Ready to take your social interaction from your iPhone screen and into the real world? There's an app for that. Or, a few, actually. The latest focus on cuddling instead of dating or casual sexual hookups, and their success depends on whether or not users see them as legit tools for connecting with other people, or as just another thinly veiled dating service.
Cuddling in the form of non-sexual physical contact with other people is an important part of human interaction, and something that many people feel is lacking in their lives. That led to the rise of cuddle shops in Japan, and the phenomena is growing in the United States and UK. The shops bring with them and inherent sense of safety because cuddling happens in a controlled environment with accountability.
Snuggling is great, but is it right for the iPhone?
Organized cuddle parties have been gaining more popularity because they offer a feeling of security in a group environment with strict guidelines about what kind of contact is and isn't allowed. Now the cuddle connection has embraced the iPhone in the form of social networking-based apps designed to bring people together for one-on-one contact, again, in a non-sexual context.
The two cuddle-related apps to hit Apple's App Store, CuddleBids and Cuddlr, both tout themselves as a sort of social network where people who simply want some human contact without sexual overtones can connect. CuddleBids gives users the ability to find connections who are also looking for non-sexual contact, both free and paid (payment arrangements are handled outside of the app), and Cuddlr relies on location-based services to find cuddle buddies near you.
Both stress consent and planning encounters to ensure personal safety, which is always smart when meeting what amounts to a stranger.
When I mentioned the apps to other people, the reaction was the same: surprise and distrust. Considering the underlying theme for cuddle apps isn't any different from other dating services, I was curious as to why both CuddleBids and Cuddlr were met with such negative reactions.
The answer seems to me to be fairly simple: physical contact. Dating services operate on the notion that you want to meet people and see what kind of relationship develops. Some people see dating services as a sort of sex library where they check someone out, have a casual sexual encounter and then move onto the next person, but that's not the underlying premis for those services.
When the basis for an encounter is physical from the start, however, the resistance to seeing it as anything other than sexual seems to be difficult for many people. A psychological barrier goes up, and that feeds into the cultural notion that cuddling is just a code word for easy sex or assault.
That said, physical contact is an important part of human interaction, and something most people want. That can be as simple as a hand shake or hug, or something they see as more intimate without becoming sexual, like snuggling.
The need for physical connections doesn't, however, mean the general public is ready to embrace the idea of casual snuggling. Our culture has spent generations crafting puritan notions about physical contact, and that includes strong guidelines about when it is—and isn't—acceptable to touch or be touched.
Someone holding a "free hugs" sign is ignored more often than not, and cuddle parties are seen as group sex events. cuddle parties, it turns out, aren't wild orgies and they're an an example of just how strong our need for physical contact is: so strong that professional snuggling services have opened up in cities around the country, and now we're seeing iPhone apps to arrange cuddle encounters, too.
Portland, Oregon now has a professional cuddle shop called Cuddle Up to Me. Boulder, Colorado's Be the Love You Are offers the same non-sexual physical contact service from their store front, too. Both provide safe, controlled environments for your cuddle time, and that may be the missing piece from iPhone app equation.
Neither CuddleBids or Cuddlr can guarantee safe encounters for participants, and they aren't designed to create group events. I asked both app developers if they've seen any problems because of the one-on-one nature of the meetups their apps create, but have not received a response from either.
When I went on the hunt for comparable services that could offer some form of user accountability, I started with massage. I didn't find any apps that connected people who were interested in giving each other massages, so I looked to AirBnB because it puts strangers in direct contact with each other, and in many cases has them sharing rooms in the same house.
AirBnB lets both parties rate the other, which brings a form of self policing to the room rental game. CuddleBids and Cuddlr let their users rate each other, too, so there is at least some level of accountability in their services, but that doesn't necessarily mean there's enough to appease potential users. In other words, the perceived safeness that comes with professional cuddle services and cuddle parties may not be available in cuddle social networking apps.
Without a way to create a feeling of personal safety—like a business that offers a cuddle service, or cuddle parties where attendees are with a group of familiar people—cuddle apps will have a hard time getting a foothold. In this case, that lack of trust may be warranted because of the more intimate nature of a cuddle meeting, and that's enough to relegate cuddle apps to the world of quick hookups, or a quick death on the App Store.