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meet the woman who cuddles with strangers for $60 an hour

Stashed in: Founders, Hugs!, Awesome, Compassion, Massage, Consumer Trends, Transactional Relationships, @emilykatemoon

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this woman must really know how to set boundaries!

You got that right!

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 emphasizes that it is only appropriate to touch her where it would be okay 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.

It's interesting that she does it as a business, like massage or yoga.

“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 $60 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, $2″ 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.


“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 $7,200 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.

“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.” The bargain "girlfriend experience"!

She goes out of her way to call it platonic so not really. :)

still, it's extremely intimate.  i don't know how she does it.  i'm impressed that hairstylists and masseuses can spend so much life energy listening to strangers while touching them, this is a whole different level!

That ability to get intimate but turn it off is potentially harmful to the clients when they realize the connection is physical but not deeper. I'm sure that's very confusing to some of them. 

The implication is that the clients can't form that kind of connection in their real lives. 

And that's a sad thought, really. 

yes, and i suppose this doesn't really solve their problem, since she has to keep it superficial.  but i like to think she is still helping.  she is giving them acceptance and touch, now they need to pick themselves up and do the rest.  maybe this taste of connection will help dislodge their hangup?

Maybe, but I'd like to think that then all she is, is a specialized form of masseuse.

Which is, essentially how she thinks of herself.

The bigger issue is why there are so many lonely or isolated people in our society that creates all these Hangups. 

that IS the bigger issue.  and it is very real and very human.  i wish i had the answer.

I wonder what percentage of the 90%+ male clientele is married.  They don't have to be particularly isolated or hung-up to want some strange.  Technically, a hug - even a prolonged hug - isn't cheating.  Win/win! 

I, too, put her in the economy masseuse category.

that is true, geege.  it doesn't have to be a big deal to anyone, but because if its newness as a paid service, it probably is a big deal to most of her clients.  so i'll bet the majority of her clientele is unmarried and lonely.  maybe after she's set the precedent, trained thousands of professional cuddlers, and made this a common thing, the demographic will broaden.  then cuddling will be like ordering a pizza!  you just call up "cuddle-buddies" and have someone come on over and spoon you while you watch tv!!

it still makes me laugh that the guy holding the "deluxe hugs" sign was selling more hugs for $2 than the other guy could give away for free!

Sometimes free hugs aren't really free.

Nothing in life is free. Love is. Free hugs. - PandaWhale

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