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Go Under the Sheets with a Professional Cuddler

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We are a nation that survives on technology, with everything from food delivery apps to workout clothes that double as fitness trackers. Even sex, the ultimate person-to-person connection, has become bogged down with tech (forget hook-up apps, there's actually a sex activity tracker. Need we say more?).

What about when you're craving more than a digital connection, though? In today's WiFi-everywhere world, it's hard to imagine there's a market for that—but there is, which is why professional cuddler start-ups like Cuddlr, Spoonr, and Cuddle Up To Me are thriving. Cuddlr alone has 240,000 downloads, and 7,000 to 10,000 daily users, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Snuggle Buddies, another on-call snuggling service that started in 2013, now operates in 30 states across the U.S., charging clients around $80 a session for a little TLC. It's pretty simple: Clients can call someone up to spoon, caress, hug, nuzzle—anything goes, as long as they don't break the "no sexual contact" contract. Clients must agree that no sexual activity will take place, clothing will remain on, and touching in areas covered by undergarments is strictly prohibited.

The service may seem a little odd to some—paying for platonic touch? But there are actually many health benefits to the human touch, like decreasing your stress levels, lowering your blood pressure, and even regenerating muscle tissue (post-workout snuggles, anyone?). (Here, 5 Reasons to Make Time for Cuddling.)

So what's it like to cuddle for a living? We chatted with Pennsylvania-based professional cuddler Becky Rodrigues, 34, who has worked for Snuggle Buddies for about a year.

Shape: How did you first hear about snuggling, and why did it appeal to you?
BR: A friend of mine had posted online about it and I was low on work at the time, so I was intrigued. I was a psychology major in college and I also work in home care. Those are both things that involve companionship with people, so I took to professional cuddling pretty quickly. I had thought of the idea before and wondered if there were actually people who would pay just for affection, so when I heard it existed, I thought, "Wow, that sounds like my dream job!" You have to be comfortable with total strangers and OK with cuddling anyone, which I am. I view cuddling as a way of getting acquainted with someone, without the pressure of always having to be 'on' or make direct eye contact. You can talk about things, but there's also no pressure to talk.

Shape: Do you cuddle full-time or is this something you do on the side?
BR: It's a supplemental income for me because the hours aren't reliable. I usually have two to three requests a week. It's an hour minimum, for $80, but I'll do overnights too for $320.

Shape: Do you find that people usually want to talk, or do they just want to cuddle?
BR: It really depends on the person. Some people do talk about different things that are going on in their lives, but others are pretty quiet. You have to work with the individual and get a sense of what they're looking for. I'm certainly not a therapist, but sometimes people just need to get stuff out of their system and have someone listen. My clients are almost always middle-aged men of all races, cultures, and backgrounds. The most common element is just that they're missing affection in their lives.

Shape: Have you ever been in a situation where you really just didn't feel like cuddling a certain person?
BR: It's interesting. When I know that someone just wants platonic cuddles, I'm a lot more affectionate. But sometimes I can tell by someone's body language that they're hoping for more than just cuddles—then I usually have my guard up and I don't enjoy it as much. But, for the most part, people who want more than cuddles are weeded out before I meet them because they have to sign a contract stating no sexual activity will take place. In the contract, they're also instructed to bathe and brush their teeth—and most people have the sense to do that—so I haven't ended up with anyone I'm grossed out by!

Shape: Has anyone ever violated you or made you feel unsafe?
BR: No, but when I go to someone's house I get all of their information and leave the info with a friend. If someone crosses the line of sexual contact, I communicate what the boundaries are or alter positions. Cuddlers can also end a session early if a client repeatedly acts inappropriately, but I haven't had to do this.

Shape: Do your clients ever have specific requests for their sessions?
BR: There have been some people who have wanted me to wear a sleeveless shirt, which I feel is pretty reasonable—people like skin on skin contact.

Shape: Do you have a partner? How do they feel about your cuddling side-gig?
BR: I was married when I started cuddling and my spouse was OK with it. He undserstood that it was platonic and nothing sexual would happen. After my divorce, I actually found that cuddling helped me to cope.

Shape: Big spoon or little spoon?
BR: Usually I'm the little spoon, but I've been the big spoon too!

Shape: What do you usually wear to cuddle?
BR: I wear soft, comfortable clothes that are good for sleeping in, and I try to look modest but also attractive at the same time. It's a tough combination, but I have a couple go-to outfits!

Shape: What makes a great cuddle session?
BR: Communication of boundaries is really important as well as paying attention to the other person's non-verbal cues. Cuddling should be a combination of leading and letting the other person take the lead. (Read more about the Scientific Benefits of Human Touch.)

Shape: How do you feel after a cuddle session? Does it have an affect on you, as the cuddler?
BR: I usually feel relaxed after a good session. I've also gotten feedback from clients that I have helped them and that they feel better afterward. This makes me incredibly happy.

Shape: Do you have a cuddle playlist?
BR: I was listening to an album once and thought, '"If this album was a person, I would cuddle with it!" It's called The Incident by Porcupine Tree.

Shape: What do you want people to know about cuddling?
BR: What I like about cuddling is that you don't have to impress anyone. Two people can just be together and be comfortable without all of the superficial things. Some people think it's exploitive because it's taking someone's money, but I don't see them going out and offering free hugs to people!

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