“Ever do the one where one of you lies on your stomach, and the other lies directly on top of them? Like a pancake?”

“All the time,” Fei tells me as she climbs on my back, her weight pressing my face into the mattress. I let out a sort of moan-thing as the pressure of her forces the air out of my lungs.

Fei Wyatt is a professional cuddler from Cuddle Sanctuary, a Los Angeles-based professional cuddling agency where you can get the “physical warmth and connection you need” through one-on-one sessions they call “affection spas.” I’ve enlisted her to cuddle me.

The pancake is her favorite position.

I heard it feels good. And that it’s good for you. Supposedly, non-sexual human touch in the form of cuddling reduces blood pressure, anxiety, stress, depression and the risk of heart disease. It boosts your immune system and relieves pain. It increases empathy and the ability to bond with others.

All that’s interesting to me, but not as interesting as the fact that you can reap those benefits platonically …  from a stranger. Kind of a weird concept in a touch-deprived society like ours where when people we don’t know touch us, they’re either mugging us or giving us prostate exams.

“We’re conditioned to see strangers as dangerous,” she tells me. “So we have anxiety when they touch us. Or, we’re taught to see it as sexual which creates tension. The problem is, touch is such a vital part of health and humanity. We should be touching more, because it’s so good for us, but instead we’re touching less. And it makes us sick and sad.” Platonic cuddling, she thinks, could be the solution.

She starts playing with my hair.

I check myself. How am I doing?

Pretty good. Pretty great, actually. Hair play is tight. The warmth of her body and personality begin to calm and delight me in a way I’ve never really felt. A gleeful tingle radiates from my chest outwards to my limbs, making me feel suddenly and inexplicably buoyant. I go from “this is fucking crazy” to “this is the best thing ever” in under 60 seconds.

Of course, I know what’s going on here: oxytocin. It’s one of the reasons why professional cuddling works. It gets released during cuddling and sex and when you see a little baby. It makes you feel like maniacally happy, gooey ooze. Melting hearts and stuff like that. The hormone gush feels safe, though. Very not sexy.

Cuddling also feels so good because there’s something special about the intimacy of a stranger that breaks down mental and physical barriers in a way that feels surprisingly adaptive and therapeutic. Surpassing my initial doubt and discomfort by letting her place her entire body atop mine made me realize that if I’d already cleared the physical hurdle, I could clear the mental one too. Cathartic.

We start talking about how I am. She’s interested; caring. Empathetic. I feel heard. I feel cozy and giggly. I feel better than I did when I came.  It’s different than with a friend or a lover — it’s like therapy … but therapy doesn’t compare because therapists can’t touch you. I guess I didn’t know I needed to be touched.

How strange it is; this platonic touch. How liberating, to enjoy the warmth and compassion of skin-on-skin in a contractually non-sexual setting. How relaxed and grounded and at peace I feel … it’s like human Xanax. Perhaps we should all let small strangers lie on us from time to time. Ten out of ten mes would recommend.