I’m just going to put it out there. I cuddle for money. Seriously.
Let me get the immediate questions going through your mind out of the way:
- No, this is not my main day job. I only have a couple of clients a week currently.
- Cuddling is platonic (non-sexual) affection – both emotional and physical intimacy that does not cross the line into anything more. No, I’m not a prostitute. And no, this isn’t illegal. It can include affectionate holding, hair touching, hand holding, and physical closeness with all clothes on. It can even include talking over dinner or watching a movie.
- It’s $40-$80/hour to me depending on the company I work through.
- We meet at their residence or a public place they are comfortable with, such as a park.
- Yes, all of my clients thus far have been male-bodied. No, no one has ever tried to pull something on me or be unsafe towards me in the process. One person asked if they could kiss me and after I explained why that is not allowed, he understood and backed off.
- My main clients are people who don’t want to pursue a romantic relationship but miss the affection they would get within one. Sometimes, they are people who have a disability or their current partner cannot for whatever reason provide them affection and this is a safe place to seek out intimacy without sex.
I’m sure your next question will be how I got into this in the first place. That is a bit of a longer story. The shorter story is that cuddling with people in the blues dancing scene gave me the intimacy and affection I needed that I wasn’t getting at home. It gave me the feeling that I could be loved in the way I wanted by others and thus helped indirectly in helping me out the door. People would often tell me I was such a good cuddler and would joke that I should get paid for it. Then when I found myself without a job, I decided “Why not?”
As most everything I’ve ever tried out of saying “Why not?,” it’s been immensely rewarding. And if it weren’t for the emotional distance that money allows for, I would do it for free and try to spread the cuddle joy to everyone. I think it would reduce crime and help people be better to each other and to themselves. It’s something Buddhism left out in their teachings: Emptiness, peace, and cuddles. Seriously.
Now for my more serious diatribe about physical touch.
We as humans need touch. Period. Some of us yearn for it more than others as a primary way we “hear” love. Some of us can only “hear” love in other ways, but physical touch is still important for them. I say this after having interacted with many people with Autism or Asperger’s diagnoses, whose feelings about touch are often quite different. The problem, though, is that in this day and age, touch only comes to us or is allowed through a romantic partner. This then connects sex or sexual acts with touch when in reality, affectionate intimate touch need not be connected to sex. And is often even more therapeutic when it isn’t. When it is so attached to sex, it is so easy to believe that sex is the equivalent of love and that with love comes sex.
From my own experience, I’ve found that by offering only platonic touch and no sex or sexual touching, I allow people a feeling of safety they cannot get most anywhere else. Sex not being on the table changes interactions from a romantic game to a therapeutic setting of equals connecting. Instead of the typical (conscious or subconscious) tit for tat exchange in sexual interactions, there are no expectations of reciprocity and sometimes an implied reciprocity required for the physical intimacy to happen. There is more discussion about needs and wants and boundaries and consent is a clear and obvious component of the unknown circumstance. For many of my clients, this is the first time they have ever had to discern what they want in a physical interaction or verbally ask for it and also the first time they know it will be given without strings or sex attached. It is usually an awkward experience in the beginning, but the more I see them, the more I watch them empower themselves to ask for what they want with less fear of possible rejection- with others too.
I have debated beginning initial cuddle sessions with describing some possibilities for our time together so that people feel a little more comfortable. However, I’ve realized that the discomfort has a place and purpose and dispelling it would often do a disservice to everyone involved. The discomfort is about confronting a situation that is so different from our current ideas on intimacy. In order to move past the discomfort, mental and verbal acknowledgment of it and often discussion is needed. This has been proven to me time and again when often the first words out of a client’s mouth the first time I see them is “So I’ve never done this before. How does it work?” The implication is that there must be a “right” way of doing this. But there really isn’t beyond the set boundaries. And when I respond with “It can be whatever you want it to be and is negotiable up to the sexual boundaries. What do you want?”, their usual response is “I don’t know.” or “Can we just talk first?”
