Welcome back to Tuff Love, with Rob Kandell.
The guest today is Jean Franzblau, who is talking about the concept of cuddling. Once upon a time, Jean opened an in-flight magazine and saw a bunch of people chilling out and cuddling. As a single and sometimes lonely professional, she thought to herself, ‘That’s for me.’ Amazed by the wellness and happiness benefits she experienced, Jean founded Cuddle Sanctuary, the Los Angeles destination for consent and hug-positive events and professional cuddling since 2014. She has also expanded the reach of Cuddle Sanctuary by teaching consent on college campuses. Jean graduated cum laude with BA in Communications from UCLA. She has appeared in Buzz Feed, TLC, Comedy Central and Rolling Stone.
Jean and Rob discuss the benefits of cuddling and what it means to be a professional cuddler:
- Jean puts on events where a group of strangers can come together and feel comfortable enough to connect, to talk and possibly hold hands, hug and even cuddle. She also works one-on-one with clients. Some clients would never go to an event, they only want the privacy of a one-on-one experience.
- Humans have a biological necessity for connection. We’re hard-wired for it and our bodies release this yummy chemical that makes us feel good when we get physical touch.
- There is a craving within us that is difficult to pin point because we don’t have words for it. That need for connection is there none-the-less.
- What matters most in creating an environment where people can actually cross the distance between each other safely is creating a safe container where people know what the boundaries are, what’s okay and what’s not okay in the space.
- The first 45 minutes of every event covers consent. While playing breaking ice games, they teach what kind of touch is okay and what the etiquette is. It’s important to talk about that very overtly.
- Jean believes the reason there is a biological need for touch is that it was the way the human species was able to survive. We evolved in such a way that people that came together and cooperated survived.
- Coming together creates oxytocin, which is a peptide hormone in mammals. It gets released in the body from the brain when we receive safe, consensual touch, e.g. when a mother breastfeeds, when people make love, when you’re holding hands side-by-side with somebody and when you receive a hug that you can sink into.
- It’s got to be physical connection where you can relax for a while, some studies say at least 20 seconds. The feeling that you get is one of feeling relaxed, a feeling of trust (it’s a bonding hormone) and feelings of wellness or connection.
- After the first event Jean attended, she slept deeper than she could remember sleeping as an adult and woke up feeling connected and happy. She didn’t realize it but she was tripping out on oxytocin.
- Oxytocin has all those mental and wellness benefits, but also helps you sleep, improves heart health, boosts the immune system and lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone). For people who want to health hack, oxytocin is it.
- Jean has a practice called ODO (Optimum Daily Oxytocin) where she strives every day to get the right amount of connection to release oxytocin.
Rob and Jean explore the cultural context for cuddling:
- In our society, although the stereotype is that men are touch avoidant, they’re actually touch starved. Men have fewer people that they’re allowed to touch because of the cultural norms than women.
- Part of the reason is that there is a fear of connecting and not knowing how to connect. Another part is due to homophobia, the idea that if they touch and enjoy that touch, it makes them gay.
- Boys in elementary school used to grab each other and rough house on the playground and that disappears at a certain age where they become aware of what masculine means in our culture. In our culture, it means “I’m an island,” “I don’t need to connect,” and it’s to the detriment of men and women.
- There is a website that is dedicated to pictures of men during WW2 who would hold hands and sit on each other’s laps. It’s not homoerotica, it’s just the way men used to be more connected to each other. Somewhere along the lines, that changed. http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/07/29/bosom-buddies-a-photo-history-of-male-affection/
- That idea of being an island and being stoic has become not only the norm, but disconnection is something to be achieved.
- There is also deep distrust of male sexuality in our culture. To be aroused and have erotic feelings as a man is seen as a potential threat because of rape culture. Therefore, good men are trying the best they can to separate themselves from the danger that they might provide.
- The #metoo has brought a rise in awareness of sexual harassment and assault, which is really important and powerful. This conversation can affect good men and can create confusion and concern that they’ve taken advantage of their privilege and not known it somewhere in their past.
- Jean has had a feeling inside her from early childhood that something inside her might be bad. So when there are messages throughout the culture and social media that say, ‘You probably committed a crime, you probably are a rapist and don’t even know it,’ it can create a lot of anxiety for men.
- For Rob, as a man with a big desire and big appetite, when he first started doing conscious sexuality work he felt that same fear and shame. There was an inherent baseline belief that he was doing something wrong just by being alive.
- We need to love ourselves while we learn, even when we make mistakes, even when we are still fumbling through this thing about consent. It’s a hard thing to do.
- Women can also be touch avoidant in today’s society and that begins with slut shaming. There is a lot of judgment of the sensuality and sexuality of a woman in her full self. Slut shaming starts to happen in the teen and even elementary years, and so women learn to keep it under wraps because it’s deemed ‘inappropriate.’
