The benefits of cuddling for both the body and mind have been recognized since the 1950s. However, what exactly happens during cuddling and why is it so beneficial?
Cuddling plays a vital role in the survival of babies, both in the human and animal world. In early childhood, the child forms a deep bond with their mother, creating a secure and nurturing environment. This bond is essential for the child’s well-being and serves as a safe haven, providing both emotional comfort and sustenance.
However, the significance of attachment behavior extends beyond mere survival. Acts of affection, such as touching, cuddling, holding, and comforting, have a profound impact on our health. They promote overall well-being, boost self-confidence, and alleviate anxiety. Importantly, these positive effects of loving attention are not limited to children alone—they extend to individuals of all ages.
The release of a happy hormone
The exact reasons behind the health benefits of cuddling remain somewhat elusive. However, according to Ellen de Bruijn, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, cuddling triggers the release of a special hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is also released during breastfeeding, massages, and sexual activities. However, as we age, the levels of oxytocin in our bodies naturally decline.
De Bruijn emphasizes that increasing the frequency of cuddling is undeniably beneficial. It positively impacts our physical, mental, and social well-being. Through experiments, it has been observed that oxytocin helps reduce anxiety in social situations.
Furthermore, research suggests that even a simple hug or touch can have a positive effect on our health by reducing stress levels. Lower stress levels, in turn, enhance our resilience to infections.
According to the recipe for happiness from American neuro-economist Paul Zak, affectionately known as ‘Dr. Love’, hugging at least eight times a day contributes to both our physical and mental well-being. While this recommendation may seem somewhat exaggerated, there is some truth to it, as acknowledged by De Bruijn.
General practitioner and sexologist Peter Leusink also believes it is essential to reintroduce cuddling, especially in romantic partnerships. In some relationships, sexual intimacy may have diminished, but what is truly unfortunate is the absence of cuddling, which is often overlooked or disregarded.
According to Leusink’s explanation, one reason why cuddling may be avoided in a relationship is the fear that it will inevitably lead to sexual activity. This misconception persists, with the underlying belief being that refraining from physical touch prevents the expectation of further intimacy. However, this perspective overlooks the value of intimacy derived solely from cuddling.
Therefore, it is important to embrace the practice of offering a comforting hug while clearly communicating the intention. For instance, expressing sentiments such as, “I don’t desire sex right now; I simply take pleasure in holding you close”. It is essential for us to relearn the distinction between various forms of intimacy and acknowledge that the act of cuddling itself holds its own intrinsic value.
What about cuddling with the neighbor?
However, what if you don’t have a romantic partner? Cuddling with a neighbor or a platonic friend is often stigmatized or considered taboo. Nevertheless, Leusink suggests that as a society, we can learn to change this perspective.
It is crucial to overcome the notion that any form of physical touch automatically implies a sexual invitation. In fact, it should become increasingly acceptable for us to openly ask, “Would you like to hug me?” Embracing someone in a warm embrace fosters a sense of trust and security. So, why shouldn’t we feel comfortable seeking that connection from others?