Title IX Caution to College Cuddlers

March 26, 2024

College students just love to cuddle. After all, innocent and platonic cuddling has many benefits. Homesick and lonely students can feel connected to co-cuddlers. In fact, Web MD lists many emotional and physical benefits of cuddling. For example, cuddling releases oxytocin, which is reported to calm nerves, relieve stress and even lower blood pressure. Seriously, a good cuddle with a friend can really come in handy for students during final exams when they are really in the throes of high anxiety. Cuddling brings many students back to childhood.

The Difference Between Cuddling and Snuggling

So, why an article cautioning students about cuddling. Before this question can be answered, certain definitions need to be filled in. Apparently, some write that there is a difference between snuggling and cuddling. Indeed, in one scenario, the act of cuddling or snuggling consists of a platonic arm around the other person’s shoulder area and maintaining a spooning position that remains non-sexual in nature. For others, cuddling or snuggling is the gateway to sex – starting with the cuddle and leading to wiggles, giggles and other forms of grinding. Imagine the shock and horror if two students are not on the same page – yikes, the whole matter becomes a tangled mess!

Cuddling & Title IX Violations

Indeed, cuddling can cause one person to experience sexual tension, and they may want to use the cuddling as foreplay. However, the escalation of any sexual activity without consent violates every Title IX policy in colleges and universities around the country. Where matters get confusing surround the very definition of consent. Let’s take the definition of consent at The Ohio State University, which is the penultimate state institution. As defined here, consent:

 “Can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create mutually understandable clear permission regarding willingness to engage in (and the conditions of) sexual activity.”

Conferring consent by words remains easy and understandable. One person asks for permission to touch a body part, and the other student provides either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ response. However, most students don’t use their words while engaging in sexual activity. Sex remains a physical dance, where parties move and respond to non-verbal cues. Reading non-verbal cues can be dangerous, as those cues can be misinterpreted, especially if one student feels excited and another wants to go to sleep. A wandering hand placed on a private part can lead to allegations of sexual assault. Miscommunications can cause a parade of problems.

Post-Cuddling Embarrassment

Additionally, students can become embarrassed during an evening of cuddling. Afterall, cuddlers snuggling in twin beds might have normal body reactions happen during the night. Women can start menstruation. Men might have nocturnal erections. These physical reactions are quite normal, but they can be a little embarrassing when they happen with someone who is not a steady partner.

Cuddle Responsibly

We’re not trying to put the kibosh on cuddling. To the contrary, we say cuddle away. We just want to make sure that the students are clear on a few points. One, students should communicate beforehand if they view the snuggle as purely platonic OR not. Two, there should be a conversation about the limits and boundaries of the cuddle. If it’s just an arm around a body or if it’s a more intimate spoon should be discussed. And three, no student should move to the next level without asking first. After all, it’s better and safer to ask first then try to defend non-verbal communications before a college administration’s Title IX panel.

If you have any questions about a “innocent cuddle” and/or sexual harassment claims, our firm is here to assist. Contact our office today for a private consultation.