Cuddling and Being Cuddled

I cuddle a lot in my personal life. When I started dating my now-husband he told me early on that he hoped the amount of affectionate touch I liked wouldn’t get annoying over time. More than six years later, he tells me it hasn’t.

Most nights we fall asleep cuddled up. And wake up that way, too. The point is, he’s gotten lots of cuddles from me over the years.

Last night, he was hurting and he asked me to cuddle him. This morning he said “those were some next level professional cuddles.”

“Well, I am internationally certified as a cuddler.” I told him.

The difference, though, isn’t my qualifications or training (as wonderful as all of that is). The core difference between what he’s experienced a lot of times before and what he experienced last night was that we weren’t just cuddling, he was being cuddled.

Being cuddled by someone whose focus is on helping you to heal is a different experience from cuddling up with someone. The difference is in the focus. When I’m cuddling someone to comfort them, my focus is on their experience. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my own comfort. I’ve learned that I can’t provide the same level of comfort if I’m uncomfortable. 

The process of holding someone, often with their head on my shoulder, as I wrap my arms around them as specific benefits, my clients tell me. It helps people to feel safe and enveloped and comforted. People come away from that experience feeling better, remembering their own strength and more confident that they have the ability to face whatever is in front of them. I’ve cuddled people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, or some other tragedy that won’t be erased or eliminated with a cuddle. That’s not the point of the cuddle anyway. The point is to pull cortisol out of their bloodstream so that the stress of whatever their facing doesn’t overwhelm their capacity to move forward. The point is to reconnect them with themselves in a way that being held and comforted is uniquely able to do.

If you need that sort of comfort, it can seem like a failure if there’s nobody in your social circle capable of providing it. But that’s why the industry of professional cuddling, like the talk therapy industry, exists. To provide a useful service in exchange for equivalent value. My husband doesn’t pay my hourly rate, but he exchanges value with me in a lot of other ways. My clients do the same thing in a much simpler and more scalable way.

My hours have shifted a bit, and I’m shifting my focus some, but I’m still providing this service in my Carmel office. If you’re interested in a cuddle with me, please schedule an appointment or send me a message to find out more.

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Holding Space is Shifting

I’ve been running Holding Space as a professional cuddling practice for a couple of years now, and there are some things about it that I want to shift.

The work I do with individual clients has been valuable to those clients. Both those experiences and the research I’ve done on the therapeutic effects of comforting touch lead me to believe this industry has a lot of potential to do good in the world, and I don’t want to stop being a part of that. But my experiences have shown me that there are a lot of people who aren’t interested in or ready for a cuddling appointment who are nevertheless struggling with something about their relationship or their desire for a relationship. I’m observing that a lot of those struggles are based in some common patterns related to how they approach other people and the world around them. 

The traditional models we have for relationships are more than a little broken. I’ve been working on some writing around that, which I’m looking forward to sharing more broadly. I want to free up more time to focus on the writing part of this work. 

I’ll also be focusing more on my coaching. My niche is people trying to build relationships – especially the types of relationships they don’t feel they can talk to their parents or neighbors about. I’ve got a lot of experience with different styles of non-monogamous relationships, and more than a passing familiarity with relationships that incorporate kink dynamics. I’m also difficult to shock – and I fundamentally believe that any relationship that doesn’t hurt the people involved or adjacent is valid and can be beneficial. 

This work of figuring out how to get more love and support into individual people’s lives is fundamental to what I want to accomplish in the world and I’m looking forward to doing more of it. If you or someone you know is interested in working on your relationship in this way, let me know so we can explore the possibilities.

About My Women-Only Snuggle Events

My snuggle events are pretty small, and that’s one of the things I think my regulars like about them. But early on, when I realized I was getting snuggle events with me and 3 or 4 cisgender guys (who didn’t want to touch each other at all), I began to wrestle with how to make my events more accessible to women.

Part of the benefit of being involved in CuddleXpo is that it brought me in touch with a lot of people across the industry. I heard from them that, across the country,  when a cuddle community is being established the men show up first. Having an over-abundance of men at events can make them less welcoming to women, who may begin to feel obligated to cuddle with someone they would rather not cuddle with After all, women are strongly socialized to make men comfortable, even if their own discomfort is an inevitable price of doing so.

I decided tocreate events specifically for people who are not cisgender men. As I was thinking about doing this, I talked to lots of people about it – and heard from a lot of women that they would be far more comfortable at a women-only event than at an event that was also open to men.

Once that decision was clear to me, the next step was to figure out how to communicate my decision out to the world. That turns out to be a nontrivial challenge. I don’t want to define my events by who’s not welcome – so I need to find language that describes who is welcome.

