Talk about embracing the gig economy. This is an article about professional cuddling, and the people who are making between $80 and $100 an hour practicing it.
Writing in The New York Times, Alex Williams is the latest to catch up on the rise of professional cuddling, focusing mainly on the experiences of a single pro cuddler, Brianna Quijada, 30, originally from Arizona and now living in Astoria, Queens.
Quijada is a singer (career highlight: American Idol audition), but like a lot of people, it was tougher to achieve her dreams in the big city than she'd hoped. These days she works in a restaurant and moonlights by hugging and cuddling strangers for $80 an hour.
Here's what you need to know about professional cuddling:
This whole idea grew out of cuddle parties.
These are a little bit older than the cuddle-for-hire scene, and they're pretty much what they sound like--picture a G-rated orgy. Over time, a professional scene developed.
As Williams writes, "pro cuddlers promise a physical and psychic salve through spooning, arm tickling and deep embraces. Think of it as a blend of talk therapy, yoga and improvisational bodywork, the free jazz equivalent of massage."
It's not just a New York thing.
If you live in Alabama, or Kansas, or Nova Scotia (or a lot of other places), you can find a pro cuddler at Snuggle Buddies, which nets its non-cuddling founder (he simply matches the cuddlers and clients) about $50,000 a year and offers a free download of a 130-page how-to guide called The Cuddle Sutra.
You might also try Cuddlist, which bills itself as "a therapeutic, non-sexual, cuddle session with a certified professional cuddler." They even have a video demonstrating a session:
I know what you're thinking, but there is no sex involved.
At least, there isn't supposed to be. I haven't found anything suggesting that cuddling-for-hire is really prostitution in disguise. Of course, as you can ickily imagine, there are some customers who expect they're going to be able to take things further than the no-sex-rule suggests.
"I basically say my boundaries, that I'm not comfortable being touched in any areas that would be covered by a two-piece bathing suit, basically. Someone once asked me to wear shorts, and I wasn't comfortable with that. That's like the worst of it," Quijada said.
But when biological reactions happen, they deal with it.
"Sexual arousal happens," Quijada explains, "and it is a natural human reaction. The idea is not to encourage it or manipulate it by simply changing positions. Taking a break, and talking about how we are feeling in the moment can help redirect our energy back to agenda-free cuddling."
Another professional cuddler, Liza Stahl, who was interviewed on Mic.com had pretty much the same attitude--and said she'd only had to end one session because a client couldn't shall we say, temper his enthusiasm.
"Boners happen. It's not something that you can necessarily control, and its not the end of the world either," Stahl said, but added, "If they push the envelope, you ... you give them a warning. ... If it happens again, peace out Girl Scout."
It's important to practice safe non-sex.
Actually, this seems like the most dangerous part, but there are quite a few interviews with professional cuddlers online, and in most cases they seem to be more than willing to meet with strangers pretty much wherever.
For example, Quijada said most of her clients rent hotel rooms, or she meets them at Breather, which offers conference rooms by the hour in New York City.
"There's always that little bit of fear," about going to a stranger's hotel room alone, she said. "But I screen people really well. There's a safety protocol. I talk to people on the phone or Skype, or meet them at coffee shops. But I don't go into it thinking people are going to be creepy -- anymore."