This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
When swiping through dating apps, it’s not uncommon see the phrase “seeking cuddle partner, no sex” in users’ bios, indicating that the demand for platonic cuddling is high.
Now, companies are moving to formalise the cuddling industry by consolidating professional cuddlers and offering their services at an hourly rate. In Indonesia, a relatively conservative nation, such an idea has taken off, promising to provide comfort to the lonely hearts in Jakarta.
The job posting below came from the company Indocuddle, which will start offering professional cuddling services in Jakarta next month, at a rate of $44 per hour. The posting seeks “good-looking” psychology graduates between the ages of 18 and 45, who also happen to be great cuddlers.
Heidi, a 24-year-old Jakarta native, needs a cuddle buddy to fulfil her emotional needs. “I like feeling needed,” she told VICE.
Before she began cuddling with strangers, Heidi said she lacked self-esteem. As a straight woman, she didn’t feel attractive to the opposite sex. “You just feel comforted afterwards. You forget that you had low self-esteem and you just feel happy and fulfilled, even if just for a moment,” said Heidi.
She found her cuddle buddy on a dating app. After meeting up a few times, they agreed to cuddle regularly without having sex. "I asked him why he only wanted to cuddle. All he said was that he was lonely. He was a pretty sheltered person," she said. This is not surprising for young people living in large cities in the age of social media.
“I think [young people] nowadays are really lonely because they see so much on social media and feel like they’re not doing anything with their lives.”
But why only cuddling, and with a complete stranger? “Maybe I just want to feel worthy of affection,” Heidi said.
"While sex, sometimes, is purely physical, cuddling is better because you have someone who you can lose yourself in,” she said.
“It’s like having a boyfriend, but not really. That suits me and my fear of commitment."
Rashy, a 19-year-old from the outskirts of Jakarta, also has experience cuddling with strangers. His cuddle buddies have been short-lived, but he still felt the benefits on his mental health. He admitted that he is not always actively looking for a new cuddle buddy, although he still desires personal connections that do not require commitment.
"The desire to be intimate with someone is always there," said Rashy. In our digital era where relationships end with a single left swipe, intimate emotional connections are rare. “That’s why I don’t like cuddling or having sex just for fun. I seek real emotional intimacy.”
Indocuddle was born out of a similar sentiment. Its founder, 23-year-old Akbar Sahbana, had difficulty finding an outlet for his stress during his parents divorce. “I basically came from a broken home without a father figure, and I craved someone to pour my heart out to,” Sahbana told local media. “But I didn’t know where to find that, so I developed this service.”
But cuddling with strangers carries its own set of risks. Being in a such a vulnerable position with a stranger can open the door to sexual assault, which is why it is crucial to take consent seriously and establish boundaries.
Over in Japan, the cuddling industry has been booming for years. Cuddle cafes, where customers can hire a cuddle buddy, are common sights in Akihabara, Tokyo.
These cafes often offer a variety of services, from a 20-minute cuddle session to a full night’s sleep with a professional cuddler. Short sessions cost roughly $35, while 10-hour sessions can cost upwards of $350.
There may be a sociological explanation for the popularity of these services in Japan. Japanese youth have been placing less and less importance on the institution of marriage, which is known as celibacy syndrome.
People just aren’t interested in sex anymore – whether it be for reproductive reasons or just for fun. The Japanese are notoriously overworked, so that could also be a contributing factor.
With less Japanese people tying the knot, the country now has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Japanese civil records from 2017 put the total population at 123 million, which is predicted to fall by two-thirds by 2060.
Zoya Amirin, a Jakarta-based sexual psychologist, said the increased desire among young Indonesians to cuddle with strangers comes as no surprise, explaining that physical contact is a basic need. “Human touch releases oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine. All of these contribute to a more stable mentality,” she said.
Amirin said that the youth's preference for cuddling without sex is likely because they are most comfortable in the first phase of the triangular theory of love: passion, which the theory’s developer Robert Sternberg defines as “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.”
“Most people only want that phase without entering the commitment stage,” said Amirin. “Maybe because nowadays, instant gratification is important. But this satisfaction does not last.”
If professional cuddling takes off in a country like Indonesia, that will be a clear indicator that young Indonesians crave affection, Amirin said. “It’s kind of sad, but understandable. We all need love and physical touch, and cuddling is a low-commitment way of achieving that,” Amirin said.