Professional Cuddlers Offer 'Virtual Snuggling' in Place of Human Touch Amid Pandemic

July 23, 2020

    With social distancing measures continuously in place, it has become harder than ever to connect with others.

    Physical touch is an important part of the human connection, but due to the pandemic, high-fives, hugs, and even pats on the backs are now off limits.

    With many people hungry for some form of contact, professional cuddlers, who have created a business by providing warmth, comfort, and a sense of calm, have begun offering an alternative to physical touch called “virtual snuggling.”

    According to The Guardian, there are mental and physical benefits from social touch. A hug from a friend can help release the anxiety-reducing hormone oxytocin and helps reduce loneliness, depression, and stress.

    “There’s no substitution for human touch, but it definitely helps bridge the gap,” Randy Wade Kelley told the publication following a recent cuddling session, but he said he’s grateful for the virtual connection.

    Founder of Los Angeles-based Cuddle Sanctuary, Jean Franzblau, admitted she was hesitant about online sessions at first, but found value in them after seeing it embraced by lonely clients in isolation. “There are two elements that must be in place: expertise on behalf of the professional and the willingness to try something new on behalf of the client,” Franzblau said. “We must meet each other halfway to make the magic.”

    So, what is a virtual hug? Well, it’s meant to mimic the effects of an actual hug, which is why Franzblau has clients lie on their side with one arm stretched under their head and the other near their torso so that they can hold themselves.

    The “virtual connection” can also mimic the intimacy of touch through “increased computer screen eye contact,” according to Madelon Guinazzo, co-founder of cuddle therapist training platform Cuddlist.

    “We can’t actually cuddle but it’s some sort of connection,” Guinazzo said. “It’s like when you’re used to having your favorite meal, let’s say lasagna, and then somebody says here’s a substitute lasagna. It’s OK as long as you’re expecting it not to taste like lasagna.”

    CuddleUpToMe founder Samantha Hess offered an 11-minute video titled “virtual gazing” that aims to connect from afar.

    “Eye contact is one of the most powerful ways to make a person feel recognized, validated, and understood,” Living Healthy List noted.

    While some cuddling organizations have paused in-person sessions, Hess’ website states that professional cuddlers will be offering “outbound sessions” and “park hugs” through the summer.

    In-person sessions will have personal restrictions that include wearing a face mask throughout the whole visit, not talking when two people are within six feet of each other, and capping sessions at 30-minutes per client per day.

    An emphasis will be placed on hand washing for both cuddler and client at the beginning of the session.

    As for the cuddle poses, the only ones allowed will be those where two people are not facing each other including, “big/little spoon, lazy spoon, back scratcher, or pyramid.”

    They’ve also started a group that is accessible to anyone through a Patreon donation in addition to virtual sessions conducted by phone or Zoom to ease the sense of loneliness.

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