By Jareen Imam
(CNN – Feb. 11, 2015) — For most of her life, Kimberly Jensen has spent Valentine’s Day alone. But on Saturday she will be cuddling up to a complete stranger.
The 47-year-old, who is perpetually single, is one of more than 100 people attending Cuddle Con, which bills itself as the world’s first ever cuddle convention in Portland, Oregon.
“I hated Valentine’s Day, and now I am looking forward to it. I am hoping to cuddle non-stop,” Jensen said.
The 12-hour convention, which is strictly platonic and nonsexual, was created by professional cuddler Samantha Hess. She is also the founder of Cuddle Me Up, a business that provides platonic touch for clients through cuddling sessions.
Hess’ idea to start a cuddling business materialized back in January 2013. She came across a photo on Facebook of a man offering free hugs, and a newly divorced Hess thought to herself that she would definitely pay someone for a hug right at that moment.
“Just because I don’t have someone in my life doesn’t mean I don’t deserve affection and touch,” she said.
The thought of cuddling a stranger on Valentine’s Day might seem creepy, but Hess said the problem lies with people’s perception. “In our culture, cuddling is connected with romantic relationships. Platonic touch is such a taboo thing,” she said.
“There are a lot of moms who give a lot of touch, but they never really take. So they come into (my business) and get touch from me.”
Amy Muise, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, co-authored a study on the effects of cuddling in a relationship after sex. She said there is research to suggest that cuddling, which is commonly associated with romantic relationships, can also be found in platonic relationships as well.
“It wasn’t always a sexual thing,” Muise said. Touch is a way for people to feel closer to one another, she said. “People have a need to belong and connect to others and affection is one way we may do this.”
One reason platonic touch in a professional setting can be appealing to some is because it can be less intimidating than a romantic encounter, Muise said. “There are fewer risks of rejection.”
The idea of being hugged and not judged pulled Jensen in. She was experiencing feelings of unworthiness and loneliness when she entered Hess’ Portland storefront more than a year ago. The math tutor drove an hour from her home in Salem to find out what platonic cuddling meant. After her first session with Hess, Jensen felt like she was on a runner’s high.
“After I see her, I am pretty high for a couple of days. I am seriously addicted to it,” Jensen said. “I think about if I have a ding in my car and I have a $500 deductible, that $500 could give me 500 minutes of cuddling.”
The hour-long cuddle sessions she has with Hess once a week have boosted Jensen’s confidence. She’s more open about wanting affection now. She routinely requests hugs from her family and friends and even cuddles with her sister.
Jensen thinks the Cuddle Con is the perfect way to introduce the benefits of touch not only to those who are single, but to people in relationships. “There are couples out there where one person is more affectionate than the other. Maybe it they can bring their partner to the convention to show them cuddling is normal,” Jensen said.
Hess sees 2015 as the year of the cuddle and hopes people will start to see the positives of platonic touch.
“I think we all struggle with the concept of being good enough,” Hess said. “People think ‘I have to lose 50 pounds so I can start dating.’ No you don’t, you are good enough right now.”