I want to welcome cisgender women, transgender women, and nonbinary people presenting as women. In addition to being awfully lengthy for an event title, that sentence has a problem in that it specifically calls out transgender women as different than cisgender women. That’s a tactic TERFs often use to talk about how transgender women aren’t really women – and I do believe that transgender women are women. But I live in a part of the world where I can’t assume that everyone reading my ads will understand that to be true.

Knowing that I’m hoping to reach a variety of people with my advertising (and knowing that at least a part of my audience is very conservative in their mindset), I began talking to people who know more than I do about gender about how to communicate what I’m trying to communicate. I asked them to help me find language that would make it clear that:

  • the event is for women,
  • woman is a term I define more broadly than a strict gender binary would, and
  • nonbinary people are welcome at this event if they are in a femme state.

The wording I settled on was “women and femmes only.”

It’s not perfect language, but I don’t know how to better communicate my intent.

I haven’t yet been trolled for this event description – though I am waiting for that shoe to drop one of these days. I have had men RSVP for these events (to which I respond with a clear, firm electronic message that they are not welcome at that event but would be very welcome at my next Open Snuggle event.) I haven’t yet had a man show up at my door to try to attend, though it is clear to me that I will turn away any man who does. After all, it’s part of my job as a professional in this industry to hold  boundaries in the world – and what would that be but an opportunity to hold my boundaries.

My next Women-Only Snuggles event is THIS Friday. I hope that if you are a woman or nonbinary person in a femme state, you’ll join us. Touch is never required, and I hold these events on a pay-what-feels-right-to-you basis.

About CuddleXpo

A couple of weeks ago, the first-ever professional conference for professional cuddlers took place.  We’re a tiny little industry, but to the extent that it can be said there are big names in this industry, nearly all of them were part of the event. Samantha Hess (who cuddled Neil Patrick Harris on American’s Got Talent) from Cuddle Up to Me in Portland, Jean Franzblau (who was on the Dr . Phil Show this summer talking about professional cuddling).  from Cuddle Sanctuary in LA, Madelyn Guinazzo and Adam Lippin from Cuddlist (which has been featured in Fortune, the New York Times, Glamour, Vogut, and many other national and international media outlets). During Marcia Baczynski’s keynote, she asked people to raise their hands if they had been quoted in the Rolling Stone article about Professional Cuddling, and hands went up all around the room (three quarters of the pros quoted in that article were at the event).

In an industry this new and this small, pretty much all the people who come to a conference like this are pioneers.  The conference was the brainchild of Fei Wyatt, also from Cuddle Sanctuary in LA. Since I know a little about running conventions, I offered to help and became the co-founder of the event. Keeley Shoup came on as Director, and we worked for more than a year to put the event together, with a small team of great volunteers.

I went into the event feeling confident that I would learn a lot – and importantly, that it would help me understand whether this is a world I really fit into or not. I have been all in for the event, and for the profession. Not only was the cofounder, I was also a sponsor of the event (and of the online event we held in March to start consolidating the community.) I feel good about putting my business right in a line with the other sponsors mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog – but I wasn’t at all sure I belonged there, or even that it was the right place for me to be.

I came out of the event excited again about the possibilities in this industry. It’s clear to me now that my failure to find a scalable business model isn’t really a failure – it’s just a thing nobody’s really got figured out yet. Nearly all the “big names” I met and talked to have another source of income to help them make ends meet. So the fact that I’ve decided to focus a little more on my other business, which provides me with most of my income, no longer feels shameful to me, which is a big weight off my shoulders.

It’s clear to me that there’s a need for this service – and it’s just as clear that we’ve got a significant way to go as a culture before it’s socially acceptable. People who’ve been doing this much longer than I have talk about the industry being where massage was 30 or 40 years ago. I hope it’s not decades before the cuddle version of Massage Envy shows up in major cities all around the country, but it might be.

And that’s okay. Because the need to create safety for people is real. The need to help people rewire their brain so touch stops having a traumatic effect on them is real. The need to give people a space to practice their boundary setting is real. The need to rethink the way our culture looks at touch, and consent, and labor, and nurturing is real. Professional cuddling meets all of these real needs in a way nothing else does, and so as an industry we’re here to stay.

I’m excited that my involvement in CuddleXpo has brought me into contact with so many people from around the world whose practices I admire and get to learn from. I’m excited to have a place in this industry that has the chance to reshape our culture.

About the Holding Space

Some of the other cuddlers I know are talking about setting up a commercial space for their business, so I thought I’d share the process and thinking I used to set up my office.

