Jenny Block is a Dallas writer who has published three books on the topic of sex, The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex, O Wow: Discovering Your Ultimate Orgasm and Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage.
Gary Morris Jr. is from Quinlan, he’s been married for 26 years and he is a father to two kids he describes simply as “wonderful." You're not likely to raise an eyebrow at any of that — but then there’s his job. He doesn’t work in retail. He doesn’t cook up delicacies. He doesn’t settle lawsuits or figure out how much people owe on their taxes. Nope. For a living he cuddles people, often perfect strangers — with their full consent, of course — and facilitates cuddling between people.
Morris organizes cuddle parties, and he does one-on-one cuddling sessions as well. What are the qualifications for a gig like this, you ask? Well, Morris says, he is a certified "cuddlist" through cuddlist.com. And, yes, that is really a thing.
Consensual, nonsexual touch is a basic need for most people, and yet many don't have it met. Morris' is an interesting gig, and it's one that he gave us all the goods on for this week’s Pillow Talk.
How did you train to be a cuddle party facilitator?
Several of us were given the opportunity to train here in Dallas. Len Daley, from [the organization] Cuddle Party, came to Dallas and trained around seven of us. Then each of us went through personal training and video conference calls with Len until we had finished the training process. We then facilitate three review parties where we are critiqued and reviewed by our peers and cuddle party attendees. If I remember correctly, it was about three months long in total.
What made you want to facilitate cuddle parties? Had you been to one before you decided to lead them?
The first cuddle party I went to changed my life. The workshop at the beginning of a cuddle party taught me that it was OK to say no and gave me a chance to practice saying no. The welcome circle teaches consent, communication and boundaries. I had never heard these concepts put in such a way for me. I grew up, like most people, not being allowed to express my “no.” When your mom "asks" you if you will take out the trash, you really can't say no — that is because it's a demand disguised as a request. It really wasn't a request at all.
So, for me, I had a hard time telling people no. I have a lot of skills and when someone would ask me if I could do something for them, I felt obligated and couldn't tell them no, even if I didn't want to do it. Cuddle parties showed me that I can say no and allowed me to practice it with others.
I went to about eight or nine cuddle parties before the opportunity to learn to lead them was given to me. Interestingly, I went to 10 cuddle parties or so before I ever cuddled with anyone. I made the choice to facilitate cuddle parties purely on the value of the workshop. It was only later that I started cuddling with others and realized how awesome cuddling is.
In the most general of terms, what is a cuddle party?
A cuddle party is a nonsexual event with about a one-hour workshop on consent, boundaries and communication, followed by two to two-and-a-half hours (depending on the event) of platonic cuddle time.
For someone who has never been, can you describe — from start to finish — what happens at a cuddle party?
When you arrive at a cuddle party there will be someone to greet you and check you in.
Someone should take any snacks or fluff (blankets, pillows) you may have brought so that you can get comfortable (remove your shoes, change into pajamas if you want to).
When it begins, the facilitator will introduce themselves and then ask everyone to give a short 30 second introduction including their name, how they heard about cuddle party and why they are there or what they are hoping to get from [the] cuddle party.
After introductions, the "welcome circle" begins (this is the workshop part of the event). Everyone is taught the rules and agreements for cuddling and given the opportunity to practice those rules with paired shares and exercises throughout the welcome circle.
At the end of the welcome circle, there are a few exercises that help everyone over their first bump into cuddling and then we open up the event to freestyle cuddling, which basically means you are free to ask anyone you wish to cuddle with you.
I turn on some music to play quietly in the background and the cuddling begins.
About 15 minutes before the end of the event, a "closing circle" takes place. This is where people get to share their experiences, if they want to, and they are given some information to help them transition back into the "real" world.
What does one wear to a cuddle party?
You may wear anything that is comfortable to you to cuddle in as long as it covers you well. Sweats are fine, but no short shorts or tank tops, please. Think less lace, more flannel. No lingerie.
Why would someone choose to go to a cuddle party?
There are so many reasons people choose to go to a cuddle party. Some people want to be touched. Some people want the socialization. Some have found that they want to experience the workshop part of the cuddle party again and again. In short, a cuddle party is a place to get nonsexual touch without any strings attached. There is no obligation to reciprocate to anyone that you ask to cuddle with you. You get the touch you need and that's it. No guilt. No shame. No expectations. All in a safe environment where everyone present has the same rules and agreements and knows how to behave and what is expected of them.
What should people expect to get out of a cuddle party?
Bliss. Well, beyond learning skills that you can take into your everyday life that will help you to navigate your world, I would say that it is a wonderfully calming and relaxing experience that usually leaves a person in a state of peace. You will most likely meet some very wonderful people and make new friends too.
How would you characterize the people who attend cuddle parties?
More open-minded than the general populace. More willing to step out and try something new. Quite a bit nicer than most. From all age groups and gender identities.
What do people who attend the parties say about them?
"Cuddle parties changed my life." "I love coming to cuddle parties." "Cuddle parties are wonderful!" Basically, people go away with a positive view of cuddle parties and love them.
Once people attend one, do they tend to come to them again and again?
Yes, most definitely.
How do you manage to keep the events nonsexual?
We talk about it during the welcome circle and we have those boundaries in place. Everyone hears, understands and knows those boundaries so everyone there keeps everyone in check, just by the fact that everyone knows that that is what is expected. That and pajamas stay on the whole time — rule number 1.
What happens if a man becomes noticeably aroused?
This is talked about during the welcome circle too. This is a normal part of the human condition and no one is going to be shamed for being human. If this happens we suggest that the person experiencing arousal — women experience it too — redirect their thoughts and re-position themselves. The understandings are that it's normal, you’re just not going to act on it.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers about cuddle parties?
It's not as scary or silly as you might be thinking. It's a wonderful, safe activity that leaves many relaxed and content for days. Everyone needs touch and this is a wonderful way to get touch in your life.
Also, you never have to cuddle with anyone at a cuddle party, ever. You can just go and watch, read a book, be on your phone, etc. So, if you just wanted to come see what it's all about or maybe to see if it might be for you, you don't have to worry about being touched if you don't want to be touched. At a cuddle party, "no" is a complete sentence.
To learn more about cuddle parties and where to attend one, visit cuddleparty.com.
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