cuddle, which will boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure and improve your breathing.
Says Reid: "Good cuddling doesn’t have to mean you’re not moving, or just lying there. You can be wrestling or playing around. Just keep the touching sustained for anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes." And cuddling doesn’t always have to happen lying down. Vertical cuddling — hugging or holding hands — will give you many of the same benefits as a great cuddle between the sheets.
Not sure if you can find the time for a 10-minute cuddle fest? You can sneak in a cuddle anywhere, from a train to a park on a warm afternoon. Rest your head on his shoulder and wind your arms around each other at a movie theater. Remember, it doesn't have to be PDA; just sustained touch — the kind that won't tick off the people around you!