Want to cuddle?
Platonic touch practitioner and coach Shawn Coleman talks about making safe spaces to practice nonsexual touch, owning your “no,” and learning to ask for the kind of physical contact you want.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S2E21 | May I Touch You? with Shawn Coleman
[Wild & Sublime theme music]
Shawn Coleman: I primarily work with people who are struggling to get more comfortable with touch, people who want to figure out how to engage in touch, and not have it be a sexual thing. Or people who want to get more comfortable stating their boundaries, and things like that, and need a safer space for that — need a space where they get to ask for a massage, or asked to hold hands, and know that it's not leading anywhere, because we've made these agreements.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style. Based on the popular live Chicago show. Each week, I'll chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You'll hear meaningful conversation, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I'm sex educator Karen Yates. Today, we talk with platonic touch practitioner Shawn Coleman about the benefits of cuddling and asking for what you need. Keep listening.
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You heard in the intro, I am talking today to a platonic touch practitioner. And you might have thought, "Huh?" Well, you know, touch does lead typically to sex, and understanding how we relate to touch or not is a pretty important skill. Some of you may know that when you cuddle with someone you care about, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin that calms you and lowers the stress hormone called cortisol. And that also helps with your immune response. Babies who are cuddled by their parents may cry less, sleep better, and have improved brain functioning.
We're also going to be talking about cuddle parties, which have been in vogue now for over a decade. The cuddle party is not new. In the 1920s, there were cuddle parties too, that in some circles were called "snuggle pupping." Snuggle pupping. But these were more like low-key makeout parties, and went hand in hand with women's newfound liberation — at least the liberation in 1920s American terms. The cuddle parties of today are platonic. They are events designed with the intention of allowing people to experience nonsexual physical intimacy through cuddling. Coaches involved in one-on-one cuddling and platonic touch help people navigate how to be okay with negotiating physical boundaries and asking for what they want. With the vaccine in hand, and perhaps cuddling events on the horizon, I thought it would be nice to air these interviews with one of my favorite people in the Chicago sex-positive scene. Shawn Coleman is a platonic touch practitioner, facilitator, and connection coach. Shawn has been on our live show twice: on our very first show, October 10, 2018; and then a year later, on our first anniversary at Constellation in Chicago. You'll be hearing both segments today. I begin by asking Shawn what a professional cuddler actually does.
Shawn Coleman: So, a professional cuddler is someone who gets paid to cuddle, to snuggle, to hug, and engage in other types of nonsexual or platonic touch by the hour, basically. We are in a society where touch is very much frowned upon, where it can be something that's off-limits in, you know, the workplace, or in certain organizations, and things like that. It's something that can be scary, you know, in terms of people fearing accusations, or misunderstandings, and things like that. And all of that kind of leads to a place where people feel like they can't touch anyone, unless they're really good friends, or unless they're in romantic relationships. And even with good friends, a lot of times there's that fear that this person is going to think that it's something that it's not, or the massage is going to lead to more. And so, it's helpful, I think, to have people in the society like myself, who can offer — a foot rub is just a foot rub, or who can hold hands, and you know it's just holding hands, and it's not progressing to something more, because we've established where the line is.
Karen Yates: Right. And you talk about, in some of the interviews I've seen with you, how cuddling, being a professional cuddler, you can help folks work with boundaries, and also reestablish power in themselves, after something happens to them. Can you talk a bit about that?
Shawn Coleman: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for asking about that. Yeah, boundaries are something that are often tested in our society. A lot of times, people feel like they don't have the space to say no to different things when they are asked, and when requests are made. They feel like they might be, you know, experiencing something that's basically a demand in disguise, or whatever. And so they might not — especially in situations where they don't have as much power, like with, you know, a boss, or someone like that, or with a parent, like, they don't feel like they can say no. Things like, give grandma a hug, you know, or very common things with children. When we start with that, we kind of learn that we should be polite, that we should be nice, we should be friendly. And we're not as much encouraged to say no to people, to establish where our line is around touch. And so I invite people to figure out what it is that they actually want, and to own that "no." In, you know, different settings. And doing that within a safe space, like with me in a one-on-one session, or in a cuddle event, can help them to then be able to own their "no," or ask for what they want in different settings as well.
Karen Yates: Yeah. I mean, like, kids are always — there's a sort of enforced touch that happens with kids. If you don't want to hug grandma, or kiss grandpa, you're sort of forced into situations a lot of times. So, cuddle events. What does that look like? Like, you get together — is it like a cocktail cuddle thing? What goes on at these events? [laughter]
Shawn Coleman: Yeah, that's a great question.
Karen Yates: I mean, do you wear your best lingerie?
Shawn Coleman: You know you don't!... But I love that question. No, it is a substance-free event. We definitely discourage people from bringing any type of alcohol, or coming and attending while intoxicated. Or, you know, any type of drugs or other substances as well. And it's an opportunity to connect authentically, to open up with other folks, and to share our truth. To ask for the type of touch that we want, in a friendly, platonic environment. And you can wear sweatpants, you can wear pajama pants, things like that.
Karen Yates: Let's show folks.
