Lonely cuddle with me

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When Samantha Hess's marriage ended five years ago, she felt she was lacking a basic human need: Physical touch. As a woman in her late 20s living in Portland, Oregon, she found plenty of men interested in dating, but sexual contact was not what she craved - she wanted something platonic, and she couldn't find it. In Hess opened a shop, Cuddle Up To Me, where trained cuddlers hold, stroke, and embrace customers in a nonsexual way. Landlords were initially wary about renting space to Hess for her business, but in the last few years professional cuddling has increased in popularity.

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 US adults living without a spouse or partner has risen from 39 to 42 per cent in the past 10 years and the rise in on-screen interactions means more socializing takes place without even the possibility of touch.

At the two-year-old website Cuddlist. Some have a physical disability or post-traumatic stress or are on the autism spectrum, which can be a barrier to forming intimate relationships. The benefits of touch are well-documented, from s experiments showing infant monkeys preferred more cuddly terry cloth "mothers" over wire mesh ones to s Romanian orphanages full of touch-deprived children with severe emotional problems.

Studies show massage therapy to be associated with increased attentiveness, decreased depression and immune system boosts. Research has also found that touch positively influences people's social behaviours and relationships. Yet the United States is among the world's most touch-averse cultures. Studies dating to the s found that Americans tend to touch each other casually less frequently than people in France or the Caribbean. And while today's parents may touch children more than they did in the midth century when experts warned against it, two studies in Paris and Miami found that American adolescents still touched each other less than their counterparts in France and that American preschoolers touched their peers less and were touched less by their parents than French ones.

Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine and author of the Paris and Miami studies, said little research exists on the benefits of professional cuddling, but she has seen interest grow. At Cuddlist. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the business has a gender imbalance. Ninety-one per cent of Cuddlist clients are male and three quarters of its providers are female.

To explain why, Kassandra Brown, a Cuddlist provider in Boulder, Colorado, recalled a client who said, "I'm here because men aren't allowed to touch anyone. She realised he was right.

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They can't touch women because that's creepy. They can't touch children because, well, everybody knows you'd be a paedophile if you touched a. So men can either touch a sexual partner or they can touch in violence. Mark Stone, a divorced holistic kinesiologist in Chicago, started going to a professional cuddler after realising he didn't know how to touch a woman in a non-sexual way.

They don't know how to hold a physical non-sexual space with a partner. Damien, a year-old engineer in Alexandria, Virginia who is single, goes to a cuddler every three months or so to relieve stress. The professional nature of the interaction makes him feel safe.

Like other clients interviewed for this story, he did not want his last name published because he was concerned about others' reactions. To differentiate from other, much older, professions that cater to the lonely, Lippin and his co-founder, Madelon Guinazzo, set strict rules on what does and doesn't happen in a session. Client and cuddler talk by phone before meeting and agree at the outset that it will not turn sexual; either party can end a session at any time.

Meetings are not limited to touch. Clients can talk about almost anything during a session, though discussing sexual fantasies about the provider is off limits. But they can lean against the provider, or hold hands, or spoon while they talk. The need for such touch is primal, said Jean Franzblau, founder of the Cuddle Sanctuary, a four-year-old storefront business in Los Angeles that offers one-on-one sessions and has hosted over cuddle events. While massage therapy might seem to be the perfect way to fulfill the need for touch, nonsexual cuddling addresses a deeper, more emotional need, professional cuddlers say.

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For some, being held by another person is a new experience. Steve Curry, of Northampton, Massachusetts, who has spina bifida, said that for much of his life, "as far as being in a touch relationship, most touch centred around my medical care needs, not emotional needs". He has two-hour cuddle sessions twice a month, and "it's never enough". While most of Brown's clients are middle-aged men, she has a couple of female clients in their 20s, including one who spends minute sessions getting her head stroked while lying on Brown's lap.

After professional cuddling, some clients say they are more comfortable initiating touch with friends, or they no longer flinch when someone touches them casually. Some one-on-one cuddlers also host cuddle parties where strangers come together for a communal hug. Here, too, strict rules apply.

Professional cuddlers acknowledge that arousal is a danger of the trade and say that's not shameful as long as it is not pursued. If someone becomes turned on during a session, participants are advised to change to a position that is less stimulating. Dan, 43, who works in finance, said cuddling sessions took the place of an intimate relationship for about a year when he didn't have one. I'd leave there with feelings of shame or feeling dirty, and this was different.

Nidhi, a year-old college student in Chicago, said cuddling with Guinazzo helped her after her mother died during her freshman year. Of all the kinds of therapy I tried this was the most effective.

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Some people are paying for cuddles. And it's not what you might think. Tara BahrampourApr 22 Cuddlist Annie Hopson found some of her massage therapy clients needed more emotional bonding. Kassandra Brown, a Cuddlist, says many men feel barred from touching anyone.

Lonely cuddle with me

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