Arts & Culture

Hugs for Hire

Cuddling services burgeoning across North America
BY Justina Reichel TIMEFebruary 11, 2015 PRINT

Stuck without that special someone this Valentine’s Day and feeling lonely? Not to worry, there’s likely a cuddler-for-hire near you.

Professional cuddling—a platonic, non-sexual, paid-for cuddle service—has taken off in the past year with businesses popping up in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton in addition to at least 16 U.S. states.

Last year also saw the launch of the Cuddlr app and the website, which help users locate and connect with strangers nearby for a free, platonic cuddle with no strings attached. Tens of thousands have signed up.

It’s a dream job.
— Professional cuddler Marylen Rei

Marylen Reid started the Cuddlery, Canada’s first professional cuddle-for-hire business, in Vancouver last year and has already expanded to cities across the country. She got the idea for the service when she moved to Vancouver four years ago and felt lonely and stressed. 

A self-described “really affectionate person,” she longed for tactile interaction without sexual intimacy. That’s when she realized there were likely others who felt the same. 

“It’s a new service that’s been needed for a long time, and now that it’s accepted people are seeing its potential to bring joy and happiness,” says Reid. “It’s a dream job.”

Cuddle sessions by Reid’s team, men and women of all ages and backgrounds, start at $65 per hour. Cuddlers are interviewed and then trained to see whether they have the capacity to “transmit compassion and affection” and must pass a criminal background check, says Reid.

Clients can choose to meet at the cuddler’s home, their own home, or in public, and must first provide their identification and sign an agreement that no sexual activity will be involved. The cuddle sessions are also video recorded (without sound) to protect the cuddler and client from allegations of misconduct. 

The benefits of touch are well documented and range from lowering stress levels and depression to improving self-esteem and anxiety. Studies have found that tender touching releases a brain chemical called oxytocin, which is linked to feelings of devotion, trust, bonding, and contentment. 

This basic need for human affection and belonging is universal and is the driving force behind her business success, says Reid. So far her clients have hailed from all walks of life—divided across age (though they must be over 18), gender, and socioeconomic status. 

“That’s the beauty of it—so many people need it,” she says. “It’s interesting because there are no trends … that’s what I see. The age-range I get is from young professionals to retired people, male, female—I get everything.”

Three Main Categories

Cuddling strangers isn’t exactly new. Cuddle parties, a non-sexual event where strangers gather to “give and receive affection,” have been around for over a decade. The first was held in 2004 by Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski, a pair of relationship coaches in New York City.

So why the recent spike in one-on-one stranger cuddling? 

The benefits of touch are well documented and range from lowering stress levels and depression to improving self-esteem and anxiety.

Availability of the service through websites and apps and the widespread media publicity is certainly a factor. But the popularity of the service also appears linked to changing social structures such as escalating divorce rates and the breakdown of traditional family units, urban isolation, and geographically dispersed kin.

According to cuddler match-up website, users often fall into three categories: singletons, recent breakup/divorcees, and frequent travellers. 

People who are single by choice may not be ready for a relationship but need to fill an “innate need for affection,” says the Cuddle Comfort website. 

Those who have recently ended a long-term relationship and may be experiencing “oxytocin withdrawal,” compounding feelings of loneliness and desperation from the loss of their partner, are also frequent clients.

Also common are people who are in relationships but need to travel often for work, separating them from loved ones for long periods of time. 

Put simply, modern society needs a forum for adult intimacy without any sexual pressure or expectation, say the Cuddlr app creators. 

“We’re not getting the right type of contact often enough; we don’t give and get enough hugs … there’s definitely an under-explored time and a place for a more gentle, no-pressure intimacy, and that’s what Cuddlr aims to help with,” says the Cuddlr app FAQ.

This year, Portland cuddle enthusiasts will mark Valentine’s Day with the first-ever “Cuddle Con,” a convention celebrating human connection that includes cuddle and massage classes, partner yoga, dance lessons, piggyback rides, pillow fights, and of course, cuddling en masse.

“Romantic relationships typically define our cuddling experience in life as adults, and we find there’s so much more to it than that,” says professional cuddler Samantha Hess on the Cuddle Con website.

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