The trend is not new nationally, but it's now picking up steam here in Cleveland.
"This felt like a loving place to share energetic love," said Andrew. A first-time cuddler, we met Andrew at a cuddle party hosted by Cecelia Li in Ohio City.
So what is a cuddle party?
Organizers describe it as a workshop/social event that creates a safe place to give and receive non-sexual touch in a friendly setting. Boundaries are set by participants and there are no expectations for future relationships.
Parties go by other names too, such as "puppy pile party" or "contact comfort gathering."
What does one wear to a cuddle party?
Pajamas or other comfortable street clothing.
"It's platonic. There is nothing sexual about it. Clothes stay on," said Li, who is a Professional Cuddlist.
Keeping clothes on is just one of the rules. So is "always ask permission before you make a cuddle move" and the right to say "no" to any request. But inside the rules and with permission, anything is fair game.
We watched it play out with Julia and Tony, who met for the first time at this cuddle party.
Julia: "Is it okay if I put my chest, my head right here?"
Julia: "I'm going to wrap my arm around you and my leg."
Julia: "You are okay with that?"
Tony: I'm probably going to breathe on you."
Julia: "I'm okay with that. That's what I signed up for."
Tony: "What was your name by the way?"
Julia: "I'm Julia."
"You just set boundaries and set guidelines. You just trust each other and you have this insane intimate experience. You are never going to know what it's like unless you try it," said Li who admitted she too had doubts at first.
"It's really weird," she laughed.
Tony, who attended cuddling parties before, was also a skeptic at first. “I thought this was going to be a stretch for me.”
“I really look forward to puppy piles and group spoons,” he said, adding, "I really like to feel people breathing against me and heartbeats. There's something about the two hearts beating together. It doesn't have to be romantic, it's just there and it's very reassuring."
So why not just get a significant other to snuggle with?
"This is just more free and easy. You go about your own business. There are no expectations afterward," Tony said.
Cuddlists claim it's regenerative too, for those who choose to get past the fear of the unknown.
"Touch is a basic human need, that we all need and are sorely lacking," Li said.