Cuddle Parties Are Rubbish, Even When You're On MDMA

And there's me thinking drugs would fix a night spent rubbing against half-naked strangers.

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Aug 18 2014, 2:03pm

A "cuddle party" is exactly what it sounds like: a social event where complete strangers join together to squeeze each other in an absolutely non-sexual way. Because complete strangers can't be trusted, there are usually a clear set of rules posted on each event's website. For instance, at Berlin's largest cuddle party – which took place a couple of weeks ago – touching "erogenous zones" was a no-go, drunk people weren't allowed in and each participant reserved the right to say, "No".

What wasn't mentioned, however, was drugs. This presumably meant that anyone coaxing the serotonin out of their brains with substances whipped up by amateur Dutch scientists was very welcome. So we thought it would make an interesting social experiment to attend the cuddle party while one of us was on MDMA, in the hope it would teach us something more about intimacy than we've so far managed to pick up from reading Cosmo articles and watching internet porn.

The event turned into a bit of a blur, but below is our attempt at recounting the evening as clearly and chronologically as possible.

20:00

Charlotte
It's incredibly hot outside. We walk through the backyard of a dark factory in Neukölln. Soft, relaxing music is coming from one of the windows, but I feel scared. We enter a room where a few lonely people are looking for human contact; my heart is beating out of my chest. I'm completely sober, but excruciatingly hungover, and have only had three hours' sleep, so I'd really love to just get out of here.

Ilona
Charlotte and I went out last night, so it's a miracle I even manage to reach the second floor, with what feels like half a bottle of champagne and 50 cigarettes forcing their way out of my throat. We're asked to take our shoes off. My holey socks are revealed to the world. I take a dab of MDMA. My cold sweat tells me that was a huge mistake.

Charlotte
We stick heart-shaped nametags on our chests and enter a room full of pillows and mattresses. About 30 cuddlers are gathered in front of us, despite the fact it's a Saturday night in the middle of summer. Most of them are over 40. Not all are unattractive, but I'm not exactly raring to wallow with one of them on a mattress.

Ilona
We're late. They’re all already sitting in a large circle and look at us a little disapprovingly. A cross-shaped pillowcase is being passed around and whoever is holding it has to tell the group why they’re there. My heart is racing and I mumble something about how I'm curious to see what cuddle parties are all about. A lot of them seem to be here for the first time and everyone’s excited.

Charlotte
After the cuddle instructor has explained the rules, she moves to the DJ booth. People hold hands and start to dance around the room to "Oh Happy Day". I was under the impression that we'd be lying down. I turn my back on the bald, pot-bellied guy offering me his hand, turning instead to two kind-looking mothers. I take them both by the hand and skip around to "You Can Be My Lucky Star".

Ilona
A middle-aged dude dressed head-to-toe in turquoise sways alone in the middle of the room. I wonder if maybe I should just hide in the bathroom and try to enhance the whole experience by rubbing chemicals all over my gums.

Charlotte
I think about my friend Henry, who'd rather lose every one of his limbs than come to something like this. No one I know will see me here, but I still can't deal it for much longer. Ilona dances past me. She looks as if she's actually having fun. I stare into her huge black pupils with envy.

Ilona
I stand awkwardly at the side of the room and watch the people relaxing around me. Charlotte throws me a panicked look, but I can't return it. People can't know what we're here for.

Charlotte
A woman who looks like she washes her face with a pumice stone approaches me. To my surprise, it's not to take me in her arms, but to angrily inform me that she believes I’m "from the press". How does she know? Do I seem that out of place?

Ilona
Paranoia has taken over. 'Oh God, they know.' Every one of our awkward, forced movements makes it even clearer that our intentions are not pure. I'm confronted with the realisation that it’s not the cuddle enthusiasts I have a problem with; it’s me.

20:30

Charlotte
It's time for the first exercise, in which we have to stand back-to-back with a partner of our choosing. I feel dizzy and nauseous from all the skipping around I've done. My partner isn't wearing a shirt, which is probably because his thick bush of chest hair provides enough protection against the elements. He leans forward and I fall backwards. I think I've broken my backbone. On the next slope, I spot the time. We have two and a half hours left in this place. 

Ilona
As I stand back-to-back with a woman whose back I can feel enveloping my body, I think for a moment that this experience really does have nothing to do with sex. Glancing up, I see that the man standing in front of me has an erection.

