Some People Are Paying For Cuddles. And It’s Not What You Might Think.


The 32-year-old photographer from Virginia had a busy life, but he was single, and starving for physical contact. “I started to get to a place where if somebody started to greet me with a hug or even being in close proximity to someone, it was almost sort of a shocking feeling,” he said. And so, he turned to one of the country’s newest professions: cuddling for hire. Once a week he paid $80 to be held, stroked and embraced for an hour in a nonsexual way. Like most people interviewed for this story, the man, Chuck, wanted only his first name used because paying to get cuddled can feel embarrassing — especially in less touchy-feely areas like Washington. But demand is growing. In the past four years storefront cuddle shops have opened in Portland and Los Angeles, and one-on-one cuddle providers are proliferating across the nation. While paying for touch may sound awkward or unnatural to those who get plenty of it from partners or other close connections, for some people it is an antidote to a culture where casual physical contact seems elusive. The percentage of U.S. adults living without a spouse or partner has risen from 39 to 42 percent in the past 10 years, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, and the rise in on-screen interactions means more socializing takes place without even the possibility of touch. “Most clients are under some level of duress: anxiety, stress, loss, or need,” said co-founder Adam Lippin. Some have a physical disability or post-traumatic stress or are on the autism spectrum, which can be a barrier to forming intimate relationships. “For the average person, you and me, we can be lonely, and we can feel a need but it’s not a starved kind of need,” Lippin said. “For a lot of them this is a human connection that they’ve never had before. ”After professional cuddling, some clients say they are more comfortable initiating touch with friends, or they no longer flinch when someone touches them casually. For Chuck, the Virginia photographer, cuddling paid off in more ways than one. He is now in a relationship and no longer goes to a cuddler — but he says the sessions made it easier for him to date and find a partner. “It made me more relaxed and carefree,” he said. “In dating you might be extra nervous if you haven’t been getting enough contact…I wasn’t thinking about it because my (touch) needs were met already.”

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