The Right (And Wrong) Way To Cuddle, According To Science

Cuddling is great for relationship satisfaction, but there's one mistake most married couples make.

Sure, there’s no one right way to cuddle. Men can be little spoons, women can be jetpacks, and everyone gets a shoulder to rest their heads on. But there are smart cuddling strategies and strategic times to employ then, experts agree.

For instance, relationship therapist Sarah Hunter Murray maintains that married couples often short change themselves by only cuddling before or after sex. “Given how common it is for couples to experience sexual desire at different times, cuddling allows for another way to get close and experience an intimate connection when sex isn’t necessarily on the table,” Murray, author of the book Not Always in the Mood: The New Science of Men, Sex, & Relationships, told Fatherly.

“If every time we cuddle it turns to sex, we may start pulling back from cuddling if we aren’t sure we are in the mood to avoid giving our partner the impression sex is on the table, so to speak,” she adds.

“Then we lose out on all the other benefits cuddling provides.”

Cuddling often gets conflated with sex because it releases oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding, and like sex, cuddling can lower blood pressure, ease pain, and increase sexual and life satisfaction. But it’s obviously not the same as sex, and cuddling does not have to be romantic, let alone sexual. Cuddling with children is crucial for parent-child bonding, for instance. Cuddling is versatile, but just like couples can get complacent when it comes to the restaurants they eat at or the sexual position they try, they can get stuck in a rut of only cuddling with each other when they’re getting laid.

But there’s more to good cuddling than merely separating it from sex. Registered nurse James Cobb says couples should be careful about wrapping their legs around their partners in the spooning position, because “that can lead to back pain in certain positions.” Keeping the goals of a cuddle session clear can also help. “If the goal is sleep, lights should go off or the room should be darkened,” Cobb says. “If it’s an after-breakfast cuddle, perhaps a time-limit should be considered.” In any case, good communication is crucial to good cuddling. “Just because we see a cuddle session one way doesn’t mean our partner is interpreting the interaction the same,” Murray says. Cuddling can be quiet, without being silent.

The most obvious way parents can make non-sexual cuddling a priority is by making it a family ritual. This can help moms and dads remember what’s so great about cuddling, even when the kids are killing the mood. That way, even when they are too exhausted for actual sex, parents can stay close. And then, when the lights go out and the kids go to sleep…