Shawn Coleman: Yeah, absolutely. Because a lot of people feel like if they're going to go to a professional cuddling session, or if they're doing, like, a cuddle event or something like that, they feel like they have to come in, and the second they hit the door, they have to be ready to spoon somebody. But it's like, you don't! [laughter]
Karen Yates: Yeah, right? Because I'm thinking about creepy people!
Shawn Coleman: Exactly!
Karen Yates: I'm like, oh god there's going to be creepy people!
Shawn Coleman: Right! I don't know your life. I don't know how you feel about people. But there may be people who, you know, you think are great or wonderful right off, and there may be people who you think are not so great right off. Regardless, you never have to touch anyone, at any point, for any reason. It's all about consent.
Karen Yates: Okay, so what does that look like? Let's say I don't know you. And let's say you've got a creepy vibe — because you don't have a creepy vibe.
Shawn Coleman: Okay, okay. And so, you want me to pretend to ask you for something? So Karen, can I put my hand on your shoulder?
Karen Yates: [tentatively] Yeah... Okay.
Shawn Coleman: You know, that didn't really sound like you were into it. [laughter] Which is totally cool! So, I'm going to change my mind. And, yeah — I'm actually going to not. But thank you so much for your response.
Karen Yates: So, I just noticed that you were sort of forced to interpret my "Okaaay...."
Shawn Coleman: Yeah.
Karen Yates: So, what if I say no?
Shawn Coleman: If you say no, then I'll just simply say, "Thank you for taking care of yourself." And I'll probably go find someone else to cuddle.
Karen Yates: Because basically, thanking someone for taking care of themselves means you're not going to get in some [[ gross? ]] situation, right? You're like, oh, whew, I dodged that bullet.
Shawn Coleman: Right. Because I definitely don't want that. That does not sound like fun. Like, me cuddling you, while you're just giving this face, and feeling all... [laughter]
Karen Yates: Everything gets hammered out. I want to touch your hand, I want to put my arm around you.
Shawn Coleman: Right. In every detail, as much as people can. And it goes beyond just, can I put my hand on your shoulder? If I want to give you a shoulder massage, I need to check in again, and be like, "Hey, can I start massaging your shoulder? And maybe move down to the middle of your back, is that okay?" Just trying to check in as much as possible. And one of the things that some of my facilitator friends will say is that if it feels like you're checking in way too much, you're doing it right.
Karen Yates: Okay. I like that. I've been with folks that check in an awful lot, and it's very nice. It's a very nice thing. It really is.
Shawn Coleman: Yeah, it feels kind of liberating, honestly, to know that not only are people going to ask, but that your "no" is going to be respected, and that you have the right also to change your mind. So like, kind of see someone else doing the thing that person proposed, and you were kind of uncertain, and you had to feel into it, think about it later. And then you can ask them later if you want. Or maybe you can ask someone else, if that person's not available.
Karen Yates: We'll return to more of my chat with Shawn Coleman in a moment. Wild & Sublime is also sponsored in part by our Sublime Supporter, Chicago-based Full Color Life Therapy, therapy for all of you at fullcolorlifetherapy.com. If you would like to be a Sublime Supporter, showcasing you and your business and supporting us at the same time, contact us at .
We now return to my interview with Shawn Coleman, October 2019 in Chicago, the second time Shawn was on the show. We discuss embodied consent and Shawn's facilitation of group events for people of color and gender minorities.
[in front of live audience] So Shawn, I thought it'd be really great to have you on the show, because we're going to be talking about sex parties and sex clubs later, and dungeons, and things like that. And it would be nice to just talk a little bit about platonic touch. So, one of the things you're involved with is embodied consent. And I would love for you to chat about that for a second, because I think most people think, especially in this day and age, that consent is a verbal thing. It's like a yes-no thing. But you work with consent in an embodied way. And what does that mean?
Shawn Coleman: Yeah, so we think of consent as being somewhat straightforward. Like, you know, if you're a yes, you get to say yes. And if you're no, you get to say no, and you ask for permission, et cetera, et cetera. But for a lot of us, we don't really know when we are a "yes," and when we are a "no," because we've been taught to kind of ignore some of the signals in our bodies. We've been taught to ignore some of the feelings that we have, so that we can either be nice, or so that we can like make other people happy, and things like that. And so, embodied consent is about really listening to your body, noticing when it's like, maybe you're uncomfortable with something, and maybe like, you haven't got to that place of being able to say no, but you're kind of just like, you're sweating, or you're shutting down and withdrawing. Versus being open, and accepting of the idea, maybe excited about it, you know?
Karen Yates: So you can — and correct me if I'm wrong — you can be aroused, and not in a place of embodied consent.
Shawn Coleman: Oh, totally.
Karen Yates: And can you talk a little bit more about that?
Shawn Coleman: Yeah, absolutely. Like, our bodies are complicated. Our feelings and our emotions are complicated in general, and especially for people who have had experiences with trauma, or have had experiences when their "no" has been ignored, or their desires have not been honored.
Karen Yates: So what do you do with clients one-on-one exactly? And who are the type of folks that usually come to see you to work one-on-one?