I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to be able to work from home. I lived in a large apartment, but with three of my four step-kids living there too, working from home wasn’t going to be practical. I thought about working outcall only, but as soon as my massage therapist suggested setting up an office I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

Having an office gives me some control over both my environment and my schedule. Even though I and, I think, most professional cuddlers, charge for travel time it’s a lower rate than the cuddle time. As a consultant who’s worked from a home office for years, I know how travel time to someone else’s locations can eat up your day. I liked the sense of professionalism I think it communicates, the idea that “yes, of course this is a real business, I have an office and everything.”

I looked at several types of space. Some offices bill themselves as catering to start-ups with flexible lease terms. Those tended to have a wait for space – and to be more expensive, starting about $500 a month for 100 square feet. I looked at Sola Salons, but they were even more expensive, around $1,200 a month. I know of several co-working spaces in town, but those wouldn’t have allowed me to bring my furniture in and leave it there. I talked to several yoga studios, as well, but there was the same issue. I could save money by sharing space with a massage therapist, but I couldn’t figure out how to cuddle people on a massage table, so none of those worked out. I looked at several small old houses that have been converted into office space, but they tended to have accessibility challenges – narrow hallways or staircases, and I wanted to be accessible.

One of the first offices I looked at would have had me sharing space with a colon hydrotherapist. She had an extra suite in her office space. I wasn’t sure that was the right place…but it was another alternative therapy and the room was a good size. After we talked, as I was thinking about whether that was the right space for me, she called me back to tell me that what I wanted to do was “just too weird” for her, and she was going to find someone different to rent to. I spent a week or so a little deflated that my idea was “too weird” for my local colon hydrotherapist.

Around this time, I also set up an appointment with SCORE – the local business development agency. I had a meeting with a panel of three people, the person they’d assigned to be my business mentor, her SCORE mentor, and I forget who the third person was. I wanted to get some answers about legal structure, and they insisted that I should create the least expensive legal structure possible. They also encouraged me not to rent office space, because it would be expensive. They weren’t sure where they thought I should operate – they didn’t seem to think going to people’s houses was a great strategy, either. I did not go back to see them again.

I looked at 3 or 4 commercial office buildings. The one I landed in I found by spotting a real estate sign on my way to a Zumba class across the street one morning. The location is not only right down from the police station, but just as importantly a short walk from my husband’s office. (At the time I was looking for office space, we were also trying to find and buy a house – having our offices so close was not only convenient, but it made it easier to establish where we were looking for a place to live.

I have 190 square feet here, and I pay $395 a month. That’s a slight increase from the $385 I paid the first year. I assume the rent will continue to go up a little bit every year (and I’m not ready to commit to a multi-year lease yet.)

I didn’t look at retail space, because A.) I didn’t know how to and B.) I didn’t think I was going to get a lot of walk-in traffic. That’s fine, because I didn’t want the hassle of staffing for walk-ins until I have enough business to justify regular hours.

When I set up the environment, I wanted something that would communicate “comfortable living space” but NOT “bedroom.” I ended up with a futon and an oversized beanbag chair, along with a bunch of pillows and some extra little beanbag chairs. I wanted space that could be used for both individual and 1:1 sessions, so I also have extra pillows, floor padding, and a couple little beanbag chairs that I set out on the nights I have group snuggle sessions.

Here are some of the other things I have (or have been asked about having) in my office

Video Recording Devices

When I was trying to decide whether video recording sessions was a good idea, I thought about two things; A.) the people who were going to be my clients and B.) the people who were going to be suspicious that I was “really” doing sex work. For group A, I anticipated people coming to me to help them with grief or trauma and I didn’t want them worrying about video of them ugly-crying ending up in some comedy reel somewhere. For group B, the people who were going to be suspicious of the work I’m doing, I thought about whether “I have a video camera set up in my office” made me sound more or less like a sex worker. I decided it was a little bit of a Rorschach test –what people thought was going to be based on where they were coming from. I opted against video recording.

Concealed Weapons

Many people have asked me whether I have mace or a gun in my office. I believe the statistics that say the most likely outcome of having a gun for protection is that gun is going to be used on me, so I don’t have one. People who ask me about mace make me laugh – I have 190 square feet in my office. If I fire off mace, it’s going to be a bad day for everybody. I do not keep concealed weapons in my office. I have taken some specific steps to ensure my safety, and I’m not going to detail those here.

Lighting

IMG_20180801_173429Being a standard commercial office, the space comes with standard overhead fluorescent lights. My office has three, two of them controlled from one switch and the middle one controlled by another switch. It quickly became clear that wasn’t ideal for relaxing people. I didn’t want to turn them off completely, even though I’ve added a few lamps. You can get pictures that go over the lights to dim them – some of them look like clouds, for example. But it was cheaper to go to the local fabric store and pick up some fabric to drape over them. We attached them to the ceiling with binder clips, so they’ll come down easily when I move out, and they’re more interesting to look at than plain old lights.

