Guest blogger Samantha Hess, certified cuddler and founder of Cuddle Up To Me, shares her perspective about the portrayal of professional cuddling in The Found Dog Ribbon Dance.
In early February I had the honor of being present at a run-through of The Found Dog Ribbon Dance prior to its Valentine’s Day premiere at CoHo Theatre. I was there as an unpaid consultant to help give the cuddle poses the most likeness to what actually happens in a professional cuddling session. As the owner and founder of local cuddle studio, Cuddle Up To Me (founded 2013), and certification company, Certified Cuddlers (founded 2014), I am on a mission to change the world, one hug at a time.
At the end of that evening one of the producers asked me if the play reflected my work, and without hesitation I said “No.” I explained how the portrayal in this play is a great representation of how professional cuddling can go wrong when people enter into it without proper training. The play is great, the portrayal of trained professional cuddling is non-existent.
What is often misunderstood is that emotional labor is real work. This is skilled labor that requires real intention and effort to be executed well.
Professional cuddlers earn the title, like Certified Cuddler, by taking a certification training program and learning consent and boundary setting, how to hold space, verbal and non-verbal communication, cuddle poses, avoiding codependency, emotional expression, body language, how to help people through varying degrees of life trauma and challenges such as cancer patients, people going through breakups, those on the spectrum, people with suicidal ideations, or those with disabilities all while maintaining their own self care in order to help everyone thrive.
This play is a wonderful portrayal of human emotion and of professional cuddling gone wrong. The examples here are absolutely real life situations depicted, crafted, and lived by much more than just the actors. It matches those in the field who don’t have training or proper skills to provide this service the way we strive to with my businesses.
Norma, the professional cuddler in The Found Dog Ribbon Dance, is like a person who gets paid to massage people without ever learning the skills to not cause harm. She uses her clients to heal her own wounds, allows sessions to go by without addressing romantic inklings, and she gives hugs without consent or consideration for whether her clients might be ready for them or not. None of these things are acceptable for a Certified Cuddler who abides by an oath to care for clients in ethical ways.
Norma is a great example of someone who has their heart in the right place for this work but who hasn’t put in the time and effort to be truly professional. Even though she doesn’t match what my view of the industry is, she is a type of person who exists in the field, and I’m very grateful for any platform that brings to light that the profession I’ve worked well over half a decade to create exists.
The night I got to see the run-through of the play I was elated. The writer, actors, and all the people involved were so committed to making this play feel real and right. At one very unexpected point I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair. If you want to know when that moment was, go see the play. You’ll know which one I’m talking about. This play is spectacular because of the dedication of everyone involved.
I can’t wait to see it again! Even though it doesn’t represent my work or what I consider my field to be, I am so grateful for the spotlight to be adjacent to my world. Helping people realize and recognize that professional cuddling exists is something I will continue to work to achieve.
This play is wonderful, and I’ve asked all of my staff and many clients to attend if they have any interest. See the play, and if you or anyone you know may benefit from a session with a Certified Cuddler I encourage you to have more conversations, do some research, and try it out because it really is something that can’t fully be understood until it’s tried.
Have more questions? Here is some information we’d love you to know about professional cuddling:
Do professional cuddlers offer “other services wink, wink?”
While we are generally fans of sex work it’s sort of like asking if your masseuse offers acupuncture. Sure, some might, but the vast majority specialize in one thing. With the industry of professional cuddling being less than a decade old in its current form each business creates their own standard of practice. In 2018 industry leaders pooled their concepts to create the first Minimum Standards for Ethical Practice for the field. If you’re curious what we see our work as HERE is a link.
Now, if you take away the “wink, wink” the answer is yes! Many professional cuddlers are multi-talented humans who can offer you additional services individually such as life coaching, personal training, cooking, home organization, web development, photo touch-ups, personal shopping, online dating coaching, and so much more! Your professional may blog, create YouTube videos, or have a website to help you learn more about them. Don’t be afraid to ask if they can help you with other platonic needs too!
Do all professional cuddlers have training and experience?
Currently there is no governmental oversight that prevents anyone from offering services as a professional cuddler. What that means is that the person you find listed as a professional cuddler may have never actually cuddled anyone, may not have any training, and in some horror stories I’ve heard actually require you to pay for sexual services beyond the previously agreed upon price upon arrival. This means it’s up to you to determine if the person you are considering seeing has the experience you want. Currently there are three main companies providing training in the US for professional cuddlers: certifiedcuddlers.com, cuddlesanctuary.com, and cuddlist.com.
What happens in a cuddle session?
First we meet for a consultation where we get to know each other, go over rules, and if we both feel comfortable enough to move forward we discuss boundaries and consent before getting a copy of your identification and take your payment. Once the technical parts are complete we have you settle into the session space while we setup soft alarms, make any adjustments to lighting, temperature, music, and we join you in whatever way we discussed before the session.
We can talk or not, that’s completely up to you. We can hold hands, eye gaze, and you are welcome to give touch as long as it matches our agreements. We can guide you through poses or you can share what you’d like if you already know. When the timer goes off we will likely close your session with a hug before reminding you that the “cuddle high” from oxytocin is a real thing and to take a moment to get a sip of water or take a few breaths before returning to the real world. After that you are welcome to book future sessions anytime and with any professionals.
We won’t ask you to return because after a cuddle session most people will agree to sell their kidney if asked, so we make a point of not asking anything of you other than self care when you leave. We want to avoid the potential for manipulation, so we leave that part up to you completely.
Why should I vet my professional before hiring them?
Like any field, there are those who are in this work for less than ideal reasons. Some believe this is an easy way to make a lot of money without any effort, some want to have others meet their own needs, and yet others have no idea how to be comfortable with a stranger or with hearing about life challenges. When someone has completed a certification program they have signed an oath and agreed to follow standards of ethical practice. They have considered what it takes to hold space, create a platonic mindset, and how to avoid the power dynamics possible when touch is involved.
Why does this exist, and isn’t it sad?
It exists because we have very few spaces in our technology driven, Instagram worthy, insecure, hate culture, rape culture, discriminatory, over and under protected, disconnected, and unbelievably stressed out world where someone can know they matter and that they are loved simply because they exist.Without having to earn it or prove they are good enough. In my world you just matter. Is it sad that we are disconnected and hurting? Yes. Absolutely. That is exactly why this field is thriving across the country and beyond. We need safe spaces for connection that don’t end in drama, STI’s, or further jaunts down the rabbit hole labeled “Not Good Enough.”
How many cuddle poses are there?
At our local cuddle studio, Cuddle Up To Me, our professionals are trained in 93 cuddle poses so we can help create the right outcomes for each person. We teach our cuddlers how to order poses to help people of all safety levels feel as comfortable as possible. Some clients aren’t ready for touch at all for several sessions and others are ready for the squishiest poses immediately. We are happy to meet you where you are at.
What is this work like from the professional side?
Those of us with training in this work see our efforts as an honor. We love holding space, creating magical moments, and bearing witness to your world. When we first meet you we are already proud of you because we know seeking this out can be vulnerable. We ensure you never have to read our minds, you can’t do anything wrong unless you try, and we know how to avoid codependency to create one situation that will never turn sour. Some days are tougher than others when we hold space for many people all going through difficult things, but we know how to prevent burnout, how to care for ourselves, and how to not take personal responsibility for your challenges. We may travel a lot to see clients outbound or like my staff we congregate at an inbound studio where you can pick out a themed session room without having to clean your house first.