by Andre Traversa
For those who don’t know me, let me preface this column by saying that I am a Bible-thumping, Jesus-loving born-again Christian. I believe the Bible is infallible and am absolutely convinced that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. I’m pro-life and am committed to remaining a virgin until I take the plunge into the uncharted waters of holy matrimony. In other words, I’m one of those dangerous people the mainstream media labels as a member of the religious right.
So, what is a right-wing Christian extremist like me doing endorsing Cuddle Parties? Well, I’ll get to that, but first a little digression.
Some months ago, while leafing through Rolling Stone magazine for my occasional dose of liberal entertainment, I ran across an article called “The Young and the Sexless.” The piece piqued my interest because it dealt with the growing movement toward premarital abstinence among young twenty-somethings. I was immediately intrigued, and was hoping for favorable coverage from a publication my fellow Christians often view as suspect. But alas, I was sorely disappointed; not by the coverage, which wasn’t too bad, but by the tactics some Christian groups are pushing in their quest to achieve sexual purity.
One group of young men that figured prominently in the article liked to wear something called a masterband. A kind of bracelet worn on the wrist, the band was supposed to be a kind of badge of honor to show others that you weren’t masturbating. If you weren’t wearing it, that meant you had slipped; but that wasn’t the worst part. Those not wearing the masterband were subjected to social ostracism; the other guys wouldn’t shake your hand if it was caught in the cookie jar, so to speak. The author rightly called it a kind of “scarlet letter in reverse.”
Full-bodied hugs were discouraged among this group, since they were seen as too tempting; only chaste side-hugs were allowed. Guys were encouraged to “hold each other accountable,” by confessing lustful thoughts they might be having while on the phone with their girlfriends.
Quite honestly, the whole thing made me sad. I’m as committed to abstinence as they are, but this approach is based on guilt, shame, and negative reinforcement. Next they’ll be calling for chastity belts, I thought. I once had a pastor who said something very wise during one of his sermons; he said, “You can’t say no to something unless you have something better to say yes to.” This is why New Year’s resolutions and other approaches based strictly on willpower alone are not very effective at encouraging virtue and building new habits.
As I sat and reflected on these issues, I realized why I love Cuddle Party so much. As a single man saving certain sexual acts for an evening of wedded bliss, I need more touch, and more affection, not less. As I look back at the times when I’ve been most sexually tempted, they’ve been during times of isolation from others and an absence of human contact. During times like these, singles can very easily confuse their need for love with their need for sex, making choices they may later regret.
From a Christian perspective, touch is not the problem, but is actually part of the solution; the question is, what kind of touch? Well, the kind of touch that happens at Cuddle Parties is not only acceptable in the Bible, it’s downright encouraged. The Apostle Paul often closes his letters by inviting members of church congregations to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans: 16:16, 1st Corinthians: 16: 20). In the King James version of John’s Gospel, the thirteenth chapter, the apostle John is described as reclining on Jesus’s breast or bosom (John: 13:23,25). In the preceding chapter, we are treated to the touching story of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, breaking open a bottle of expensive perfume and anointing the feet of her Lord. While not overtly sexual, it was most definitely affectionate; and yes, even sensual. Essentially, she was massaging his feet and drying them with her hair.
Most Christians I spoke with before I attended my first Cuddle Party were supportive; but a few of them reacted in fear, rather than faith. One of them ranted and raved about how the whole thing was going to turn into an orgy, while another person, a dear friend of mine, said, “These cuddle parties sound damn scary!” She feared that some of the men would be lying there in their pajamas with “obvious hard-ons.”
While concerns should always be aired, it’s too bad that so many well-meaning Christians would object to an event with no sex, no alcohol, and lots of wholesome human interaction. After all, Cuddle Parties could very easily be Christianized for youth groups, Christian singles events, and other gatherings. One cause for concern seemed to be that sexual passions would be stirred up and that people wouldn’t be able to control themselves. Well, as co-founder Reid Mihalko likes to say, “We’re more self-controlled than we think we are.” It’s interesting he would say that, since Scripture lists self-control as one of the “fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians: 5:22-23). As Christians, we believe the Holy Spirit comes to live inside a person’s heart after they place their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The Spirit then begins to produce fruit, a byproduct of genuine conversion and a changed heart. Self-control is one of those fruits, but where do we get a chance to practice it? Cuddle Party, with its clear rules and firm boundaries, gives us a safe space to do just that.
Cuddle Party also teaches and models clear, direct communication, something the Bible also invites us to practice. In fact, rule number five, “If you’re a yes, say yes; if you’re a no, say no,” is remarkably similar to Jesus’s injunction in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no,” (Matthew: 5:37), in which Jesus urges us to state our intentions clearly and directly. Who can argue with that?
In order to maintain premarital abstinence, saying no may sometimes be necessary. But this is easier said than done; better to practice this skill in the safe confines of Cuddle Party than waiting until you’re confronted with temptation in the heat of passion on a hot date.
My only objection to Cuddle Party is the rule that allows kissing, even kissing on the mouth. For a party that is billed as a nonsexual event, I believe such a rule sends exactly the wrong message. It’s just too intimate. Not only can sexual passions be unnecessarily aroused, but women especially are at risk of getting their feelings hurt. It’s been my experience that women often get emotionally attached more quickly and easily than men, and tend to view kisses as signs of a man’s interest, whereas many men seem able to view kissing more casually. But this is a minor detail, and one that can be easily modified for a Christian Cuddle Party.
Finally, Jesus repeatedly commands Christians to love one another. Sadly, our society has lost touch with touch, one of the oldest and most effective ways to extend love and affection to our fellow human beings. We know from science that some babies die from lack of touch and human bonding. While adults don’t die, they shrivel up emotionally. As Cuddle Party facilitator Len Daley says, “They become irritable, and we think irritability is normal.” So, with that said, I invite all of us, in Christian love, to make our lives a little less irritable by including some cuddle time in our schedules.
Andre Traversa is a freelance writer and media consultant living in Park Ridge, Illinois. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version.