What Happens To Your Body When You Cuddle

Men hate cuddling and women can't get enough of it, right? It's stereotypical, but there is a basis for the generality. Through clinical experience, psychologist and psychoanalyst Michael Bade, D.M.H. came up with an explanation. In an article for Psychology Today, he detailed a woman's need for intimacy (cuddling) post-sex and a man's need to separate the two (roll over and go to sleep). 

According to Bade's Freudian theory, cuddling provides women with reassurance that they haven't been abandoned and men, seemingly subconsciously, slink away as to avoid any obligation to care or provide for the woman. Eek! 

Here are some of the awesome things that happen to your body when you cuddle.

You feel happier

Paul Zak is a world-renowned expert on oxytocin, or what he calls the "moral molecule." Essentially, oxytocin is a hormone that has long been attributed to aiding in childbirth and breastfeeding. However, the hormone also plays an important role in how you feel. "The higher your oxytocin, the higher your happiness," Zak explained to WebMD.

Additionally, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, studies have started proving that not only does this hormone make you feel happier, it also plays a role in other aspects of life — from social recognition to, yes ladies, orgasms. 

Oxytocin is also a fairly easy hormone to activate. According to Zak, interacting with others on social media like Facebook or Twitter leads to spikes in oxytocin levels. Even watching sappy movies will boost this "feel good" hormone. Touch, however, seems to be the best kind of interaction. Zak specifically recommends eight hugs per day — minimum. 

It's time to get cuddling!

Your immunity gets a boost

Imagine walking into your local pharmacy and instead of getting a flu shot, the pharmacist greets you with a hug (after asking consent, of course). Granted, you'd probably be a bit taken aback — maybe a little relieved not to get a needle — but you'd also get a boost to your immune system. Seriously!

In a study published by Sage Journals, over four hundred healthy adults were exposed to a virus that causes the common cold. Some of these adults received hugs while battling their colds and, at the same time, monitored their illnesses. Those that received support and were given hugs were protected against developing an infection. It also seems the more hugs the better. Those who received greater support and more frequent hugs had even less severe signs of illness.

So, the next time your partner tries to wriggle out from your embrace, just tell him it's for his health. 

Your libido increases

If you've relegated cuddling to a strictly post-coital activity, you're missing out. Dr. Renee Horowitz, ob-gyn and owner of The Center for Sexual Wellness in Michigan, explained in an interview with Shape, "There is... the release of dopamine, which is an excitatory hormone that increases sexual desire." 

That's right — cuddling can actually increase your libido so there's good reason to snuggle up with your partner prior to getting it on. That said, dopamine isn't the only chemical at work while you're cuddling. "Cuddling, holding, and sexual play releases chemicals, like oxytocin, in the brain that create a sense of well-being and happiness," Horowitz said.

Is there really any reason not to cuddle?

Your anxiety lessens

If you're one of the 40 million people in the United States dealing with anxiety, take comfort in this: physical touch can, and will, reduce your anxiety. 

In a, quite frankly, wild study published by Sage Journals, 16 women were monitored during a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study. These women were then told they would experience an electric shock while holding either their partner's hand, an anonymous man's hand, or no hand at all.

During the anxiety-inducing experiment, the women who were holding hands with their husbands experienced decreased stress compare to the women who held hands with a stranger or didn't hold hands at all. Interestingly enough, the better the marriage of the couple holding hands, the less stress experienced.

If that is the significance of just hand-to-hand contact, imagine the relief that would come from cuddling. But, why the dramatic bodily response to begin with? This is partially because of the hormone oxytocin that is released during physical touch, like both hand-holding and cuddling. According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, oxytocin is proven to reduce anxiety, or, as anxiety is hard to quantify, "anxiety-like behavior." 

Your blood pressure lowers

For people with hypertension, or high blood pressure, diet, exercise, and often medication are recommended. Why? High blood pressure can wreak serious havoc on your body in numerous ways. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it can harden your arteries causing a reduced flow of both blood and oxygen to your heart. In turn, you could develop numerous conditions, from heart disease all the way to heart failure. Your heart isn't the only thing affected by hypertension, either. Your brain, as well as your kidneys, can be damaged as a result. 

Obviously, none of these things are good. If you want added protection against high blood pressure, there's another antidote you can try. What is it? Cuddling, of course. That's not to say you should start giving out free squeezes instead of taking your medication — not at all. However, there is a definitive link between reduced blood pressure and hugging, especially for women.

As part of a study published by Biological Psychology, 59 premenopausal women had their blood pressure checked before and after being embraced by their partners. The result? The women's blood pressure went down. By the same token, the oxytocin levels of the women also increased. What's more, the greater frequency of hugs, the lower resting blood pressure. Pretty cool, right?

Your heart rate slows

Changes in heart rate were also monitored as part of the same study used to measure blood pressure before and after hugging. Just as the premenopausal women's blood pressure lowered so, too, did their heart rates. 

