Would You Pay To Hug A Stranger?
Looking for a little extra affection? Meet Sam Hess, a 29-year-old cuddle professional who makes a living by selling snuggles to those in need.
Hess is part of a new breed of business people who believe that touch, no matter who it comes from, is the key to a happy life. She hatched the idea after watching a YouTube experiment in which two men offered free or paid hugs to people on the street. “People paid for hugs more than they took the free ones, and I realized that there’s real value in affection,” Hess tells Yahoo Shine. “My friends and boyfriend were a little wary at first, but once they realized I was serious about it, they were supportive.”
Hess’s Portland, Oregon based company, called Cuddle Up To Me, offers two basic packages: A 30-minute session for $35 and a 60-minute session for $60 (She charges a $1 per minute in overtime), during which Hess and her client might hold hands, cuddle up on the couch, or spoon to the tune of her "cuddle playlist," which includes classic music and hits by Phil Collins and Jack Johnson. There are also prepaid weekly sessions and a flat rate for overnight stays. However, before she does business, Hess conducts a free 45-minute meet-and-greet in a public place such as a coffee shop, to assess the intentions of potential clients. “I need to know where a person is coming from so I know what I’m walking into,” she explains.
Hess makes it clear that her services are completely platonic. “I’m not sexually attracted to my clients and even if I were, I don’t allow myself to go there,” she explains. “I’m in a totally different head space during a session and I’m very specific about body parts that cannot be touched.” If a client pushes his or her boundaries, Hess issues a verbal warning or ends the session. Though she does business in her clients’ homes, she says she feels safe, thanks to her martial arts training. She also carries a Kuboton (a pocket-sized sharp stick), just in case. “No one has ever violated the rules because of my strict vetting process,” she insists. “My youngest client is 24-years-old and my oldest is in his mid-60s — I see single dads, widows, depressed people, even one woman.”
There’s been plenty of research on the effects of cuddling between people who love and trust each other: Snuggling lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and stress and releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, triggering a loving feeling between two people, yet little is known about the effects of cozying up to a stranger.
Nonetheless, other cuddling businesses have been cropping up across the country. Jacqueline Samuel, 29, owns the Snuggery, a company that offers cuddle services for $60 an hour and $90 for 90 minutes, out of her home in Penfield, New York. Clients can also opt for a “Double Cuddle,” a snuggling session with Samuel’s female colleague (the price spikes to $100 for 45 minutes and $180 for 90 minutes, in that case). And The Snuggle House in Madison, Wisconsin finally opened on Friday, weeks after its October grand opening was canceled due to a city investigation on suspicion that snuggling was a front for prostitution (it wasn’t).
And while the companies all state that services are strictly non-sexual, the Snuggery’s policy is a bit more lenient of accidents, stating: “Although sexual activity is not permitted, arousal is perfectly normal and should not make anyone feel uncomfortable.”
“Touch is the most power tool between humans,” Wendy Walsh, PhD, a Beverly Hills based psychotherapist, tells Yahoo Shine. “We’re wired to bond — in fact, babies who aren’t touched when they’re born, don’t thrive in life.”
Given our fast-paced, social media-saturated culture, where people spend more time staring at computer screens than each other, that urge to reach out may be greater now than ever before, says Walsh. And that’s especially true for men, who are conditioned to feel ashamed about their need for affection.
However, cuddling can mean the difference between marital bliss and strife. “Much of the research about sex and happy couples has little to do with the sex itself and more to do with the affection that goes a long with it,” says Walsh. “That’s because people are motivated to have sex for all different reasons, including insecurity and anxiety.”
Walsh says the business of cuddling can be a positive experience for some — especially people who have experienced certain types of trauma — however, there’s danger in a one-sized-fits-all approach to affection. “Cuddling should be an integral component of an evolving relationship, not something you can grab on the run,” she says.