Charlotte
We're told to close our eyes and move around with our arms outstretched, trying to touch the others. I feel a few people's body parts. Hopefully it wasn't their forbidden erogenous zones. I feel the hands of at least three different people on my lower back. It's almost comforting that I can't see anything.

21:00

Ilona

I take a toilet break for another dab. As I wash my hands, a woman breathes something directly into my face about "feeling" me. I'm confused and not in the right condition to react appropriately, so I walk back into the main room, lie down on a mattress and play dead as two strangers grope me.

Both strangers are women. Women who do not know how to touch people in an enjoyable or relaxing way. Is this how it feels for men when they receive an eager yet ultimately shitty handjob? This makes me sad. A faceless voice asks me where I want to be touched; I don't care.

Charlotte
Ilona sits blindfolded on a mattress. The scene looks like the beginnings a bondage party. A blonde woman is stroking her belly. I put on a blindfold and lie down on one of the mattresses next to her.

Ilona
The blindfold comes off. I'm now with another woman and it's my turn to "spoil" her. The MDMA fog in my head is triggering more agony than ecstasy, but my sense of competition kicks in: I'll fondle this complete stranger better than she's ever been fondled before. "It was perfect," she sighs after several minutes. The guy whose naked back was rubbing against mine pats my head.

Charlotte
I'd like to sleep, but thanks to the massage I’m receiving from my cuddle partner, that's impossible. It feels like an elephant is trampling over my legs and my back. I'm trying desperately to think of something beautiful.

Ilona
Charlotte is lying blindfolded to my right and looks very relaxed. Maybe because she doesn't know that her head is resting in the crotch of the half-naked man massaging her scalp. I'm now at a point where I question nothing. But where's all the synthetic love? Why don’t I feel any of that stuff running through my bloodstream?

21:30

Charlotte
I sit out the next round and watch what’s going on from the safety of the break area. In front of me is the pot-bellied man from earlier, repeatedly stroking the area around his partner's drooping breasts. Everyone seems incredibly tense, but maybe that's just my own projections. 

Ilona
The corners of my mouth start to twitch. It must be obvious that I'm high. I've lost all sense of time and space. A thought pops up that is both absolutely out of place and very revealing: I would now really like to have sex. With anyone under 40, or Roger Sterling from Mad Men.

22:00 

Charlotte
It's time for the highlight of the evening: the group cuddle. Our cuddle instructor encourages us to crawl on all fours onto the mattresses, which have all been pushed together, and make ourselves comfortable. I don't want to do it, but I know I should. People hook themselves together and tangle their limbs uninhibitedly. No one wants to cuddle with me. Fine. I see Ilona also sitting alone at the edge of the cuddle puddle. We are outcasts.

Ilona
I realise now that I had been right to be scared. I have a feeling nobody here likes me. I can almost physically feel their rejection. A man of about 60 waves at me. He, a blonde woman and someone with gelled grey hair move aside. I lie down between them and feel their respective limbs and hair brushing against me.

Charlotte
A large woman with a friendly smile asks me if I want to lie down in her lap. I lean back. It's as soft as it looks and my head sinks slowly between her huge breasts. Before me, a man in his mid-forties is hugging a tanned blonde woman and pushing up her shirt in the process. Did he not pay attention to the rules? The two rub their faces against each other ecstatically. Someone moans. Ilona giggles. Meanwhile, a grey-haired guy makes himself comfortable on my legs. I would now very much like to be alone.

Ilona
The cuddle instructor is reminding us again and again to get in touch with other people. I stay put. My arms are heavy, my eyes shut tight and it no longer bothers me that a stranger's hand is on my ass. For the first time in three hours, I feel something resembling relaxation. The guy with the gelled hair is stroking my face over and over, while I absently rub his head. People around me are moaning, sighing and rubbing against each other. I close my eyes even tighter than before.

23:10 

Charlotte
We get out before the three hours are up. I used to enjoy touching people, but now I never want to cuddle again. 

07:00

Ilona

It's 7 o'clock in the morning. I sit wide-eyed on a bank of the river Spree and slowly come down. The relaxation described by many of the participants at the end of the meeting, which manifested itself as a kind of inner paralysis for me, is gone. I feel dirty and uncomfortable, even though the people were really nice. Maybe too nice. Mentally broken, I think about when I'll be back to normal, ready to touch people and have sex. Probably never.

More weird parties:

I Went Looking for Love at the Tinder Launch Party

My Weird Dinner Party at Bolivia's Cocaine Prison

A Big Night Out at... a Psytrance Rave! 

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