Way Before the Age of Social Media, Cuddle Parties Dominated Hookup Culture

Way Before the Age of Social Media, Cuddle Parties Dominated Hookup Culture

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Remember what life was like before social media and online dating? Sometimes a friend introduced you to a friend. Sometimes you met at a bar or a club or — if the stars had really aligned that day — bumped into one another while reaching for the Splenda at a coffee shop. And if you were alive during the 1920s, you just might have gone to cuddle parties.

Cuddle parties, also known as “petting parties,” were a popular pastime of the rebellious and so-called liberated youth of the early 20th century. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in This Side of Paradise, mentioned them as quite a common phenomenon in the United States, especially popular on college campuses. These were events during which people could explore their sexuality, experiment before commitment and generally have fun without fully participating in sexual intercourse.

Paula S. Fass, author of The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s, had this to say about these cuddle parties:

Petting parties varied quite a lot. But certainly there were parties where young people did quite a lot of erotic exploration — kissing and fondling. These parties always stopped before intercourse. In that sense they had imposed limitations created by the group presence. They were not orgies, and they were not promiscuous — one set of partners only.

Cuddle parties became incredibly widespread — so much so that each region of the United States adopted its own terminology for the events. They were called “mushing parties” in the West, “fussing” in the Midwest, and “necking” in the South.

Although flappers were typically accused of participating in this sort of behavior, cuddle parties were popular among all sorts of young women (you know, regardless of how short they cut their hair). In fact, “one study found that by 1924, 92% of college women had tried petting.”

Of course, not everyone was on board. Police were enlisted to break up campus cuddle parties, concerned mothers wrote to the papers about how their boys needed protection from “the young girl vamp,” and The Women’s Christian Temperance Union got involved. It comes as no surprise to anyone at all that while both young men and women attended petting parties, only the women were vilified for doing so.

Eventually, the fad of cuddle parties — like all fads — lost its luster and began to wane. Alfred Kinsey would go on to write that these parties “had altered the way men and women engaged in sexual contact and continued to do so.”

Had you ever heard of these cuddle parties from the 1920s?

Featured image taken from capcuddlers.org, the Canadian Association of Professional Cuddlers

This article was originally published on December 20, 2020. It has since been updated.

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