I am more accustomed to writing about “hook up apps” like Tindr or Grindr, which are apps that have become synonymous with sex without any strings or attachment. Twice this week, however, I have read or heard about a different type of “hook up.” Cuddling.
Early in the year, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about companies that offer professional cuddling. According to the article, the professional cuddling business started in the United States about five years ago by a psychology student who was upset by the lack of touch between clients and therapists. According to the article, the cuddle-for-hire business is booming. The owners of the brick and mortar cuddle services are emphatic that these sessions are just cuddling with no sexual contact. Their client information can strictly delineate what type of touch is acceptable and what body zones are off limits.
A few days after reading this article, I listened to Q on CBC radio, where the host was interviewing Charlie Williams, the co-creator of the app Cuddlr. Cuddlr is an online app that is extremely similar in form to Tindr, but for the sole purpose of meeting people for a cuddle (for the full interview go to http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2015/01/14/cuddlr/). The host of the show asked the app creator some very pointed questions about Cuddlr being a sex hook up site. The creator is emphatic that this app is just for cuddling, no sex. Users can leave feedback on profiles for those looking just for sex and he stated he had to kick one person off for their behavior. The creator’s statement that struck me most I will paraphrase as follows: You can put the app right next to Tindr and decide if you are in the mood for a sex hook up or a cuddle.
This statement immediately made me think of one of the ways that Rob Weiss explains sexual addiction: “ Controllable intimacy.” Why is it that hook up apps are so popular? Are we too busy to create real connection with another human being? Is it simply too much work? In the digital world, we have come to accept that if a person is looking for sex without the courtship or the “get to know you” phase of a more consistent relationship, they can simply check into an app like Grindr and find out who else is open for the same thing, at the same time, in the same general location. In this realm, a person can have sex without intimacy.
Enter the cuddle app. Now a person can engage in a more “intimate” behavior in a controllable fashion. Here, someone can find the physical closeness and comfort of non-sexual physical touch that is normally associated with intimacy, at the touch of a button.
At one level, I can understand the lure of a cuddle app. If a person is really looking for a connection (not necessarily sexual connection) they are often limited to hook up apps where the assumption is sexual connection. In these cases, the physical closeness needs are temporarily met but not, perhaps, in the fashion the person truly desires. It brings to mind the clients who hire escorts or call phone sex lines, not for sex but for someone to talk to. Now, with the advances in digital technology, these folks can pay for a cuddle or a chat and not have to deal with the potential legal issues and shame involved in hiring a sex worker.
The digital age is here to stay and it affects all aspects of our lives, as Rob’s book title states, Closer Together, Further Apart. As I think about the Cuddlr app in its place next to a Tindr or Grindr app on someone’s phone, I am reminded of a fast food drive up menu. What type of disconnected connection am I in the mood for today? Some anonymous sex? The disconnected intimacy of a cuddle or perhaps a number 3, the disconnected connection of some chat on Kik?