I went to a Cuddle Club (CC) the other day. Yes you heard right. It's a two hour gathering where a group of gay men experience a series of activities that basically involve hugging, holding and, you guessed it, cuddling. And before you ask... it's fully clothed.
What I found interesting was the different levels of need that I experienced from the men I 'worked' with. I liken it to a self serve buffet bar. Some people haven't eaten all day and pile their plate high while others are a tad more selective and reserved in what they pop on their plate: most go back for seconds.
I myself arrived reasonably satiated on the touch front due to the fact that I am staying with a particularly tactile friend with whom I have developed a very active cuddle routine. Although we have separate bedrooms we regularly join the other for early morning sessions and think nothing midday of retiring to the sofa for a spot of tactile touch should we have fifteen minutes to spare. In fact we have created a new word for our activity - we call it huddling - a cross between hugging and cuddling.
So I noticed that my enthusiasm for cuddles at the aforementioned club was somewhat measured.
If this is all sounding very Woodstock and 'out there' I would agree and several months ago I'd have said the same. But the thing is I've just returned from six weeks in Bali and Thailand where physical contact is like breathing and massage opportunities are more abundant than coffee outlets. My daily routine of massage, yoga, and swimming submerged my body into heavenly delirium being stretched, pummelled, soothed and awakened in a way I cannot remember since my nappy bound days.
And everyday I wondered if I'd get to the point where I'd have enough, whether I'd retreat back to the levels of contact I had become accustomed to whilst living in London. But no, it just kept going. I just kept returning to the buffet table.
This led me to the question: What amount of touching constitutes 'enough' ? What's a healthy amount? And critically - can I overdose on touch?
Back at CC I experienced just how hungry people were to be held and to hold. At times it was suffocating: if it were not for my domestic arrangement I'd be piling my plate in something resembling the Tower of Pisa too. Ironic that in a city that is being squeezed for space by the minute and where the number of people per square metre is getting to crowded tube train proportions that so many of us are managing to wander around 'touch deprived.'
(One of the saddest things my 83 year old mother said to me recently was that she looked forward to her annual check up with the doctor for her throat cancer remission because he touched the back of her neck.)
So I've come to the realisation that I need a lot of touching. I don't think I am anywhere close to meeting my needs and fear that my London life will not provide the opportunities required to do so. And all this half shoulder bro hugging doesn't even touch the sides.
Years ago whilst working in Doha, Qatar I remember being mesmerised by the nightly sight of men gathered together in cafe bars, drinking coffee, holding hands and casually draping their arms around each other. Spoiler alert: I cannot see a franchise of cuddle clubs being much in demand here.
Oxytocin, the hormone which makes us feel bonded to others has become known as the cuddle hormone and has proven to reduce stress, anxiety and blood pressure.
So, much like eating and sleeping I'm putting huddling into the same category of 'required daily'
I've realised that my need for touch is greater than, and different to, my need for sex (I have merged them together in the past) I suspect that people in partnerships and who sleep together are getting a daily top up of what I have recently been experiencing with my 'huddle' flatmate. It makes me realise just how unhealthy and untouched I have been over the years and how I have sought to redress the absence with unfair demands on lovers and boyfriends.
I believe that we need a huddle revolution. I believe that in troubled times human touch can calm and soothe our fractious fears. I believe it is an essential component of our daily life.
I'm on a personal crusade... will you join me?