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Why Cuddling Is So Crucial

New research proves its importance, and not just to women.

Source: NotarYES/Shutterstock

Ah, afterglow, the relaxed, dreamy post-coital period when many lovers feel very close. But a better term might be after-cuddling: Recent research shows that cuddling is a key element in sexual and relationship satisfaction, especially for women and parents of young children—and particularly after sex.

University of Toronto researchers conducted two studies on the effects of post-sex cuddling. In the first, they used Internet job-listing sites to offer gift cards to adults willing to complete a survey dealing with relationships. The solicitation yielded a racially and ethnically diverse group of 335 adults age 18 to 64 (138 men, 197 women) who’d been in their current relationship for between four months and 30 years.

The survey asked several questions about afterglow and found that small increases in post-sexual cuddling produced substantial increases in sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction (p < .001).

In the second study, the researchers asked an equally diverse group of 101 couples to keep daily relationship diaries for 21 days, with a follow-up survey three months later. The diary tracked couple sex and afterglow, with end-of-the-day questions about sexual and relationship satisfaction. When couples engaged in their average amount of post-sex cuddling, they reported steady states of sexual and relationship satisfaction. But when they spent extra time in post-sex cuddling, they reported a significant spike in sexual satisfaction and a corresponding increase in relationship satisfaction (p < .004).

Women and Parents

While extended cuddling increased all participants’ satisfaction, it was particularly important to two groups—women and parents of young children.

Compared with men, women place more value on cuddling in general and consider it more important in relationship satisfaction. As a result, it’s not surprising that compared with men, women would place greater value on post-sexual cuddling.

Meanwhile, when preoccupied with young children, most couples report a drop in sex and nonsexual affection. Evidently, parents of young children place more value on post-sexual cuddling because opportunities for affection and intimate bonding are less available and, consequently, more precious.

Other surveys show that couples consider post-sexual cuddling a critical element in intimacy, with two-thirds of couples expecting significant post-coital cuddling.

Message to Men: Stay Awake

One reason why men don’t orchestrate much post-sex cuddling is that sex knocks them out. Many women complain that after orgasm, men tend to fall asleep, often before the women have warmed up enough to experience desire and orgasm. But even when men help women to orgasm before having their own, falling asleep immediately after sex denies women the post-sex cuddling most consider very important.

So, guys, do whatever it takes to stay awake after sex, at least long enough to spend a good chunk of time physically close and cuddling. You’ll enjoy sex more and feel better about your relationship—and the woman in your life will consider you a better partner (and lover).


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Gulledge, A.K. et al. "Romantic Physical Affection Types and Relationship Satisfaction,” American Journal of Family Therapy (2003) 31:233.

Heiman, J.R. et al. “Sexual Satisfaction and Relationship Happiness in Midlife and Older Couples in Five Countries,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2011) 40:741.

Hughes, S.M. and D.J. Kruger. “Sex Differences in Post-Coital Behavior in Long- and Short-Term Mating: An Evolutionary Perspective,” Journal of Sex Research (2011) 48:496.

Muise, A. et al. “Post-Sex Affectionate Exchanges Promote Sexual and Relationship Satisfaction,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2014) 43:1391.

Van Anders, S.M. et al. “Descriptive Experiences and Sexual Vs. Nurturant Aspects of Cuddling Between Adult Romantic Partners,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2013) 42:553.

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