"When was the last time you had really, really,reallygood cuddle," asks Jeffie, the facilitator for this evening's Cuddle Puddle Party. I look around the group, there are 10 men and eight other women here, but Jeffie (pronounced Jeff-eeeee) is eyeballing me.
"Um, do you mean a cuddle like...after sex?" I blurt out nervously.
The room goes silent and 19 pair of eyes stare at me like I have suddenly turned green. One woman wearing tie-dye pajamas actually gasps.
"No, no, no. Tara, Tara, Tara," tuts Jeffie (clearly he thinks he needs to repeat things three times before I can understand them!). "This isn't about sexual practice at all. I'm talking about the last time you explored and communicated with another spiritual being through intimate cuddling"
I stare at him blankly. Did he just say "explore though intimate cuddling"!?
Thankfully Jeffie moves on and begins to explain what a Cuddle Puddle Party is all about.
"My fellow cuddlers, this is a safe and enriching environment where we, as a group, can explore the art of touching and being touched by strangers in a non-sexual or threatening way. I want to encourage you all to really open yourself up to the possibility of affection, and to embrace the physical joyfulness of human touch"
Before we could commence the cuddle sesh, which goes for a lengthy two hours, Jeffie runs through the rules to insure a stress-free snuggle for all involved.
Verbal permission must be granted before any contact is made, no one is forced to cuddle. Pajamas must stay on at all times. No eating or drinking while spooning, and finally, fondling of any kind, besides massage, is forbidden.
Jeffie dims the lights and soft instrumental music begins to play. Let the cuddling begin.
Now you may think lying around a cushioned covered room in your PJs (with complete strangers) would be awkward and uncomfortable. Well...it is!
I have no idea what I'm supposed to do, so I curl around a big purple cushion, close my eyes and hope I'm suddenly invisible. It doesn't work. I feel a tap on my shoulder and a rather large man asks if I would like a foot massage. I decline his generous offer and squeeze my eyes shut once more.
A friendly looking woman approaches me next and feeling a little more willing to let go of my cushion, I share a gentle hug with my very first cuddle party companion. It doesn't feel too bad actually, rather comforting. A young guy comes over, and all three of us embrace in a tight snuggle sandwich. I begin to laugh. Who knew touching strangers could be so fun!
For the next two hours, I'm involved in all sorts of cuddle combinations. Sometimes I hug just one person, and other times I find myself in a nestle nest of 6 or 7. A man named Ken, cries in my lap and a lady with tattoos plaits my hair. I laugh until my tummy hurts and hold hands with people I will never see again. The whole night is a weird experience. But it isn't sleazy or pervy, like I had imagined it would be.
But I do wonder what kind of society are we becoming if we need clubs just for cuddles?