In this picture, you can see all 3 lights (but the one in the middle is off, so you can just see the fabric hanging down. This is the lighting I usually use for clients. The fabric nearest the door people use is lighter and blue, the fabric in the cuddlier area is space-themed and a bit darker.

Television IMG_20180801_160604

I was so sure that people were going to want to have the television on in the background. Exactly none of the people I’ve cuddled with have wanted that so far. It’s nice for me when I’m working on other things, though – it makes a great secondary monitor.

When I opened the space I also had a DVD player and a stack of movies. My original website went so far as to mention that clients could select the show but that I wouldn’t watch scary movies – because I can’t soothe a client if I’m afraid. Not a single client has wanted to watch TV or a movie with me yet, though, and during the snuggle sessions where I’ve had them available nobody pays attention, preferring to engage with the people in the room instead.

Futon

I wanted something that could lay flat, but wasn’t laying flat when people came in. I looked for one that was easy to lay down and stand back up. The nifty thing my hubby did for me was craft stoppers that keep the futon when sitting up far enough away from the wall that it doesn’t have to move when I lay it down flat – this makes it easier to fiddle with in the middle of appointments

Chairs

I have two folding chairs near my front entrance. This gives clients a place to take off their shoes without getting all the way into cuddle space. I also have some people who come to group cuddles who stay in those chairs, or at least start out there.

Beanbag Chair(s)

The beanbag chair I have is called a Xorbee. It’s the 6-foot size. When they shipped it to me, it came in a box about 24 inches on a side and expanded from there. There’s no getting it back into that box for transport later, though.

IMG_20180317_135332The beanbag is great for sitting people into the toboggan / baby bear cuddle, and is where I usually start all new clients. I made some videos early on that extolled the virtues of arriving to group snuggles early to be the first person to jump into the beanbag, but really nobody ever does that. I’ve learned to have it moderately but not completely fluffed for clients, because it’s pretty tall when it’s completely fluffed, and because there’s an art to sitting in it so that it doesn’t try and dump you back out after awhile.

I also have a couple little beanbag chairs that just add to my snuggle-party fluff

Stuffed Animals

IMG_20180801_173454When I did my first group session, it was in a yoga studio and I had mostly inflatable furniture and blankets, and one of my participants mentioned that there weren’t any textures in the space. I looked for stuffed animals that would have a variety of textures. I’m looking for more rough textures to bring into the space, because people with anxiety often prefer those to soft.

Gravity Blanket

I got a gravity blanket from a kickstarter and I have some clients who really love it. It’s a 20-pound blanket, and it’s not huge but enough to cover one person (or two if we cuddle close. 😊 )

Water

My husband spoiled me with a Keurig, and I LOVE IT so much – but I’ve very seldom had a client interested. It does allow me to offer up my space for networking meetings that might otherwise happen at a coffee shop. (“come to my office, it’s comfortable and I have tea and coffee). I’m not a coffee drinker, but I have several kinds of tea available – mostly for me, really.

I have a Brita filter pitcher and some reusable cups – and I also have some bottled water in case clients prefer that. Very few people do, though.

Coloring Books

I have a supply of inexpensive ($1 each) coloring books and colored pencils. These are for my group events, too, and I have a few people who come regularly and want something to do other than cuddle.

Cuddle Fish

CuddleFishThe Board Chair for the Circle City Aquarium club helped me set up a fishtank, because watching fish is good for relaxation. I super-love having it, too.

Continuing the subtle space theme that started with the space fabric over the light in this part of the room is the little starship Enterprise you can see in the bottom-right corner of this picture. Being a geek is fun.

Art

IMG_20180801_173441I have my coaching certificate up on the wall, as well as several pieces of art that came from the yoga studio where I did my training. If there’s such a thing as good vibes sticking to art, these mandalas have all the good vibes!

I also have a wedding picture displayed in my office. (Which feels a little cynical to me, like I’m displaying a certificate of ownership. But apparently it doesn’t feel cynical enough for me not to do it.) I just got married a couple years ago, so it’s a pretty current picture, otherwise I’d probably use just a current picture of the two of us.

Looking around my office, I don’t see anything else that stands out as an intentional decision. If you have questions about any of this, feel free to ask. If you want to come see the office in person, check out my events or make an appointment.

 

How Cuddling Battles Toxic Masculinity

One of the things that’s said to be true about “Real Men” is that they don’t need affection or comfort. They are the lone wolf, never allowed to be vulnerable or to afraid or insecure. “Real Men” expected to literally take bullets for the ones under their protection, whether that’s a country or a family. There is an extended list of things “Real Men” aren’t allowed to do, ranging from drinking from a straw to eating ice cream to eating a banana out of the peel to wiping their butts after pooping to enjoying a cuddle.

