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Cuddle Parties Heat Up

Feeling down? A lot of people are in this economy. That may be one reason why cuddle parties are big business.

CuddleParty.comstarted five years ago as a business which hosts parties where people touch each other in a "structured, safe workshop on boundaries, communication, intimacy and affection." Business is booming. "It's a fantastic way to be busy with people," says Len Daley, one of the company's volunteer staff members. He insists, however, that this is not anything close to an orgy. "We take sex off the table."

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For one thing, there are specific rules at cuddle parties, like not wearing risqué pajamas, and no booze. After an hour of getting to know each other, potential strangers at these parties learn that when asked to cuddle, they should say "yes" if they agree, "no" if they don't, and if they're not sure, say "no". Also, my favorite rule: "Be hygienically savvy".

Each cuddle party (and there are a lot of them around the country, check the schedule), is hosted by a trained facilitator. Sometimes they charge participants as much as $40 to attend the three and a half hour get-togethers, sometimes they throw parties for free.

Daley first thought up the idea of people getting together for group hugs back in 1978, but he never got it off the ground. Then, in 2004, he discovered that Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski had created Cuddle Party. "It's like Tupperware," Daley says.

So, do you make money doing this?

Daley says Cuddy Party is a non-profit which makes money by training facilitators. It costs $495 for a session to learn basic skills, another $995 for a 10-session teleconference on how to hold a cuddle party effectively, and then $195 a year to stay professionally affiliated with the main website, where Cuddle Party will help you take reservations for your own parties. Daley says individual facilitators may run for-profit enterprises, but headquarters does not get a commission.

Business is growing. In the first five years, Daley says they trained 50 facilitators, including some in Australia, Denmark, and Canada. "Over the next five years, we're on track to train 500 facilitators." He says the economy is having no negative impact on business. If anything, the number of parties is increasing. "It's not something people are getting rich at," Daley says, but the biggest challenge is fighting the sexual image conjured up reading about Cuddle Parties. "We do not like the name, but we can't find a better one."

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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