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This week, reports that the Tennessee State Senate had voted to ban handholding in schools swept the internet, provoking disbelief and outrage amongst readers. The disbelief was warranted, to some degree—early comments were overblown, making it seem as though the body had moved to block the activity itself. While this isn’t true, the reality is equally depressing and significant. In this post, we’ll clarify the situation, and offer insight on the public response.

The legislation in question is Tennessee Senate Bill 3310, which renders it legally actionable for teachers to demonstrate what it calls “gateway sexual activities” to students during (the state’s abstinence-only) sex education, or recommend them as alternatives to sexual intercourse. The bill, then, was presumably intended to prevent teachers from suggesting the use of oral sex or mutual masturbation to replace sex. But it defined gateway sexual activities very broadly and vaguely, such that, depending upon interpretation, they could refer to almost any non-sexual social contact.

The huge response to the bill seems to have followed an article on local news website, titled “Bill would define holding hands, kissing as ‘gateway sexual activity’”, an overstatement of the actual situation. Daily Kos picked up on the story with a similar title, “Tennessee senate warns ‘hand-holding is a gateway sexual activity’”, after which a number of other news outlets followed suit in similar or even more misleading terms. It was generally represented as a targeted attack on handholding itself.

While this isn’t true, it is within the realm of legal possibility, and the bill does present a couple of interesting sexual and physical contact issues. First, as Planned Parenthood has pointed out, even when conservatively interpreted, the bill seems ill-advised. The state’s sexual education program is already based upon strict abstinence policies, but Tennessee has a higher than average rate of sexually active middle school and high school students. Trying to go further in this direction seems unlikely to improve matters. But, that’s not within our area of specialization.

Second, the overwhelmingly angry response to the perceived threat to handholding underscores just how strongly people feel about non-sexual social contact. A commenter on ThinkProgress’ coverage wrote, “So if I help a child cross the street — and hold the child’s hand — that makes me a potential pedophile? Maybe Tennessee is simply proving that we are not all evolving. Some are actively devolving — back to the slime from whence they come.” A post from a blogger going by Sherrie Questioning All is on the first page of Google returns for “tennessee handholding” and consists of a similarly-inspired rant, arguing for her beliefs in non-sexual social contact.

The reaction to this vote demonstrates, more than anything else, that people take our social contact very seriously. We have strongly negative feelings about the suggestion that touch need have sexual overtones or connotations. People already know that touch is an important part of all relationships, romantic or no—but sometimes society’s rules and perceptions are slow to catch up. (As a sidenote, I would argue that the reaction demonstrates our present lack of faith in government to a nearly equal degree: we expected so little of it that a bill banning handholding seemed entirely plausible. That realization is a sad one, but absent people’s strong emotional reaction to an anti-handholding agenda, the response would likely have been considerably weaker.)

In any event, we feel the response has offered strong evidence of the importance of our mission to advocate for an increase in polite, responsible social touch. And we’ll use it as motivation for taking our actions to the next level. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts, please let us know in the comments below!


What’s So Great About Eye Contact?

You’ve probably heard that eye contact is important. It’s one of the first things you’ll learn if you take a course in public speaking. They’ll tell you eye contact demonstrates confidence and engages listeners. That’s true. Even Cuddle Labs has stipulated that eye contact is one of the integral elements of a good cuddle. But did you know that there is a whole field of research dedicated to exploring the significance, perceived and biological, of eye contact? It’s called Oculesics, and it’s revealed a lot of really interesting information pertaining to cuddling. Most pertinent is the discovery that prolonged eye contact stimulates the production of oxytocin, just like a social touch.

So, think about your own experiences with eye contact. If you live in a big city, like me, you may find yourself wondering about it a lot, thanks to a city’s tendency to push a bunch of total strangers into a small space for an extended period of time (like the subway). Usually, if my eyes meet someone else’s, both lookers quickly look away. Why is that? What makes eye contact uncomfortable in that situation? And what if I maintain eye contact? Keeping a straight face feels totally weird. I have to smile. And if I smile, the person I’m looking at will usually smile back. So eye contact is either awkward or induces smiling. Weird.

We feel these ways because eye contact is actually a very intimate behavior. It feels uncomfortable if you’re not feeling intimate with the other participant. It feels just the same as it might if you hugged that same person, or if they hugged you. It crosses a boundary that we only take down when we’re feeling safe and open. It’s really like a hands-free cuddle. And don’t forget about these same feelings coming up with people you do know. So much can be communicated solely through eye contact. So what’s going on here? Why does eye contact feel so similar to physical contact?  View full article »

My good friend alerted me to this awesome and short article from The Atlantic and I wanted to pass it along to anyone who likes Cuddle Labs! So here’s the link:

A Whiff of Extroversion: Sniffing Oxytocin Could Make Us Outgoing

Soon to come: Want to show your Cuddle Pride? While you wait for Cuddle Labs itself to start making merchandise, we will aggregate some sites that already make cuddle-related products. For starters, check out this oxytocin necklace from made with molecules.