This would all be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic.

Toxic masculinity is the idea that men must remain within a very constrained set of behaviors and beliefs to remain “Real” men. Deviating from this type of behavior results in the loss of one’s “man card” – defined by Urban Dictionary as the “requirement to be acceptabed as a respectable member of the male community. Can and should be revoked by other respectable males for doing non-respectable male things.” The example cited on Urban Dictionary is of having to take away the man card of someone who cried in public after being dumped.

Not all of the examples in the first paragraph are particularly serious (though they are all real). But this has been studied seriously, as well. A study by Promundo (funded by Axe bodyspray) found seven pillars of traditional masculinity, including self-sufficiency, acting tough, physical attractiveness, rigid masculine gender roles, heterosexuality / homophobia, hypersexuality, and aggression / control.

Staying within the “Man Box,” as it’s called in the study, can provide a sense of satisfaction, but that comes at the price of feeling “cut off from their true selves.” Men who value being within the man box are significantly more likely to suffer from depression and are significantly more likely to have thoughts of suicide.

This is a big deal. Suicide is a leading killer. Globally, half of the people who die by violence commit that violence themselves. More than 75% of the nearly 45,000 people who die by suicide every year in the US are men. White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2016, with the rate of suicide being highest in middle aged white men.

Men who subscribe to these rigid gender roles are likely to hurt others, too. There are countless stories of men who commit violence to prove their physical, economic, or sexual dominance. This article in the Economist says that “throughout history, men have killed men roughly 97 times more often than women have killed women.”

And violence isn’t the only way men are being hurt. Cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death of men in the US. A factors that increase risk of heart problems are correlated with stress and loneliness. Being trapped in the man box increases both of those factors.

Enter professional cuddling. This is a service that “Real Men” would never use, for multiple reasons. First of all, a Real Man has no need to be nurtured. Second, a Real Man has no need to feel connected to others. Third, a Real Man doesn’t indulge in self care. He eats stress for a snack, and doesn’t need a break from it.

The problem, for all those “Real Men” out there, is that none of those three things are true –but when you’re trapped in the “Man Box” you have to pretend that they are, or you’ll lose your man card.

Most of the people who see professional cuddlers nationally are men. Cuddlist.com did a study in 2017 where they found more than 90% of the people requesting time with a Cuddlist were male. My own client roster has been about 65% male since the start of my practice.

Many of the men who come to see me are dealing with the man box. You might notice none of the clients interviewed in the recent media pieces about my practice are men – that’s because the men who come see me aren’t willing to publicly admit that they do. That’s fine, by the way, I keep all my client information confidential. Most of my clients even pay me in cash, so there’s no record of the transaction anywhere.

The men who come to see me do report that it makes their lives better. Touch improves health and mood, and being able to be seen and accepted even in a vulnerable situation like asking to be held has powerfully positive effects.

Part of the reason I brought Holding Space into the world, and the reason I persist in trying to get this idea to catch on (in Indiana, which is definitely a place where lots of people still hold on to these toxic beliefs about masculinity) is because I believe that it’s important to normalize platonic touch. Not only is the practice beneficial, but the idea itself has benefits as well. A culture that understands that touch is so normal and useful that it can be bought and sold is a culture that has broken at least part of the grip of toxic masculinity.

Professional cuddling also provides a turtle step along the path of men experimenting with receiving nurturing in a non-sexual environment. They can come to me and not have to admit to anybody in their community that they are seeking this sort of care. Hopefully the work we do together will help them to explore connecting with another person, and they can take that skill into the world with them and use it in other parts of their lives.

I hate toxic masculinity and it’s damaging effect on our culture and the people within it. But I love men. I will never buy the hashtag that “men are trash”- because I know too many strong, brave, loving men about whom that’s simply not true. My approach to toxic masculinity can be expressed by quoting Rose Tico from The Last Jedi, because we’re gonna win by “not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

I’d love to have a snuggle with you.

Snuggling Snuffleupagus

When I was a kid watching Sesame Street, I loved the character of Aloysius Snuffleupagus. He was introduced in 1971 when Big Bird caught Snuffleupagus tending to his garden, and for nearly 15 years the adults that live on Sesame Street never saw him.

Platonic touch and professional cuddling is a little like Snuffleupagus. People have heard of it, but they are maybe not entirely sure it’s real. I feel a little like Big Bird in these conversations. I’ve seen Snuffy, and the good things Snuffy does. But convincing the people around me that he’s even real is a huge challenge.

