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Cuddle Up

Photo by Mark Hunter

Hot and cold running sex. No-holds-barred, behind-the-woodpile, back-alley-hump-fest action. Sound good? Too bad, because you won’t find any of that at a Cuddle Party. Yes, Cuddle Party. And, like “tomato soup” or “car wash,” the name doesn’t lie. It has nothing to do with an aught-four excuse for a swingers’ paradise or a get-laid-quick scheme; it’s simply a gathering of adults who like to cuddle.

Perhaps you remember it, cuddling? Back when you were 3 feet tall and weighed less than your largest dog? Slipping into those flannel jammies, then slipping into the snuggly embrace of a loving parent, or a familiar relative? It was all about feeling safe, warm and peaceful, way before base, animalistic desires clouded your mind and touching triggered a nonstop craving for sexual delirium.

Oh yes, it was about safety, it was about warmth, it was about cuddling. And so it still should be, according to Cuddle Party founders Reid Mihalko, 36, and Marcia Baczynski, 26.

“There’s such a need for it out there,” explains cuddle boss Mihalko. “If you look at a lot of the women’s magazines, it’s all about ‘101 New Blowjob Techniques.’ So even the socialization from the women’s point of view is all about sex. For the men, we have to be Eveready Fuck Machines, and we’re not allowed to spend time with the woman. Nowhere in any of this is there room for people to say ‘hi’ to one another.”

If all of this sounds very L.A., it isn’t. The couple, who are “sex educators” and are strictly “business partners,” are based in the famously non-touchy-feely town of New York, where eight months ago they began holding Cuddle Parties in Mihalko’s fifth-floor walkup apartment. No booze, no drugs, no music. Twenty participants or so at each C.P., ranging in age from 19 to 80, so far. And it’s taken off. They’ve gotten tons of major press, they have a newsletter, they have a Web site (www.cuddleparty.com), they’re scheduling parties in London and Washington, D.C., and will be in Los Angeles February 25 and 26 for a Cuddle Training Seminar. (Cuddle training? We don’t need no stinking cuddle training.) The Jimmy Kimmel show has called, for God’s sake, all because of cuddling.

And it really isn’t about picking up and getting down, according to Mihalko. This isn’t Bob Crane’s idea of fun. Here’s what happens, after cuddlers pay 30 bucks to get in:

“People show up, they change into their pajamas, and we have a couple different exercises that are designed to break the ice and set the precedent for the type of communication that will exist for the next three hours,” he says. “Because people get weird about kissing and touching, one of the rules is that you can’t touch anybody unless you ask. The first exercise we have is the ‘No’ exercise. You look the person next to you in the eyes and say, ‘May I kiss you?’ and the person says ‘No.’ So in the first 10 minutes you’ve been rejected, which gets you over the fear that ‘What if nobody wants to cuddle me?’”

After the icebreaking rejection, there are 16 rules that are discussed, including the crucial No. 7.

“Which is no dry humping,” explains a stern Mihalko. “One of the conversations we have is about erections. And that has more to do with making the guys feel comfortable than the girls. A lot of men still have that eighth-grade fear of ‘What if I pop a woody and I get called to the math board? I’m screwed.’”

Rest assured, whether an hombre’s fear is hard numbers or a hard member, there is no threat of being screwed at a Cuddle Party.

“How does this not become an orgy?” asks Mihalko. “People are like, ‘Okay, I remember what it was like being a kid, and have it not have to be sexual.’ There’s really a need out there for a non-sexual-agenda-driven space for people to relate. It’s like, ‘God, how great is it to sit down and meet somebody interesting and not have in the back of your head, what if he wants to take me home?’ Or, ‘If I don’t take her home, she’s going to think I’m gay.’”

But if you are gay and you want to cuddle, you’re in luck.

“We’re throwing single-sex Cuddle Parties for the gay men’s community,” offers Mihalko. “It’s like, ‘Here’s a place I can relax and not have to break a record for getting somebody into bed the fastest.’”

Beyond needy humans, Mihalko and Baczynski may soon be counting dollar bills among their cuddle partners.

“We have to make money with it or we can’t keep doing it. It’s all trademarked, and our lawyer’s very cuddly, unless he’s angry, so he’s helped us out a lot,” Mihalko says. “In January we’re going to start officially training people to facilitate a Cuddle Party, and we’ll have a certification program available, so we’ll have sanctioned individuals who can throw Cuddle Party functions. We also have a home manual for people who want to throw Cuddle Parties just for their friends and families on a noncommercial basis. When you start dealing with strangers and money, there’s all kinds of legal aspects and professional considerations on how to choose when it’s appropriate for somebody to be at a Cuddle Party.”

Nestle in, lonely people.