On my Facebook news feed today, I saw an article for a new business in Madison, WI, called The Snuggle House, which specializes in non-sexual touch therapy. For $60, you can pay someone to snuggle with you for an hour.
Really? Paying strangers to hold you? An internet search led me to The Snuggery in Rochester, NY. The Snuggery’s website, which explains the value of snuggle therapy this way:
When we are engaged in touch, our brains produce more serotonin and oxytocin. Both of these chemicals make us calm and happy and contribute to an overall sense of well-being and relaxation that is pleasurable and healthy. Touch demonstrably stimulates regions of our brain that are known to produce pleasant, pleasurable feelings. Studies have also shown that touch reduces stress and anxiety for up to five days after it occurs. Stress and anxiety both aggravate numerous physical and mental health conditions.
It makes sense. After all, skin-to-skin contact (kangaroo care) is used with premature babies to promote bonding and help stabilize their health. Even though snuggle therapy involves clothed snuggler and snugglee, there is much you can still feel—warmth, breath, pulse—that conveys a physical closeness to another human being.
When I was restricting our sex life, just about every interaction between my husband and me had an underpinning of avoiding any hint of sex. Mostly, this meant that I was careful about visual stimulation. In order to avoid giving him any sexual ideas, I would wear tops that showed no cleavage, wait until he was out of the kitchen to load the dishwasher, point my rear end away from him if I was scrubbing something off the floor, change clothes when he was out of the bedroom, and so on.
Reading about snuggle therapy makes me realize what else I did. In my efforts to minimize sexual contact, I also deprived him of non-sexual contact. If I handed him the car keys, I would do so in a way to minimize the possibility of our fingers touching. In church or at a restaurant, I would usually place a child between us. Kissing was perfunctory. Hugging was safe only if done in front of others where he couldn’t grope, caress, or otherwise make a move.
I remember being intentional about this touch deprivation, although I don’t know how much I allowed myself to be fully aware of what I was doing. It wasn’t a big plot to deprive my husband of touch as much as something that was part of every single interaction I had with him. I didn’t realize I was even thinking about it.
As I read that people can pay to be held, I realize in a new way how my husband suffered all those years. Can you imagine what it’s like to rarely be touched by another person? As a very huggy mom, I had as much snuggling as I wanted. My husband, however, isn’t one of those guys who goes around hugging everyone he meets. He hugged the kids, but they were hugs that had a beginning and end, not the kind where you’re just holding someone until you’re truly done.
If you have been dictating the frequency and nature of sex in your marriage, you know that you are depriving your husband of the sex life he desires. Maybe you think his desire is too much or is out of control, or maybe you feel he doesn’t deserve the sex life he desires. Although I think those kinds of thoughts are wrong and hurtful to you and your husband as well as to your marriage, I do understand and remember those feelings.
Even if you think your husband doesn’t truly need or deserve the sex he desires, have you thought about what else you might be depriving him of? Are you like I was, so determined not to imply sexual touch that you deprive your husband of any touch at all?
You are depriving your husband of these things:
- A sense of well-being and relaxation.
- The enhanced ability to produce pleasant and pleasurable feelings.
- Reduction of stress and anxiety.
Thinking about this makes me sad all over again for my husband and his suffering for those years.
My efforts intended to inhibit sexual contact affected my husband in ways I didn’t even realize at the time. But I think I knew, in my bones, that physical contact matters. As a mom, I gave lots of hugs and touch throughout the day. But there were times at night when I would lie in bed, lonely next to my sexually deprived husband who was tossing and turning. As he was asleep and wouldn’t try anything sexual (read, “safe”), I would scoot myself against him, take his arm, and wrap it around me. In his sleep, he would pull me close. I needed to be held just as much as he did.
My efforts to avoid sex were so constant and ingrained in me that I had to wait until my husband was asleep to get the touch therapy I needed.
If you are depriving your husband of these things that we know contribute to his well-being and stability, would you be okay with your husband paying money for a stranger to cuddle him instead? Would you be okay with a $60 snuggling charge showing up on your bank statement? As I sit here and think about snuggle therapy, I know that I would feel incredibly hurt if I learned that my husband was paying for snuggle therapy.
When my husband holds me, I feel tension ease away from my body and mind. Sometimes I feel like I’m melting into him as my body regains a sense of equilibrium. This is what I deprived us of for so many years.
I know a Catholic sister (a nun) who is a licensed massage therapist. Her only clients are other sisters. When I asked her why this was, she said, “Humans need touch. When you choose a life of celibacy, you make a choice to deprive yourself of a certain kind of touch—but you still need touch. As a massage therapist, I provide my sister celibates with the touch they need throughout their lives.”
The nuns I know are provided with the touch of another human. Is your husband getting as much as that?
Update (December 7, 2013):
The Snuggle House in Madison is closed due to pushback from the community.