Touching genitals is forbidden at these gatherings, and there are other rules as well, but drugs aren't expressly forbidden. As a social experiment we attended a cuddle party while one of us was on MDMA, in the hope that it would teach us something...
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's usually a clear list 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 that 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.
It was incredibly hot outside. We walked through the backyard of a dark factory in Neukölln. Soft, relaxing music came from one of the windows, but I felt scared. We entered a room where a few lonely people were looking for human contact; my heart was beating out of my chest. I was completely sober, but excruciatingly hungover, and I'd had three hours' sleep, so I really wanted to just get out of here.
Charlotte and I had gone out the previous night, so it's a miracle I even managed to reach the second floor, with what felt like half a bottle of champagne and 50 cigarettes forcing their way out of my throat. We were asked to take our shoes off. My holey socks were revealed to the world. I took a dab of MDMA. My cold sweat told me it was a huge mistake.
We stuck heart-shaped nametags on our chests and entered a room full of pillows and mattresses. About 30 cuddlers were gathered in front of us, despite the fact that it's a Saturday night in the middle of summer. Most of them were over 40. Not all were unattractive, but I wasn't exactly raring to wallow with one of them on a mattress.
We were late. They were all already sitting in a large circle and looked at us a little disapprovingly. A cross-shaped pillowcase was being passed around and whoever was holding it had to tell the group why they were there. My heart was racing when the pillowcase got to me, and I mumbled something about how I was curious to see what cuddle parties are all about. A lot of them seemed to be there for the first time and everyone was excited.
After the cuddle instructor explained the rules, she moved to the DJ booth. People held hands and started to dance around the room to "Oh Happy Day." I was under the impression that we'd be lying down. I turned my back on the bald, pot-bellied guy offering me his hand, turning instead to two kind-looking mothers. I took them both by the hands and we skipped around to "You Can Be My Lucky Star."
A middle-aged dude dressed head-to-toe in turquoise swayed alone in the middle of the room. I wondered if maybe I should just hide in the bathroom and try to enhance the whole experience by rubbing chemicals all over my gums.
I thought about my friend Henry, who'd rather have lost every one of his limbs than come to something like this. No one I know was going to see me, but I still couldn't deal with it for much longer. Ilona danced past me. She looked as if she was actually having fun. I stared into her huge black pupils with envy.
I stood awkwardly at the side of the room and watched the people relaxing around me. Charlotte threw me a panicked look, but I couldn't return it. People could not be allowed to know why we were there.
A woman who looked like she washed her face with a pumice stone approached me. To my surprise, it wasn't to take me in her arms, but to angrily inform me that she believed I was "from the press." How did she know? Did I seem that out of place?
Paranoia took over. Oh God. They know. Every one of our awkward, forced movements makes it even clearer that our intentions were not pure. I was confronted with the realization that it wasn't the cuddle enthusiasts I had a problem with; it was me.
It was time for the first exercise, in which we had to stand back-to-back with a partner of our choosing. I felt dizzy and nauseous from all the skipping around I'd done. My partner wasn't wearing a shirt, which was probably because his thick bush of chest hair provided enough protection against the elements. He leaned forward and I fell backward. I thought I'd broken my backbone. On the next slope, I spotted the time. We had two and a half hours left in this place.
As I stood back-to-back with a woman whose back I could feel enveloping my body, I thought for a moment that this experience really did have nothing to do with sex. Glancing up, I saw that the man standing in front of me had an erection.
We were told to close our eyes and move around with our arms outstretched, trying to touch the others. I felt a few people's body parts. Hopefully it wasn't their forbidden erogenous zones. I felt the hands of at least three different people on my lower back. It's almost comforting that I can't see anything.
I took a bathroom break for another dab. As I washed my hands, a woman breathed something directly into my face about "feeling" me. I'm confused and not in the right condition to react appropriately, so I walked back into the main room, lay down on a mattress, and played dead as two strangers groped me.
Both strangers were women. Women who did 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 thought made me sad. A faceless voice asked me where I wanted to be touched; I didn't care.
Ilona sat blindfolded on a mattress. The scene looked like the beginnings of a bondage party. A blonde woman was stroking her belly. I put on a blindfold and lay down on one of the mattresses next to her.
The blindfold came off. I was now with another woman and it was my turn to "spoil" her. The MDMA fog in my head was triggering more agony than ecstasy, but my sense of competition kicked in: I'll fondle this complete stranger better than she's ever been fondled before. "It was perfect," she sighed after several minutes. The guy whose naked back had been rubbing against mine patted my head.
I wanted to sleep, but thanks to the massage I was receiving from my cuddle partner, that was impossible. It felt like an elephant was trampling over my legs and my back. I was trying desperately to think of something beautiful.
Charlotte was lying blindfolded to my right and looked very relaxed. Maybe because she didn't know that her head was resting in the crotch of the half-naked man massaging her scalp. I thought for a moment that I was at a point where I questioned nothing. But then a question intruded: Where's all the synthetic love? Why don’t I feel any of that stuff running through my bloodstream?
I sat out the next round and watched what’s going on from the safety of the break area. In front of me was the pot-bellied man from earlier, repeatedly stroking the area around his partner's drooping breasts. Everyone seemed incredibly tense, but maybe I was just projecting
The corners of my mouth started to twitch. It must have been obvious that I was high. I'd lost all sense of time and space. A thought popped up that was 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.
It was time for the highlight of the evening: the group cuddle. Our cuddle instructor encouraged us to crawl on all fours onto the mattresses, which had been pushed together, and make ourselves comfortable. I didn't want to do it, but I knew I should. People hooked themselves together and tangled their limbs together without the slightest hint of an inhibition. No one wanted to cuddle with me. Fine. I saw Ilona, also sitting alone at the edge of the cuddle puddle. We were outcasts.
I realized that I had been right to be scared. I had a feeling nobody here liked me. I could almost physically feel their rejection. A man of about 60 waved at me. He, a blonde woman and someone with gelled grey hair moved aside. I lay down between them and felt their respective limbs and hair brushing against me.
A large woman with a friendly smile asked me if I wanted to lie down in her lap. I leaned back. It was as soft as it looked, and my head sank slowly between her huge breasts. Before me, a man in his mid-forties hugged a tanned, blonde woman and pushed up her shirt in the process. Did he not pay attention to the rules? The two rubbed their faces against each other ecstatically. Someone moaned. Ilona giggled. Meanwhile, a grey-haired guy made himself comfortable on my legs. I wanted very much to be alone.
The cuddle instructor reminded us again and again to get in touch with other people. I stayed put. My arms were heavy, my eyes shut tight, and it no longer bothered me that a stranger's hand was on my ass. For the first time in three hours, I felt something resembling relaxation. The guy with the gelled hair stroked my face over and over, while I absently rubbed his head. People around me were moaning, sighing and rubbing against each other. I closed my eyes even tighter than before.
We got out before the three hours were up. I used to enjoy touching people, but now I never wanted to cuddle again.
At 7:00AM I was sitting wide-eyed on a bank of the river Spree and slowly came 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, was gone. I felt dirty and uncomfortable, even though the people were really nice. Maybe too nice. Mentally broken, I thought about when I would be back to normal, ready to touch people and have sex. Probably never.
- Vice Blog
- cuddle party
- uncomfortable evenings
- parties that are less parties and more torture
- Ilona Blanco
- Charlotte Lysander
- squeezing strangers
- rooms full of pillows and mattresses
- cuddle enthusiasts
- having people's hands on you
- MDMA fog
- unwanted massages
- not experiencing love when you're supposed to