Shawn Coleman: So as you mentioned, like, I really do really enjoy working with queer folks. And I really enjoy working with people of color, and with touch-averse folks. And a lot of people think of platonic touch practitioners, or professional cuddlers, which is another name for the profession, as being people who like, you know, give you those hugs when you really need those hugs, or who are snuggling all day with lonely folks. And like, that definitely is part of the job as well. But for me, I primarily work with people who are struggling to get more comfortable to touch. People who want to figure out how to engage in touch, and not have it be a sexual thing. Or people who want to get more comfortable stating their boundaries, and things like that, and need a safer space for that, need a space where they get to ask for a massage, or ask to hold hands, and know that it's not leading anywhere, because we've made these agreements, because it is a professional session. And so typically, in the session that I'm having, a lot of times, it's a lot of talking about consent, a lot of talking about connection, a lot of talking about, you know, what can help people to get to a place where they do feel comfortable stating that "no," or they do feel comfortable talking about their boundaries, and then perhaps engaging in some touch, but it being very specific. So, you know, there might be some talk of like, "Can I hold your hand?" And then we might hold hands, and like, sit and chat a little bit more, or we might eye-gaze, and things like that. We might spend half an hour where we're just like, holding hands and eye gazing, in some cases, and where the person is just like, practicing saying "no" to some of the requests that I have, just so they can get that verbal practice. Or they might make some requests of me, so that they can get the practice of saying that, and honoring some of the desires that they might have, and some of the things they might want to do in a platonic or nonsexual setting.
Karen Yates: Yeah, because what I'm thinking of is — I bet there might be some folks in the audience thinking, like, "Oh, I don't have a problem with this." But it does occur to me though, if someone is codependent, right, is a people pleaser, and is always saying "yes," there's that next layer of understanding. Like, what's really going on in my body? We live at this level of like, "Yes, uh huh, I can do that. Yup, it's okay." But like, to sink down to that deeper level — it takes some doing, for all of us, I think. Right?
Shawn Coleman: Yeah, I definitely agree. I know, for me, it was something that, like — I was saying yes to people and going along with a lot of stuff, without realizing how harmful it was to me, and how much I didn't want to actually do the thing that was saying yes to. And it helped a lot, going to different group cuddle events, and things like that. And being in a space where people gave me the literal physical space to say "no." You know, like, they would ask for a hug over here, instead of like, asking if they could have a hug while they were like, over me, you know? So that helped a lot. Also, for me, meditation, like doing body scan meditations, and things like that, like noticing the sensations in my body, being more aware of things like my breathing, being more aware of my shoulders and their placement, noticing when my shoulders were a little bit raised, or when they were lower, and noticing when, like, I was sitting back a bit, or when I was moving forward. All those types of things helped me to have a greater understanding of what was actually occurring in my body. Because the body knows. Even sometimes when we intellectually might not know, or we might be dealing with a lot of complicated emotions, our body still very much knows what's going on, and sends us those signals. And I just invite people to really listen to them.
Karen Yates: So basically, you know, working one on one is sort of like training wheels. Because you're not always going to be with a partner that's going to be vibing with you on that level that you need to be vibed with on.
Shawn Coleman: Totally. I mean, when you do work one-on-one, then you get that practice. And then you get to figure out like, what it is that you can ask for, what it is that you can negotiate, so that if you are with a partner who might not have that same understanding, or who might not be coming at it from the same place, then you can ask for what you need.
Karen Yates: Now you create, basically, cuddle events for people of color, and also queer, nonbinary and trans folks. And I would first like you to talk about your events for people of color, when you do a cuddle event. What brought you to begin doing events for people of color?
Shawn Coleman: Yeah. It's just something where like, over the years, I repeatedly would have people of color private message me and ask me if other people of color came to these events. They basically want to know if this is some white shit, you know, and if they were going to be the only one that was there. Because it's hard enough, I think, to go to a group cuddle event, or engage in this way. You know, it's hard enough to get past the anxiety, or the uncertainty that might come up when thinking about going to an event like this. And then if you add the extra layer of like, I might be the only one who is X, then it just makes it all the more harder. And so that's also why I started doing the ones for queer women and trans folks, because it's like, I want to have a space where people can feel a little bit more at ease, being around people who get at least some aspect of their identity, that other folks around them might not get right.
Karen Yates: RIght. It takes off that one layer of pressure, for both groups. Absolutely. And you also now have a bunch of YouTube videos talking about all of this? Which is awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much.
Shawn Coleman: Thank you. Absolutely.
Karen Yates: For more information on Shawn Coleman and Sean's YouTube videos, go to the show notes. Like cuddling, which brings awareness to communication patterns, the work I do in Biofield Tuning and energy medicine that uses sound waves to repattern distortions in the human bioelectric field can help you get out of stuck behaviors and become more aware of different choices. If you are interested in working with me, in person or remotely, or to learn about my weekly group biofield tuning sessions on Zoom, go to karen-yates.com to learn all about this very cool energy modality. The link is in the show notes.
Well, that's it for this week's episode, folks. Have a very pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I'd like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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