It starts with a handshake, an introduction, polite conversation. Money’s exchanged, then the pair might move to the couch, where they chat some more, knees touching. They might move to the bed at some point. Or not.
The Snuggle Buddies’ rules are clear: no kissing, no touching private parts, no sex, and customers must shower, change clothes and brush their teeth within 12 hours of the meeting. Seasonally appropriate clothing requests are okay (clients can ask cuddlers to wear a particular color, for example), but phone calls are strictly for scheduling in-home sessions, which run $80 per hour or $325 for an eight-hour overnight.
“It’s more talking than ever cuddling, both of us working off that nervous energy of meeting someone for the first time,” says Tiffany Ann, a professional cuddler of five months. “The ice breaks after 30 minutes or so, and it’s kind of like hanging out with a friend.”
Most of Tiffany Ann’s clients are first-timers, men aged 30 to 50. “You don’t need to be a loser to do something like this,” she says. “It’s just having someone there for you when you need them.”
Evan Carp, owner of the Snuggle Buddies cuddling service, says he started it to cater to people like himself.
“I spent six years in depression and was just researching things that would help,” Carp says. “I came across companies that did professional cuddling, and there were only two of them and they weren’t in an area near me.”
He tried soliciting cuddles on Craigslist and Plenty of Fish before starting his website and enlisting the cuddle-willing from across the country (Carp says he screens applicants by email before they’re interviewed in person and signed for a two-week trial period). His New Jersey-based business employs cuddlers in more than 20 states, including a handful in Nevada. Online, visitors can browse Snuggle Buddies by location, headshot and bio. Tiffany Ann’s bio says she enjoys making up stories to help clients escape reality.
“A lot of people are married and don’t have a good relationship with their wife, so they just miss human touch,” Carp says of his primary client pool. “They seek out cuddling just because they’re missing that at home. It really is essential to have touch.”
Science agrees. The study of touch began in the 1920s on animals and then in humans.
“Infants who get touched in appropriate ways weigh more, score better on motor assessments and have fewer neurological issues,” says Katherine Hertlein, an associate professor in UNLV’s Marriage and Family Therapy program. Regarding a service like Snuggle Buddies trying to address the biological and psychological need for contact, she says personal boundaries are paramount. “You’ve got to make sure you know the limits. You’ve got to recognize that this is designed to elicit some kind of connection to other people. This is not a place that’s a jumping off point of a nonprofessional relationship.”
Cuddling as a commercial endeavor started in the early 2000s with cuddleparty.com. Then a one-man cuddle therapy site launched, but it failed because “there is a huge lack of interest in a male snuggler,” says Carp, who employs more than 90 women but only three men. When a student named Jacqueline Samuel started the Snuggery in Rochester, New York, in 2013, the concept finally took off.
In Portland, Oregon, Samantha Hess’ Cuddle Up to Me allows customers to buy cuddles in a private bedroom setting. On Valentine’s Day, she’s hosting Cuddle-Con—the first-ever cuddling convention—to teach attendees to “communicate your wants and needs to those around you in a safe and comfortable way.”
“Let’s hold hands, listen to some soft music and be present in the moment,” Hess writes on her website. “I am happy to be the big spoon or the little spoon. My purpose is to make you feel comfortable, loved and appreciated. Everyone needs to know they matter. You matter, and you are loved.”
The Snuggle Buddies echoes that sentiment. As for the charge that cuddling-for-hire is prostitution in disguise: “It’s exactly what it seems. It’s nothing more,” says Tiffany Ann, who insists this job has restored her faith in humanity. “It’s not for the pay. It’s here and it’s why I started doing it, but I keep doing it because you feel like you’re helping someone, and it helps me, too.”