In another study conducted by the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina (via USA Today), couples were split into two groups. The first group was instructed to sit beside their partners and hold hands. Afterward, the group also watched a brief clip of a romantic movie and then hugged their mates for a duration of twenty seconds. Meanwhile, the second group had no physical interaction with their partners. They sat alone and were not shown the romantic video segment. All the while, every person from each group was having their heart rate monitored.

Both groups were then asked to talk about a stressful event or situation, as this type of conversation is normally shown to increase blood pressure and heart rate. The results of this experiment? 

The couples in the second group, the ones that had no physical contact with their partner, experienced a drastic rise in their blood pressure — more than 24 points in their systolic (upper) reading! Not only that but their heart rate increased at a rate double to the first group of hugging partners. 

The case for cuddling — and physical touch in general — is strong!

Your pain is relieved

When you were little, do you remember what would happen when you inevitably fell down and got hurt? Did you run to your mom and show her your boo-boo? No doubt she kissed your evolving bruise, gave you a hug, and sent you on your way. Voila! You were healed. Perhaps it was her motherly instinct taking over that caused her to kiss away your pain. All these years, maybe you thought that a hug from your parent was just some sort of psychosomatic mind-trick. 

Science has come up with its own explanation. Oxytocin, the chemical dubbed the "moral molecule" is also known by another name: the "cuddle hormone." As this hormone is released by way of physical touch, it is aptly named. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research have discovered a fascinating thing this "cuddle hormone" can do: heal you. Okay, maybe not completely heal you, but it can reduce your pain. As it turns out, that caress your mom gave you literally helped to relieve your discomfort. Ah, cuddles — nature's Tylenol. 

Wondering how in the world this can be true? According to researchers, the neurons that are responsible for sending oxytocin coursing through your veins also work to stimulate cells in your spinal cord. In turn, these stimulated cells increase your levels of oxytocin and bam! You receive "a pain-relieving effect."

Amazing. Does this mean we should still be asking someone to kiss our boo-boos?

Hate it or love it, men should initiate the cuddle

If you're with a man who hates to cuddle, it might be time to tell him to buck up and spoon you. Of course, you can always be the one to initiate cuddling with your partner, but the effects will be far more beneficial if it's his idea. How?

In a study by the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the attempts at physical intimacy were analyzed in nearly 400 male/female couples. These attempts to — in the words of Olivia Newton-John — "get physical" were linked with higher relationship satisfaction, better couple communication, and less conflict. 

Even more interesting was the impact men had on the study. The men's attempts at intimacy with their partners were linked with positive outcomes to an even higher degree. So here's the thing — we're all about empowering women, so we'll never dissuade you from taking your needs into your own hands and asking for what you want... but we also can't deny science. In the case of cuddles, if your man initiates, it seems your relationship satisfaction may actually increase. 

No partner to cuddle? There (used to be) an app for that

What if you want all the benefits of cuddling but you're not currently in a relationship? Canoodling random strangers is not exactly socially acceptable. Wait, actually, it is. Well, sort of.

In 2014, an app called Cuddlr launched. Think: Tinder... but for cuddling — platonic cuddling. 

In an interview with Salon, founder Charlie Williams, explained, "We talked about it initially as a joke, the name being a play on the common '-r' trope for apps. But then we... decided that there's a real need for this, that we'd actually use that app if it existed."

Williams continued, "[W]e don't get enough touch in our daily lives. And there's a lot of space between the portion of people it might be nice to have a casual, PG-rated cuddle with, and the smaller set you'd want to date or sleep with. I think as a culture we're ready to consider cuddling as more than just something that happens before or after sex, but as something worth pursuing in its own right."

While he's not exactly wrong, it was maybe a bit too new-age for many people to grasp. The Independent reported that Cuddlr shut down in 2015. According to Williams, one of the biggest challenges was getting people to understand what "platonic intimacy" was all about. Cuddlr ended up being sold and rebranded as Spoonr, but even with a one-time following of 300,000 members, it, too came to an end. 

You could just cuddle your dog instead

A better, arguably safer, and much less creepy version of "platonic cuddling" is to just hug your pets. Remember Zak's recommendation to up your hug intake? Trying to find a way to squeeze — no pun intended — eight hugs into a day is no easy feat. The good news? Zak wants you to know that pets count!

"Owner-dog bonding is comparable to parent-infant bonding," Takefumi Kikusui of Azabu University in Japan explained to Today. Researchers in Japan measured oxytocin levels in over two dozen pairs of dogs and their humans. Over the course of 30 minutes, the participants talked, petted and looked at their pets. When the researchers checked the oxytocin levels for a second time, they found that the people and dogs who looked at each other most often had a substantial increase in oxytocin. 

Interestingly, the researchers performed another experiment in which they split 54 dogs into two groups — one group was administered a saline spray and the other was given oxytocin via nasal spray. The result? The female dogs who were given oxytocin spent longer looking into the eyes of their owners, which then increased their owners' oxytocin. 

Let the lesson be: not only should you hug your pet more often but you should also make some time for some serious, albeit possibly awkward, eye contact.