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Back-scratching and cuddles: Are platonic apps the new Tinder?

As hook-up apps reach saturation, is there an appetite for non-romantic connections?


Catherine Scott


Posted on Jan 30, 2016   Updated on May 27, 2021, 7:17 am CDT

Whether you’re looking for casual sex, friends with benefits, a soulmate or an extra-marital affair, the answer always seems to be “there’s an app for that.” Yet with dating apps seemingly at peak saturation point, could there be a niche for apps that promote the simpler, platonic aspects of human connection—like, say, a good, long back scratch?

The folks behind Scratchilla, whose fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo ended unsuccessfully in December 2015, sure thought so. The app’s simple premise was to unite people who want their back scratched with people who want to scratch them. (Yes, really.)  

If your first instinct about a back scratch from a stranger is to find the idea somewhat creepy, you’re in good company. And yet apps to facilitate non-sexual contact between strangers seem to have a place in the market (if not a large one). 

Labelled “Tinder for Hugs,” the Cuddlr app launched in September 2014 to great skepticism, the International Business Times reported. The app, which brings together people who want a platonic cuddle, was downloaded more than 200,000 times in its first week. Cuddlr was taken over by new owners and renamed as Spoonr in September 2015 after bugs and lack of funding began to affect the product. The premise—platonic cuddling between strangers—remains the same.

The idea behind Cuddlr/Spoonr was “the deficiency of the simple human touch,”owner of Spoonr, Eugene Belenky, wrote The Daily Dot in an email. Indeed, Spoonr’s tagline “Ever just want a cuddle?” hints at how, in the sex-focused world of Tinder/Grindr, people are still craving non-sexual intimacy. “Platonic apps give a no-pressure start to a human interaction. It’s then up to people to figure out the merit of that connection,” Belenky continued. He added that far from being evidence that this kind of app won’t flourish, Spoonr’s positively-received relaunch demonstrated the opposite: “There were many people who liked the application and were really upset when it shut down.”

It’s worth noting that platonic apps have the potential to appeal to more than just strangers who want to cuddle or scratch each other’s backs. As society’s acknowledgement of asexuality/aromanticism grows, it stands to reason that technology will develop to cater to these markets. Those who identify as asexual may experience attraction and desire close relationships, but don’t wish to act out that attraction through sex. Ergo, hookup apps like Tinder are of little use to them. Although being aromantic (not experiencing romantic attraction and preferring platonic relationships) does not mean a person is necessarily also asexual, it is another orientation that can make traditional dating culture very tricky to navigate. (Sites such as Platonic Partners or Celibate Passions  are more specifically aimed at uniting those seeking non-sexual, non-romantic relationships.) 

Of course, plenty of people who don’t identify as aromantic or asexual may still seek a platonic connection due to religious or moral reasons, because of age or health, or because they just want a goddamn break from the merry-go-round of sexual and romantic relationships. And for those who are feeling that last reason in particular, there’s plenty of innocent fun to be had in the app market. 

For instance, Yep! is a friend-making app that connects individuals based on activities of mutual interest. Tastebuds is an app based upon music tastes, particularly useful for finding concert buddies. MeetMyDog is for anyone who wants to create a profile for their pet and connect with other dog owners in your local area. And the list goes on. 

For every platonic app that flourishes, however, there are plenty that don’t make the grade. Likemind, an app aimed at connecting people platonically over shared interests, sunk without a trace after its launch in 2013. MacWorld’s Sarah Jacobsson Purewal tried friendship app Skout and complained that users treat it as a hook-up app anyway.

Unfortunately Scratchilla looks like it might end up in the latter category, as the fundraising campaign ended on Dec. 7, having reached 26 percent of its $7,000 target. The owners subsequently posted on the IndieGoGo page, “We have a lot of great feedback from you and we’ll continue to work on [the] back scratching movement and building the community. Stay tuned, follow our facebook page and webpage for updates.”

So we’ll stay tuned. And if the “back scratching movement” does end up being an actual thing, we look forward to seeing future apps for no-strings-attached-foot rubs, pimple squeezing and tickling.

Image via ArTeTeTra/Flickr

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*First Published: Jan 30, 2016, 10:00 am CST