Indiana, where my practice is based, is a conservative place. Mike Pence, our former governor, famously refuses to have dinner alone with any woman who is not his wife, as a way to avoid infidelity. This seems bizarre to me for two reasons. First, it assumes that the only reason people of different genders would spend time together would be for sexual interaction. Second, it makes his wife accountable for his behavior, as though he can’t control himself around other women.

Meanwhile, I am not only offering to be in a room alone with men but to snuggle up to them – insisting all the while that no sexual interaction is going to occur. Much like the adults on Sesame Street once scoffed at Big Bird for his stories about Snuffleupagus, many people scoff at my insistence that I can touch men without having a sexual interaction.

The idea that all touch is inherently sexual may go back to Freud saying all children want to have sex with their parents. These theories are widely-discredited but still a part of the dominant culture’s understanding of relationships. Under such a model, all touch is sexual and penis substitutes can be found in any oblong item

In reality, touch plays a variety of roles in healthy relationships. When our friends or family or even acquaintances are grieving or hurting, we know that a touch can help them feel better. My go-to description for touch nearly everybody recognized as platonic is a hug during a funeral. Other examples include business handshakes, helping an elderly person over challenging terrain, or kissing away the hurt from a child’s skinned knee.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to turn those situations sexual. I am saying it’s a bad idea, though. Remember Joey Tribbiani, from the (terrible by today’s standards) show Friends who could add sexual innuendo to anything? Dudes, he’s NOT A ROLE MODEL! Oh, I’m sorry, did I raise my voice? Perhaps it’s because I believe so strongly that role models are supposed to show us how to be happier and healthier, not sicker and sadder.

Touch is good for the body and the mind – the science is clear about that. I (and my clients) believe it’s good for the soul, too, though that one is tougher to measure. And yet, my colleagues and I are out here like Big Bird, trying to convince the people around us that Snuffleupagus was JUST RIGHT HERE>

In the mid-80s, the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) started hearing from people who worked with kids that the idea that nobody believed Big Bird (when Big Bird was telling the truth) could be harmful to real life kids. They were afraid kids who experienced abuse would not tell adults their stories if they thought the adults were likely to just mock them for telling outlandish tales, like the adults on Sesame Street mocked Big Bird for his imaginary friend.

In a similar way, the idea that platonic touch isn’t real has the potential to damage adults who need touch in their lives, but believe that other adults will mock them for expressing that need. As awareness of this issue  grows, though, I hope that we’ll understand more clearly that platonic touch is real, and has an important place in our lives.

Once that understanding is in place, the people who need to find a way to heal their relationship with touch will have access to someone who specializes in platonic touch. As more people become aware of the benefits, the industry will grow and more people will study ways to do this work more effectively. CuddleXpo is a start in that direction. As the idea of platonic touch becomes normalized and more people are willing to talk about their experiences with professional cuddlers, word of mouth will become a more useful marketing tool, and it will become a virtuous cycle.

Are you one of the Big Bird people who believes in the power of platonic touch? Then come join me in my office for a private session, or one of my public group sessions.

Bodies are Weird

Bodies are weird.

They do things we aren’t very excited about, like farting and getting sore when we’re doing fun stuff and extruding…substances. Often times, these are sources of shame and embarrassment, silly as it is. We worry about allowing people to get too close, because they might find out that our bodies are gross too.

As though they don’t already know that, at some level.

When you decide that professional cuddler sounds like work you’d like to do in the world, you have to have a certain level of comfort around bodies – yours and other people’s. Of course, you (and your clients) make efforts to minimize the gross factor (by bathing, brushing teeth, and following rules that exclude the sharing of any sort of bodily fluids.) But still, bodies do have a mind of their own.

One of my regular clients would apologize if they thought their stomach was making noise during our session. Honestly, I never heard it. But I was almost glad when my stomach decided to practice singing one day while we were working together – because I was able to ask “Does my stomach noise bother you?” When it didn’t, they began to believe me that I was equally not alarmed by any noises her insides decided to share with me.

A common question for any professional cuddler is “what happens if the client becomes aroused?” There’s another weird thing bodies do…change shape on occasion. It’s not unusual for people to be afraid that they’ll be aroused if they’re close to another body – for some people the only time they get wrapped up with another body is when they’re leading up to sexual interaction. They’ve built such a strong association between the two things they don’t think their body can react any other way.

However, sexual interaction is not the only reason to get close to another human. I’m always a little sad when people suggest to me that all physical interaction with other humans is inherently sexual. It makes me wonder if they’ve never held a grieving friend, or kissed away a child’s hurt, or huddled against the wind to stay warm with friends. Research shows that casual touch improves performance, but If these people are to be believed, they will never be able to benefit from such improvement, because they simply keep their hands to themselves.

