G-Sync: West Michigan Cuddle Connection on the importance of human touch in our society

The importance of human touch is well documented in science. Just perusing the web (and being mindful of sources as we should these days), we can discover human touch’s importance from everything from the benefit it has on a child’s development to even sporting teams where, when touch is present at the start of a season, it can actually produce better results by that season’s end.

But you don’t need a study to fully understand its worth to humans because often the proof we seek is all around us. 

So after a series of these conversations with friends of various ages and backgrounds, the topic of touch became top of mind for me as I sought out ways locals are grabbling with their skin hunger (a term often used to describe that longing one feels to be touched by another).
 
As I proceeded in my research, I found myself having a coffee with a friend who had spent about a decade on the west coast when I presented to them the topic of my research into human touch and how fascinating these cuddling groups that are held all around the U.S. was to me.

Immediately and without missing a beat, they shared about how when they were working in a big city, they found how one can navigate a multitude of systems where no human touch can occur for days. My heart dropped faster than my coffee temp in a footed-glass mug. 

And this is how I came to discover that West Michigan has had a cuddle group for a couple of years now and they have been helping folks feel a bit more connected to our region.

For my December 5 radio show appearance on WGVU’s Morning Show with Shelley Irwin, we invited Sherri Rogers of the West Michigan Cuddle Connection to share how this group formed and how they are monthly and through private practice helping folks in our community in ways never imagined by me before as I began this journey to understand human touch’s value more fully and how it can transform those experiencing skin hunger. 

We recommend listening to our WGVU interview first by clicking on this link and then returning to read our follow-up questions with Sherri Rogers.

The combination of winter’s cold chill and the loneliness the holidays can usher in for so many folks a sense of isolation. Cuddle groups help close that gap as they usher in opportunities to learn how this practice can make this area a bit warmer and welcoming, as well as about the power of consent. 

It’s a topic unlike any other I have ever covered and while it may not be for everyone, I can see through my interview the incredible value it can have for our community’s mental and physical health. 

Be the bridge,

Tommy Allen
Publisher, Rapid Growth 

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Illustration from The Cuddle Sutra: An Unabashed Celebration of the Ultimate Intimacy by Rob GraderTommy Allen: In our interview with Shelley Irwin, it is very easy to hear in your voice the passion you have for this work. Do you mind sharing what brought you to select becoming a certified Cuddle Therapist?

Sherri Rogers: In 2017, I found myself at a crossroad with regard to how to make money and be able to be a homeschool mom.  As I looked into various professions that would allow ultimate flexibility, I found a friend of mine who was practicing as a professional cuddler. She and I discussed it at length, and I found it to be a job I was made to do.  

It requires a love of people, the ability to hold space for others, a non-judgmental spirit, and an ability to teach. The job itself does not require a multitude of hours and has the ultimate flexibility with minimal training. The training process only took about a month or so, and I was free to begin my practice providing alternative touch to others.

TA: I really like how you place a lot of focus at the start of each session on education about the topic of consent. These tools sound like they may have applications outside of the cuddle session, right?

SR: Yes, absolutely! The topic of consent is one that benefits every person of every age. Consent touches our lives every day and can have a positive or negative impact on how we navigate the world around us. It can look as simple as practicing consent with my children; asking before I hug, tickle, or touch.  

It can look like asking a friend if they have the emotional capacity to listen while you vent. It can also look like paying attention to the division of labor in a home, at school, or at work. When we obtain permission to include someone’s participation in an activity, we are respecting that person’s ability to consent.  

This is universal, and I would love to see it applied to people of all genders, ages, and abilities.

TA: I understand that you serve a lot of different groups and that there is another business that is outside of the West Michigan Cuddle Connection (WMCC). How does your other business work and who is an ideal client?

SR: A free WMCC event is a group event for adults-only, but I also offer private services for a fee. It is also for adults only, but the cost can range from $60-$80 per hour. I offer a discounted rate for those who identify as veterans, trans, retirees, and those with disabilities.  

The sessions work a bit differently, due to a more individualized care plan. We engage in a short interview prior to the first session, discussing the reason for the session, as well as making a plan for the kind of session that is desired. I have done sessions where it is very little to no touch, but the vast majority of my private sessions are conducted with full embraces and lots of conversation.

For those who struggle with touch, I can be a source of education and practice, but I have no ideal client. Anyone who needs touch is an ideal client. I offer one-on-one sessions to those who would like a more personalized touch, as well as a quieter space.

TA: After our interview, I have had a lot of dialogue with folks as I shared what I learned. Some totally get it but others  — and obviously so — share fears about any intimacy with a stranger. What is the lesson here to learn from WMCC’s mission and how do you calm these fears while trying to increase human connection in a very divided society?

SR: I completely understand the anxiety or fear surrounding touching strangers. At first, it feels quite foreign to touch someone who isn’t a loved one. What I have learned is that vulnerability is key to allowing for this kind of physical intimacy, and to be vulnerable, we have to take the risk.

I believe our culture has been risk-avoidant for a very long time, and especially now with the advent of social media, we have lost our ability to connect in a meaningful way — to the point where it literally terrifies others to answer their door or phone.  

When we gather as a group, I am adamant that we must let down our walls to be able to share vulnerability with others, and we have intentional games we play to encourage us into that mindset.  

Along with consent, one of the main rules for the group is that no one is forced to touch anyone else, ever. We learn that no means no, maybe means no, and that our yes must be enthusiastic. We practice saying no. We practice receiving no. We practice being vulnerable and asking for our desires. Apart from these, I tell people to “Go for it! Put that vulnerability into practice!”

TA: Lastly, do you mind sharing as you are able any stories or insights from folks who have been attending your sessions and how this might have helped them overcome fears or an inability to assert one’s needs or boundaries?

SR: Over the years, I have gotten a good deal of feedback on my services, and a smaller amount of feedback on the group, but in all the feedback I hear the same thing: people are learning to open themselves up to risk.  

I have one client in particular who has struggled their entire life to accept themselves and to allow others to love them. This person struggled with high anxiety which totally debilitates them on a consistent basis. When they began to see me, we discussed these issues and came up with various ideas of what could be attempted in session to relieve it.  

At first, there was quite a lot of trial and error; what body parts felt comforting and safe to touch, how I spoke to this person, what the environment looked like; but as time has progressed over the last two years, we have come to a quiet rhythm that works to immediately relieve the stress that accumulates for them. We have also discussed strategies for improving relationships, providing self-care, as well as physical ways to relieve stress on their own.  

Today, they are working toward self-made goals and finding success in small victories over anxiety and participating in regular self-care.  

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To learn more about the group’s mission, please visit their MeetUp page or for upcoming events on their Facebook page

Also, we referenced in our radio interview the book "The Cuddle Sutra: An Unabashed Celebration of the Ultimate Intimacy" which can be secured from local booksellers like Schuler Books. We have shared one image from this book in our story.
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