How Are Exercise and Cuddling Similar?

You may think that exercise and cuddling have nothing in common. While cuddling involves relative stillness and is easy to motivate yourself to do, exercise involves high levels of physical activity and, for most people, is extremely difficult to make yourself do.

Exercise is hard.Cuddling is easy.

View full article »

Nick Frost, Cuddle Champion (cont’d)

We don’t want to go overboard on the Nick Frost posts, or anything… but his hugging demonstration on Conan last night sums up our hug philosophy pretty much perfectly. He gets all the right pillow parts involved. The hug talk starts at around 3:25 in the video below.

Edit: Unfortunately, Conan‘s player seems to start clips immediately upon loading no matter what, so we’ll just link to the video.

Last one… we promise. (We think.)

Exciting Times at Cuddle Labs

An unloadably dangerous cuddling position.

Cuddle Labs does the hard research, so you don't have to.

Cuddle Labs is hard at work, pushing the boundaries of cuddling research and reformulating our web design.  We’ve been lax in sharing the knowledge of late, and we apologize for that. But we have continued to hungrily accumulate it, so stay tuned as regular updates resume this week! Things will only get cuddlier from here on out.

For now, stay cuddly, and stay warm.

Welcome, Nick Frost followers!

Nick Frost putting Simon Pegg into a Headlock

Nick giving a... perhaps... overenthusiastic hug? to friend Simon Pegg.

Amazing actor Nick Frost gave us a shoutout on Twitter today–and it’s getting us more traffic than we’ve ever had before. We’re so grateful! Thanks, Nick! You are owed a great many cuddles. Everyone go see The Adventures of Tin Tin!

Ahem, sorry… we’re quite excited. To all our new visitors, welcome. If you’d like to catch up on the cuddle science we’ve shared so far, please check out some of our best posts:

And if you’re wondering exactly what in the world you’ve arrived at, please visit our first post. It will explain everything.

…It will explain as much as can be explained.

Become a Certified Epic Hugger!

This post will explain the meaning of this:


But, I’ll start with an anecdote. My colleague Kevin and I were having a hug-fest on the streets of Manhattan, along with an acquaintance I’ll call “Robert.” Hug-fests are simple: we just offer hugs to people, and give them if they say they want one. It’s extremely fun. Then we got onto the subway, and, as so often happens on New York subways, a woman entered the car and began making a speech about needing money.

Kevin and I grew up in NYC and have been hardened to these sob stories and pleas, but our friend Robert felt differently. He got up, stood in front of the woman and said “Ma’am, I don’t have any money, but I can give you a hug.”

Needless to say, I was mortified. I have seen panhandlers get angry and aggressive with harmless bystanders. Robert could be hurting her pride or crossing a personal boundary or something else terrible!  View full article »

The flood of research on oxytocin doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon! (And we couldn’t be happier about it.) Just yesterday, CNN reported on a new study from Oregon State University, which seemed to indicate that empathy and social skills are strongly influenced by variations in an oxytocin receptor gene.

In the study, OSU scientists swabbed saliva from one partner in each of 23 couples they’d recruited, in order to test for their variant of the gene. They then videotaped them listening as their partner described a difficult time in their lives. Next, the scientists played the videos, muted, for another group of 116 people. They asked this group to rate the recorded partners on kindness, caring, and trustworthiness based solely on body language.

The gene in question can manifest in any of “GG,” “GA,” or “AA” variants. Six out of the 10 partners judged “most prosocial” were found to possess the “GG” genotype for the receptor gene; 9 of the 10 “least trustworthy” partners were found to possess at least one “A” variant. View full article »

Cuddle Labs’ Plan

Here at Cuddle Labs, we believe that our knowledge of practical cuddling technique is what separates us from other cuddling theorists. We are, if you will, the world’s leading Cuddle Engineers. (We prefer to leave the more-expensive, less-soft scientific inquiry into the reason for our existence—oxytocin—in better-suited hands.) While an earlier post laid out our overarching cuddling framework, we’ve yet to tell you what the future of the site holds in store.

Magic 8-Ball Response: "Don't Count on It."

"Are you going to become a webcomic?"

In upcoming posts, Cuddle Labs will provide a great deal of “cuddling position” posts, suggesting different cuddling techniques and detailing their important features. Because Cuddle Labs is concerned with the optimization of all your physical social contact, these positions will fall into a number of categories. To find out more, read on. View full article »

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