Touch has many benefits, from reducing stress and inflammation to increasing immune response and cognitive function. In our increasingly technological world, we sometimes find ourselves without access to touch. It is the combination of these two facts that has led to the rise of companies like Cuddle Party™,  Cuddle Sanctuary, and Holding Space, LLC (which I founded last year to provide an ethical source of nurturing touch.)

A lot of people worry that I can’t possibly  snuggle up to strangers and stay safe – but here’s the thing. Bodies may be weird, but we all have them. And bodies enjoy and benefit from being near other bodies. I am clear with my clients that the intention of our work together is never sexual – and that tends to hold up well in the container of my office. Because my body is relaxed, and because I set a relaxing tone with everything from the lighting to the music to the decoration, my clients are encouraged to remember how comforting it can be to be held and cared for by another body.

If you think you can manage the weirdness of having a body, and you are interested in the experience of being around another body in a platonic way, schedule some time with me or attend one of my group events.

The Opposite of Creepy

The Indianapolis Star published an article on my work recently, and of course I delved into the comments to see what people had to say. There were several commenters who said the service was “creepy.”

If I do it right, though, my service will reduce the amount of creepiness in the world.

Creepy, according to the dictionary, means “an unpleasant feeling of fear or unease.” People fear or are uneasy in situations where they don’t know what to expect. I’ve worked very hard to help people understand what to expect when they come in to see me.

That work starts with my client agreement. When I get electronic inquiries, the first thing I do is ask people to review my agreement. It’s short – just 258 words. If you read at average speed, you can read the whole thing in just over a minute. Several people have told me upon reading it that they don’t want to work with me because the agreement is too restrictive. This tells me the agreement is doing its job, helping people to understand the parameters of the session. Hopefully that reduces the sense of unease they feel.

When people complete the screening process and come in to see me, I start out checking in to see how they’re doing and what they want to get out of the session that day. Sometimes clients just want to talk and be heard. Most often, they want to be held. Either way, I let the client lead the session based on what they are looking for that day. Being in control of the helps to reduce any sense of fear or unease.

With both my one on one clients and my group sessions I try and help people get more comfortable expressing what they want. This is where my work starts to reduce the amount of creepiness in the world outside of my office. As people get better at expressing what they want, they also naturally get better at expressing what they don’t want. A lot of behavior that people label creepy is about someone trying to get interaction out of another person who doesn’t care to participate in that interaction. The creepy folk count on the fact that, in polite society, an uncomfortable person is going to stay uncomfortable rather than risk creating a scene.

Once professional cuddling clients or group cuddle participants start practicing and getting comfortable telling other people where their boundaries are, however, the creepy person’s weapon of choice stops working. As long as you feel like its rude to tell someone you don’t want a hug, you’re going to get hugs you don’t want. As soon as it becomes no big deal to say “no” to interaction you don’t want, the amount of interaction that you fear or feel uneasy about drops precipitiously.

When I was at Cuddle Sanctuary’s training this spring, Jean shared a story of one of their regular clients who got catcalled one day by someone, and who had become so comfortable saying “no thank you” in group cuddles that she just automatically responded “no thank you” and went about her day. It was only later she realized that she had rewired her brain to be comfortable saying no to people, and expecting that no to be respected. Her comfort telling people no had disarmed this strangers creepy behavior for her in this situation.

As we practice doing the vulnerable things, they become less scary. As we become less scared of expressing our boundaries, we find more ease in our daily lives. This is something my clients report to me as a result of their sessions. If you’re curious to see if that would work for you, come check out my services in either the one on one or group sessions.

The Challenge of Clarity

It’s happened again.

I’m now up to seven inquiries in a row on Cuddle Comfort profile who have stopped talking to me when I shared a link to my client agreement and asked them to review it to make sure the session sounded like a good fit for them.

The first time this happened, the person was kind enough to respond to my follow-up inquiry about what had changed. “Your agreement is too constricting,” they told me. “I’m very affectionate and if there’s mutual chemistry, an agreement would limit us from anything further.”

They understood my agreement correctly. It’s in place to be clear that, when I do this work, it’s not a gateway to “anything further.” Even if there’s chemistry. Even if they find me attractive. Even if I find them attractive, for what it’s worth. I treat this work the same way I treat my coaching work, which means keeping a therapeutic boundary in place is a necessary component of the work, and something I take seriously.

I’m really glad this individual (and all of these individuals) are clear enough about what they’re looking for from a professional cuddler to recognize that the service I’m offering isn’t a good match for those goals. I’m a little frustrated from a business perspective that my clarity seems to be scaring people off from my business.

