Original Paper

Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 553-560

First online:

Descriptive Experiences and Sexual vs. Nurturant Aspects of Cuddling between Adult Romantic Partners

  • Sari M. van AndersAffiliated withDepartments of Psychology & Women’s Studies, Programs in Neuroscience, Reproductive Sciences, and Science, Technology, and Society, University of Michigan Email author 
  • , Robin S. EdelsteinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Michigan
  • , Ryan M. WadeAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Michigan
  • , Chelsea R. Samples-SteeleAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Michigan

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Abstract

Touch is a critical factor in intimate bonds between romantic partners. Although cuddling is a key expression of intimacy, it has received little empirical attention. Past research suggests that cuddling has some sexual aspects (e.g., it increases testosterone [T]), but there are theoretical reasons to expect cuddling to also involve nurturant intimacy (which should decrease T). In this article, we examined the phenomenon of partner cuddling to: (1) provide a descriptive examination; (2) determine if cuddling involved only nurturant intimacy or also sexual intimacy; and (3) test whether cuddling was perceived as nurturant but experienced as sexual. Via an online questionnaire, 514 participants (338 women) responded to quantitative and qualitative questions about cuddling with their romantic partners. Results suggested that cuddling occurred frequently and for relatively long durations, and was viewed very positively. Findings also showed that cuddling was perceived as nurturant and non-sexual but was experienced as at least somewhat sexual, which may explain why past research had found that cuddling increased T. Correlational analyses linked cuddling frequency and enjoyment positively with partnered sexual activities, but negatively with solitary sexuality. Results were discussed relative to evolutionary theories of distinct but overlapping neurobiological systems underlying pair bonding that involve sexual and nurturant intimacy.

Keywords

Cuddling Pair bond Romantic relationship Sex Gender Kissing