I often say that what they are paying for is me to be a good friend. I see it as my job to create a safe space for them to explore how they relate to someone they don’t know in a sometimes more intimate way than they interact with anyone else (possibly including their romantic partner). They can define how they want that to look, and what I’ve found is that most people in America (probably elsewhere too, but this is my reference point) have not considered what they really want in that regard, especially when sex is not an option. Is it really possible to have a friend that you can ask to play with your hair while you discuss your personal lives? Yes. Is it really possible to hold hands or curl up together in bed and look into each others’ eyes and share ourselves emotionally and not be romantic partners? Yes. Do I pretend that we don’t become connected by doing these things? No.
I may differ in my feelings on this topic, but what I believe is that most people who have gone to the efforts of spending $80-120 for an hour to cuddle are actually looking for that connection. If they wanted anonymous physical contact, they could have hired a prostitute and received an orgasm. But they didn’t. They sought this specific interaction out. Why? Often because they miss being connected to the human race in a way that feels close, closer than what they’ve received recently or maybe ever. And they want to be heard. Most clients openly share with me that it took them a long time to convince themselves into that first session. They share their fears that it is taboo. They share that they were worried it would be awkward or uncomfortable. They share that my profile made them feel like they were seeing a real person who might actually want to know them. And I do! Is that wrong? Many aspects of our society says that it is. Our day to day interactions every day instill a feeling that real authentic genuine connections are to be avoided at work, at social events, and even sometimes with our most loved ones. We have walls that we put up to avoid deep connections that might hurt us in numerous ways. But those walls also prevent us from loving and feeling anything deeply. Those walls prevent real connections. Cuddling contradicts all these notions.
I am reminded of a specific session I had (though not unlike many other stories) with a man whose wife had become more and more emotionally distanced from him over the years. They had built a life together and he wanted to stay in his marriage, but missed the affection they used to have. He was afraid of asking for this from her and instead hired me. We met at a park and I laid out a blanket. Within the first few minutes, I sensed he was uncomfortable with sitting still in that location and also mentioned having a wife. I asked if his wife knew about this session and he said no and described the above. I asked him at that time what kind of affection he missed most and he smiled shyly- the first smile I saw on his face. He reminisced about walking the streets talking and holding hands. It made me sad that he didn’t even feel he could ask for that in his marriage. “Is that what would make you happy now?” I said and he nodded, his eyes lighting up. And so we walked the streets holding hands, talking about pain and fears and marriage and love. At the end of the session, I challenged him to ask his wife for the same experience soon- for himself, for her, and for their marriage. He never scheduled another session, though expressed interest many times during the time together. I really hope that means he and his wife are holding hands walking the streets falling in love again.
I can recount numerous similar stories of clients (and friends too). It seems ironic to me that we are so afraid of intimacy and yet want it so strongly. So many of us push it away when it’s there out of fear we will become attached to it and it will diseappear. So many of us cling to it and believe it will save us from ourselves. I think perhaps the healthy place is somewhere in between – letting ourselves connect, but not becoming attached to its presence in any specific way. In other words, seeking the balance! 🙂 And most of all- letting ourselves connect with ourselves first. If we feel “full” there, connection or disconnection with others is no longer threatening to our wellbeing. This is still a work in progress for me and am interested in more discussion with anyone who would like to share their thoughts on this.
If I haven’t blown your mind enough yet, I might with this commentary. As I’ve stated, my clients have all been male-bodied people so far, but I am interested in seeing more same-/all-gender cuddling in the world and wish to encourage it. Why? Well, for one, because connection is not gendered and caring is caring whoever you are. Mostly, though, I think it better demonstrates the benefits of platonic touch for “heteronormative” people (whatever the fuck that means). It separates the sex and touch and love lines a lot more clearly. My partners and friends cuddle with each other- male, female, trans, whatever. We’re all people! We all have bodies and skin and platonic affection has been proven to have so many benefits to us (reduced blood pressure and heart rate among many others), no matter who it comes from.
So I challenge you. Ask someone you’ve wanted platonic touch from or someone new to cuddle with you. Whoever they are. Define what that looks like, define what you want, ask for consent, and make it a mutually rewarding experience. Take down your walls and risk connecting for real. Risk being rejected. Somehow…I doubt they will say no.