The terms of my agreement aren’t more restrictive than average for the cuddle industry. The Cuddle Comfort site where these interactions are happening even includes terms of service that are very similar to my client agreement. Specifically, when you sign up on that site, it asks you to agree to these statements:

“You agree to never use this Website for the intent of meeting another member for sex. You also agree to never attempt to progress a meeting, organised via this website, to a sexual nature.

When communicating with another member, you agree to never indicate a desire to cuddle while doing any of the following: (1) being nude, (2) wearing only underwear, (3) kissing, (4) groping, (5) satisfying a fetish or kink, and (6) anything of a non-platonic nature.”

Why is clarity such a challenge in interpersonal relationships?

There are a variety of factors at play here, from our own expectations, to the desire to have a power position, to the allure of ambiguity.

Expectations

Our expectations do not include clear words to define the parameters of a physical interaction. While culture is shifting, we’re still not past the idea that it’s ridiculous to talk about physical interaction before we engage in it. We have heard lots of people deride the very idea of asking before kissing someone. In families and communities where affection is less common and more private, we may have never seen someone ask for consent before initiating physical interaction.

When we see it in the movies or on TV, there very frequently isn’t conversation about what sort of interaction is going to happen. Also in the movies or on TV characters the scriptwriter knows (creates) the deepest desires of each individual, and is able to make sure things turn out the way they want. We grow up on stories where everything turns out okay, where the characters get to a happy ending without ever having a conversation, and we get the mistaken idea that works in real life.

Things we haven’t tried or seen modeled are foreign and often uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for people when I answer clearly and without embarrassment questions like “what happens when I get aroused” because they’ve never talked openly about that, especially not to a stranger. The clarity of my communication is unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable

Power

Being clear about what you want in any interaction is not only vulnerable, it can reduce the amount of traditional power you have in that negotiation. When you are haggling over the price of a car or a starting salary, you don’t want to be the person who says the number first. The power position is the one who says the number last because that person has the benefit of learning more about what the other party was thinking, and the opportunity to have more information before they commit to a position.

In clearly stating my boundaries, I’m signaling that I want a different power balance with my clients than they may be accustomed to. I’m not going to try and hide my agenda in the belief that will help me get more out of the interaction. I also mess with the power dynamic by not accepting tips or gifts from clients. I recently had an inquiring client who found me on Yelp stop talking to me shortly after I let him know I don’t accept tips. He wanted a multi-hour session, and after we’d scheduled he stated that he was very excited and that I would be happy because he would be a very good tipper. I replied “I don’t accept tips. I hope instead that my happy clients will schedule additional sessions” he stopped replying. He ultimately no-showed on the session. I won’t ever know if the shift in expected power dynamic was what threw him, but it’s my hunch based on the way the conversation changed at that point..

The Allure of Ambiguity

Ambiguity is a communication strategy that allows the other party to create and maintain their own stories about how an interaction is going to go. This is extremely effective in a variety of business and interpersonal situations. It can provide flexibility and allow each party in the communication to do their own work in making sense of the interaction. There are books and articles on this strategy, lauding it as a way for organizations to avoid pigeonholing themselves in a changing world.

Ambiguity certainly has its appeal as a business strategy. There are lots of people doing this work who are ambiguous enough to draw in clients who want to preserve the possibility in their minds that sexual interaction isn’t completely off the table, even if it is. This might well be a smarter strategy than what I’m trying to do.

My Dubious Decision to Continue with Clarity

But I’m intentionally trying to do something different. I want Holding Space to be intentionally, unambiguously, and openly platonic. I want my clients to know up front that I am focused on the therapeutic benefits of platonic touch. I want my clients to know that they are paying me for emotional and nurturing labor, and I want them to value and serve the parts of themselves that need to be nurtured and cared for in that way.

Too much of our culture implies that value is tied to sex appeal (and so inherently to virility and the culture’s ideas about attractiveness.) We don’t make space for needing to manage our physical and emotional health. We don’t pay attention to what would help us to heal and feel whole. Clearly valuing the nurturing of my clients, rather than leaving open the possibility that the “real goal” is sexual is apparently kind of a buzz kill.

Which is sad, really, because cuddle buzz is nearly as good as yoga buzz in terms of having a beneficial, healing effect on the body.

I want Holding Space to be part of the effort to change those things, so I continue my dubious strategy of not accepting tips, and of requiring my clients to explicitly agree to my client agreement before we schedule a session. I understand that this thing where clients are interested until I’m clear about what I’m offering is going to keep happening. But it’s the only way I know to do this work in the way that speaks to me.

I wish I knew how to reach more clients, to create an environment where more people could have those experiences. If you’re looking to spend some time in the healing rest and digest state, I hope you’ll be able to overcome the challenges posed by clarity and give it a try anyway.