“Let’s hold hands and cuddle up on the couch, or listen to some soft music while we curl up in your bed — I am happy to be the big spoon or the little spoon.”
This is one of the first things you’ll read when you visit Samantha Hess’ website, Cuddle Up To Me.
At the age of 30, Hess is a professional cuddler. For $US60 an hour, she’ll intimately snuggle with strangers of all types, and bring them one-on-one cuddle time without the complications of a relationship.
The idea came to her in 2012, when she read an article about a guy with a “Free Hugs” sign at a local Saturday market. Another man stood next to him with a “Deluxe hugs, $US2” sign, and ended up getting more hugs than the first guy.
“That was my lightbulb moment,” Hess says. “I was at a place in my life, out of a 13-year relationship, where I needed a service that didn’t exist. I was struggling and not ready for another relationship, but still had an inherent need to be accepted and loved.”
Hess didn’t know where to turn. She wanted physical comfort that was safe and socially acceptable to reach out to.
So in May 2013, she started Cuddle Up To Me. A month later, a local newspaper featured her business in its annual “Best of Portland” issue, which helped the company gain traction. From there, the story spread to over 40 TV stations across the country, accumulating over 17 million views — and her business took off.
Currently, professional cuddling is her only job, and Hess says she is making far more money from this business than she did in her previous jobs as a customer service representative or personal trainer.
“It’s definitely enough to make a living just doing this job, and I never need to take more than five sessions a day,” she explains. By working six days a week, Hess can make up to $US7,200 in a month.
About 90% of her clientele are men between the ages of 20 and 75, and she says many suffer from severe traumatic diseases or disabilities that prevent them from having frequent human contact.
“I call my service a ‘massage for the mind,'” says Hess. “It’s meant to rejuvenate you and make you feel that openness and happiness in your brain by resetting your system from top to bottom.”
Within 24 hours of her first session with a client, Hess usually gets a phone call or email about how much it meant to them. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to turn down tips, because people are so excited about it,” Hess says.
What makes her service so great? Hess loves each and every one of her clients with a “human grace.” “It’s about being able to genuinely look anyone in the eye and make them feel loved and accepted exactly as they are,” she says. “My clients know that I don’t judge them at all, I just accept people.” She treats everyone like her family, no matter who they are.
Plus, Hess will go almost anywhere for a cuddle session, whether it’s a love seat in a movie theatre, local park, or their bedroom. What’s most important to her is keeping her client comfortable. She has pre-arranged cuddle mixes and meditation music to set the mood. Hess will even wear make-up, a certain colour of clothing, or specific hairstyle if her clients request it.
For her clients who are less comfortable with physical contact, she also created her own cuddling positions.
“The Tarantino,” for example, is for those who want to keep their personal space. “We sit facing each other with a good three feet between us, but our knees go over each other’s, and we’re cuddling with our legs and arms,” says Hess.
Although rewarding, Hess’ work doesn’t come without challenges. “It can be a little tough, because my clients get extremely attached to me,” she says. One gave her a physical key to their heart. “It was the sweetest thing, but I had to remind him what the service is, and that we weren’t going to be anything romantic,” she recalls.
She is quick to prevent any inappropriate actions, through her in-person vetting process, a full-page waiver with preset rules and boundaries, and transparency with her clients. “In our culture, the only experience someone has with this kind of touching has been in a romantic sense,” says Hess. “It’s not always easy for people to switch their brains to simply being platonic about it.”
Hess emphasises that it is only appropriate to touch her where it would be ok to touch a child. If she’s uncomfortable with anything, she gives her client two taps to signal for them to stop. “If they’re looking for a replacement for sex, they’re not going to be happy with my service,” she says.
This work also comes with its share of emotional burdens. “It can be very draining,” she says. “Some people have difficult emotional issues they want to talk to me about during our sessions.” To cope with this, she meditates before every session. She also showers and changes into different clothes afterwards, because she wants to make sure she’s completely fresh in both her mind and her body before taking on her next client.
Hess has a boyfriend who is very accepting of her service. “He knows what I do is a form of therapy and that it really makes a difference to people,” she says.
Next month, Hess will open her first retail store and create a national cuddling certification through a 40-hour-long training program. “This is my life’s work. I want to change the view of Western culture on platonic touch,” she says. “Everybody should have a way to reach out and feel comfortable with that.”
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