Between romantic human bedmates and a number of stuffed-animal companions, I feel confident in my assertion that I’ve experienced all kinds of cuddling. And to be clear, regardless of the object of your cuddling affection—romantic or platonic, human or inanimate—there are numerous benefits of cuddling to be gleaned.
“From childhood forward, we learn that we are safe and loved when we are cuddled,” says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear. “Being cuddled is nearly synonymous with being cared for, comforted, and loved. As we move into adult romantic relationships, we generally do not lose that inherent desire to feel secure and loved. And, as cuddling behavior can be reminiscent of feeling cared for as a child, being cuddled by one’s partner can be extremely comforting and soothing.”
“As cuddling behavior can be reminiscent of feeling cared for as a child, being cuddled by one’s partner can be extremely comforting and soothing.” —Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist
And if you’re sleeping alone for the time being, you can still get those snuggly warm perks by other means. Research supports that cuddling with a dog or cat can still lull you to sleep with their rhythmic breathing (so long as Bailey doesn’t wake up to be walked at 3 a.m.) And yes, it’s okay to sleep with your teddy bear of your choice, even if you’re not necessarily going to get the same oxytocin rush from the experience. And if grabbing a body pillow helps you feel more secure, great, because it also may help your spine alignment!
So since there are a number of benefits of cuddling that can make you feel safe, cozy, healthy, and loved, why aren’t you getting into spoon position yet? Below, learn five benefits, and then get the specifics on a body-language expert’s favorite positions for strengthening a relationship through the powers of cuddling.
Find 5 real-deal health benefits of cuddling, outlined below
1. Cuddling promotes strong pair bonding in the early phases of a relationship
While there’s no harm in not being a particularly touchy-feeling type of person, if you’re looking to cultivate and nurture a new relationship into something long-term, adding that prolonged element of touch may help. Enter oxytocin or “the cuddle hormone.” “From a neurobiological perspective, oxytocin is a powerful agent in increasing bonding behaviors during the initial stages of a relationship,” says Dr. Manly. “As oxytocin counteracts the roller-coaster effects of dopamine and the fears that are often evoked in the course of relationships, oxytocin can actually help stabilize a relationship.”
As it would turn out, oxytocin has been found to be released in relationships under states of duress, acting as an emergency comfort hormone. If you use cuddling to ramp up that oxytocin release, it may, then, help smooth over upcoming rough patches.
2. Cuddling also promotes strong pair bonding after sex
“During sexual intimacy, oxytocin levels rise and increase feelings of connection,” says Dr. Manly. “Although oxytocin levels fall after orgasm, cuddling and other contact behaviors help sustain the level of oxytocin in the system.”
So if you’re looking to stay connected with someone after playtime is over, another benefit of cuddling is that it can help you retain intimacy.
3. regular cuddling can benefit your long-term relationship
“Partners who cuddle tend to feel very connected and bonded, especially as cuddling provides a sense of being loved and wanted,” says Dr. Manly.
“When long-term partners make it a practice to cuddle, their physical and emotional connection tends to be very strong.” —Dr. Manly
“When long-term partners make it a practice to cuddle, their physical and emotional connection tends to be very strong.”
4. Cuddling can lower stress
Maybe after a four-meetings-in-a-row workday, you really want your partner to leave you alone so you can catch up on Love Is Blind and be moody. And I get it, sometimes you just need a little me-time! But if you’re feeling agitated and overstimulated still, it might actually be a plus to have your S.O. to keep you company and give you a good cuddle.
“Oxytocin is also an anti-stress hormone, and it mitigates the often-destabilizing effects of dopamine and stress hormones,” says Dr. Manly. (So allow for an arm around your shoulder, but still put in place a strict no-talking policy, because you can’t have them interrupting your show with questions every five seconds.)
5. Cuddling can strengthen your mental health
“Whether cuddling comes in the form of a short ‘hug session’ or a longer ‘fall to sleep in my arms’ embrace, the benefits to physical and mental health are profound,” says Dr. Manly.
Again, consider the simple link to how snuggling up makes one feel socially supported; research reflects that holding someone close to us really can make us feel less hopeless, and there’s even promising research on using an oxytocin nasal spray to lessen anxiety and depression. For now, though, you might just want to keep it simple by grabbing a partner, a pet, and/or a blanket.
6 positions that let the benefits of cuddling strengthen your relationship
Of all the benefits of cuddling, perhaps the most magical is the salve it can be for couples, because it promotes a feeling of being intertwined with someone dear to you. And if you’re looking to bring cuddling into your bedroom routine, rest assured that there are a number of positions you can try. Below, body-language expert Patti Wood shares a seven of her favorites:
1. The Taco Wrap
This position has both partners have their shoulder, sides, or torsos touching, perhaps overlapping side-to-side, and one partner has one or both arms wrapped around, like a soft taco shell. This can be done in bed, sitting, or standing, however you want.
“This a wonderful comforting cuddle,” Wood says. “And partners may wrap, pull in, and squeeze if they aren’t feeling enough love.”
2. THE lEG REST
Here, partners sit close with one person’s legs resting atop the other’s legs. It’s a comfy cuddle that usually happens when partners have been together for a while. “That cuddle shows that the partners feel like one body, or twin souls,” Wood says.
3. The foot stool
For this one, one partner is sitting while the other lays down and puts their feet in the lap of the sitting partner.
“If there is foot massage as part of this, it becomes a whole other level of wonderful,” Wood says. “This cuddle shows that one partner feels comfortable in power and the other in submission, but not necessarily that they stay in those roles.”
4. The pillow
“One partner is sitting and sliding down a bit on the sofa, the other rests their head on the side or the lap of their partner,” says Wood. “This can morph into the ‘pillowcase,’ where the partner who is the pillow wraps or rests their arm on the partner whose head is resting on them.”
5. The head on your shoulder
This one has partners sitting or standing together, and, again, one rests their head right on the shoulder of the other.
“This is beautifully symbolic and shows that one person relies on the other to be the big, strong-shouldered supportive partner,” says Wood.
6. The dish towel
This is one of Wood’s personal favorites. One partner comes up behind the other and hugs and cuddles the other as they’re doing something else. Like, for example, washing the dishes at the sink. This is emblematic of a sign of spontaneity or playfulness in a couple.
“Like ‘the taco wrap’, the partner hugging can be the one that needs the love and support, or the one that is showing support, but uniquely, this cuddle can say ‘I appreciate you working to do things for me'” says Wood. “Also because of its unique placement, where one partner is facing away from the other at the engagement point, it can often signal that the back cuddle is saying, ‘I want you to finish working so we can be face to face.'”
It’s really about finding what cuddling style feels good for both of you. That way, you can reap all the benefits as one.
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