There are two types of people in this world: snuggle bugs and hug-haters. Okay, it's not quite that simple, but cuddling can be a contentious topic. Some people love doling out bear hugs like candy while others visibly shudder at the thought. But when it comes to romantic relationships, there should be no such thing as too close for comfort. Not only can cuddling act as a nonverbal love language that builds intimacy and trust, but it also affects our brain chemistry. Seriously — spooning is backed by science.
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Snug as a Bug in a Rug
What does “cuddle” mean? In a nutshell, it's to hold someone or something close in an intimate way. Parents cuddle their children, people cuddle their pets or a pillow, and romantic partners cuddle each other. There are a myriad of exchanges that count as cuddling, from kissing and holding hands to massaging and hugging. How to cuddle someone is up to you and the recipient, and there is no wrong way to cozy up.
We have sobering news for the snuggle-averse — cuddling is so good for you, it literally changes your brain for the better. Things like hugging, hand-holding and sexual intimacy trigger the release of powerful hormones, such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
Oxytocin isn't called the "love hormone" for nothing; it's linked to everything from bonding and trust to relationship-building and orgasms. Your brain floods your body with oxytocin during a climax, so feel free to get down as often as you like — it is for science, after all.
If you're in a relationship, physical closeness is vitally important. One international study, out of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, found that consistent cuddling contributed to more satisfying long-term relationships. It also strengthens empathy and helps create a rewarding sex life.
The benefits of cuddling don't stop there. It can also:
Improve your sleep — getting a dose of oxytocin before bed is a surefire way to help you sleep better, thanks to its calming effects. Whether that's from spooning for a few minutes or a pre-snooze romp, we wholeheartedly approve.
- Boost immunity — consistent physical touch, like getting a massage, can give a lift to your immune system. One 2010 study found that people who enjoyed Swedish massages had lowered stress hormones and inflammation-causing proteins, plus more white blood cells. (And if you want to up the ante by making your massages a little more intimate...well, we have a few things that can help with that).
Help you express emotions — sometimes words aren't enough. That's where touch becomes a powerful communicator. Some research (and even a study or two) suggests that even between strangers and friends touch can convey emotions. The range is impressive, including anger, fear, love, gratitude, sympathy, disgust, happiness, and sadness.
- Reduce stress and anxiety — oxytocin gets to work calming and soothing you while lowering the stress hormone cortisol. This allows you to open up and relax, making it easier to deal with stressful situations.
And that's barely scratching the surface. Not only can cuddling strengthen your relationships and sex life, but it also makes you healthier. (Score one for the touchy-feely folks.)
To Have and To Hold: Relationship Cuddling
The feel-good hormones are responsible for many of the benefits that come with different types of cuddling, so don't discriminate. Before you resign to be the little spoon for life, know that there are loads of different cuddling positions, meaning you've got options. Some of the best ways to cuddle for couples include:
This one is for the intense snugglers. Ideal for when you're in bed, partners face each other with legs and arms intertwined. One person's neck cradles the other's face and stomachs touch.
Easy-peasy and perfect for Netflix night. One person sits criss-cross or straight-legged on the couch or floor while the other rests their head in their lap. Incorporate some hair stroking and you've got a sense of security and comfort.
Anyone who isn't a fan of full spoonage should appreciate this pared-down version. One partner lies on their back while the other rests on their side. They then nestle their head into the crook of their partner's arm and drape their arm across their chest. Comfortable, with some independence.
The Booty Bond
If you overheat or like maintaining some space, this one is perfect. Both partners lie down and face opposite directions, but close enough to touch. This back-to-back and butt-to-butt position allows you to breathe easily and keep cool, yet still enjoy a little footsie.
And Don't Forget...
Cuddling is not the domain of one gender or type of person. Do guys like cuddling? Heck yes they do!
That study from the Kinsey Institute also found that men sometimes value snuggling more than women. Of course, that's not to say there aren't women or non-binary folks out there who enjoy it more or just as much. This is a highly individual thing we're talking about.
People's motivations vary. What does cuddling mean to guys? Often, it's a precursor to sexy time. That doesn't mean every snuggle session has ulterior motives, only that feeling that closeness and physical touch can increase their desire. For some women, cuddling can help them get into the right frame of mind for sex, even when the touching isn't sexual. And people of all genders can appreciate cuddling for the intimacy, comfort and sense of security it brings.
Sex and Snuggles
Because cuddling can trigger sexual desire in people, it often leads to sex. But that doesn't mean it has to!
Every relationship should have a healthy balance between sexual and non-sexual touch. Otherwise, the expectations of either party can get out of whack. Communication helps a lot here.
Cuddling after sex is a different story. Research has shown that post-coitus canoodling boosts sexual satisfaction. This feeling tends to be stronger with women, but men can feel it too.
Cuddling can tell you a lot about your relationship. Leading relationship and sex researcher John Gottman has found that cuddly couples tend to have strong, gratifying sex lives. And the way you snuggle up also says something. For instance, people who hold hands while they sleep tend to be strongly connected, while back-to-back cuddling indicates respect.
Is cuddling a sign of love? It can be. But don't panic if your partner doesn't enjoy getting touchy-feely all the time. It doesn't necessarily mean they aren't into you. They may have other reasons for feeling physically withdrawn or wanting their personal space. Here are a few things you can do in this situation:
Talk about it — open the lines of communication to see how each of you feels about physical closeness.
Ask for it — people have needs! It's okay to request some snuggle time.
Read the room — some folks just need the timing and atmosphere to be right. Maybe they don't like public displays of affection but wouldn't mind snuggling on the couch at home.
Step into their shoes — try to understand and empathize with why your partner doesn't want to cuddle. Their reasons may surprise you.
- Be patient — an unwilling partner might be rejecting a spooning session but that doesn't mean they're rejecting you. Take the time to work out what's going on and be patient while you do.
Touch and Go
Affection is a very important part of a relationship, whether it's holding hands, a light caress, drawn-out hugs or a quick peck on the cheek. Cuddling expresses to your partner that your feelings are beyond words. Humans crave and need physical touch, so don't be shy — science has your back.
TAKE A LOOK
Couples report gender differences in relationship, sexual satisfaction over time. (July 2011). Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Oxytocin Pair Bonding. (November 2009). Psychology Today.
Health Benefits of Cuddling (May 2020). WebMD.
How to Cuddle Like You Mean It (And Why You Should). (August 2019). Healthline.
The communication of emotion via touch. (February 2009). APA Psych Net.
What Do Men Want? Turns Out It's Cuddling. (July 2011). WebMD.
The Sexual Science of Cuddling. (August 2017). Psychology Today.
Broadening Your Horizons: Self-Expanding Activities Promote Desire and Satisfaction in Established Romantic Relationships. (September 2018). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Apparently Your Cuddling Style Can Say A LOT About Your Relationship. (October 2018). Women's Health.