- The feminine equipment—mental, physical, emotional, spiritual—is complicated. All you need is a look of disapproval and the feminine can shut down. Jean is delicate that way, and knows the only way she can blossom is in full and utter approval, and many women are the same.
- To be a sensual being, to enjoy what’s delicious in touch, taste, smell and sense is a revolutionary act.
- Jean has taught Sex Ed in colleges and is transitioning now to consent. Cuddle Sanctuary apparently is frightening to college campuses because it’s about how to get positive touch that is delicious for both parties, rather than a message of, ‘Just say no.’
- The class is called ‘The Real Sex Ed’ and students come into the class wondering what it’s about because they’re not sure if they’re going to be suckered into a lecture that’s going to shame them about their sex.
- The students are savvy about the messages they are receiving and they’re sick and tired of being told, ‘No’ and ‘Don’t’ and being shamed for the culture they’re in, which many people call hook up culture.
Jean and Rob coach Crystelle and Mark around this concept of consent and cuddling:
- Cyrstelle is a sex positive person and has tons of opportunities to get positive touch, but feels herself hardening around boundaries. She realizes that isn’t going to heal the rift between the masculine and the feminine, and is seeking ways to skillfully navigate being in her feminine and supporting good men in understanding consent.
- For Jean, it’s really important to schedule surrender and create points of time where she knows she can be in the place of utter surrender.
- We do live in an environment that is hostile to the feminine. However, we can create sanctuaries, oases, places where the feminine is honored. It’s critical to do that on the regular so you can sink into the soft part of you.
- At the same time, Jean is considering taking a self-defense class to strengthen her ability to kick ass if need be. She is finding herself in the role of protector more as she ages, but it’s a womanly empowerment, not masculine. Women need to find surrender but also the fierceness of the mother, the feminine.
- The fierce feminine is strong in Crystelle and she’s been shamed for that by men, women and the culture. She’s also felt a lack of consent in a women’s temple. Being in that healing of a space where she can be supported in the fierce feminine is important, as well as spaces where she is safe to surrender.
- Jean recommends that women find allies—the people who will encourage and empower that fierce feminine—as well as be deeply discerning about the places that we go to surrender, and speak up as quickly as possible if need be.
- Rob thinks we live in a society of ignorance and a lack of education. Anytime you can educate someone on the effect of their actions is important. We don’t give ourselves permission to speak the truth and we expect that we won’t be received, so we continue ignorant and the cycle keeps happening.
- Having been shamed so much for being a strong woman, Crystelle finds it tricky to speak up with curiosity and respect in the moment of being violated. Jean gives herself a lot of positive self-talk when speaking up, because of all the other voices that will attack. “Jean, I’m proud of you.” “Jean, thank you for speaking up.”
- Jean finds that if she’s triggered, it’s usually not the right moment to speak. If she’s upset, she needs to take time to take care of herself, so she won’t approach anything that might be a conflict unless she’s centered.
- There is fight, flight and freeze, but many people haven’t heard of that freeze response of ‘say nothing, do nothing.’ It might look like consent because the person doesn’t say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ or ‘I don’t like that.’ From Crystelle’s experience and the women she works with, freeze is the most common response for a woman who is being physically violated.
- The question is whether or not you’re willing to create the social awkwardness of saying, ‘No thank you.’ Jean is, and it took her a long time to get there. Being a professional hugger means being deeply respectful of the boundaries of others around not wanting your touch.
- At Cuddle Sanctuary they use the ‘Ask and Wait’ method. “If you want to touch me, please ask and then wait for me to respond. That’s going to make me feel so much safer in this environment.”
- Mark says he is a bottomless pit of need where he can’t be touched enough. It sometimes gets wrapped up in sexuality and he has a hard time discerning if he needs sexual touch or just wants to be held, and whether asking to be held will make his sexual value less to his partner (because of the American ideal about masculinity.)
- Jean believes that it’s not a bottomless pit of need, but that Mark’s tank is completely empty. There’s need there and Jean suggests a cuddle event or hiring a professional cuddler, or talk to his partner about increasing non-eroticized touch to meet Mark’s health needs for touch.
- Jean recommends the affirmation, “I am a human being, I deserve to be nurtured, just as I deserve food, fresh air, shelter and safety. I deserve to be touched regularly the way my body was built.”
- Rob observes that the shame Mark is feeling is a signal of his awareness, but it’s easy to get stuck in the shame loop because it’s so familiar. He recommends using the shame as an alert to be aware.
- Rob is interested in the balance between a man on a mission and a man’s self-care. He is curious if taking care of the self-care more will affect the rest of his desires. This could add to a more gratifying package for Mark.
Find more about Jean and the cuddle events:
Go to CuddleSanctuary.com or @cuddlesanctuary on social media. They have free resources like the webinar about consent for leaders, blogs, and downloadable products like The Cuddle Game.