By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Samantha Hess is the kind of person that you’ll always catch smiling. She’s five feet tall, approximately 115 pounds, and 30 years old. She holds a degree in fitness, and during her free time you can most likely catch her volunteering at the Food Bank, dancing, or participating in collective storytelling.
She also happens to be a professional “cuddler.”
Hess officially opened her own “cuddle shop” in Portland, OR. After years and literally hundreds of experiences cuddling with strangers to promote more widespread platonic intimacy, Hess transferred her affectionate practice into an actual business.
The store is called Cuddle Up To Me, and offers sessions for $60 an hour. But in case you can’t make the journey west (though a store might be on its way to a town near you), we took a moment to catch up with Hess to learn more about how her unique service works.
BTR: How did you get the idea to start this?
Samantha Hess (SH): The idea occurred to me originally while I was online and saw a guy with a “free hugs” sign. I remember thinking that I could really use a good hug, and it would be so nice to know that someone is out there who doesn’t expect anything else from me. And then I thought wait, why isn’t there that?
BTR: The bio on your site describes you as the “happiest person you’ve ever met.” How do you go about staying so positive?
SH: Life is about contrast. More often than not, people who have gone through the hardest times end up with a happiness that comes from that place of challenge and understanding. I’ve definitely not had the easiest of lives; it just makes you appreciate the little things a lot more. My life is filled with positivity because I choose to look at it that way.
BTR: Speaking to that perspective, in an increasingly “disconnected” world, where many encounters take route in the digital world, do you think that there is more of a demand and necessity for this kind of physical contact?
SH: Absolutely. Most of our physical interactions are very impersonal–iPhones, iPads, computers, etc. How often do you actually reach out and touch someone? It’s something we have been genetically coded to crave and thrive off of. We function so much better as a community, and communicating through these devices makes us lose something vital as a whole.
It’s something that I hope I can help us gain back.
BTR: So do you do all of the cuddling, or do you have cuddlers working in shifts?
SH: At our shop here I’ve hired three employees, and each of them is being put through a 40-hour training program. We’ve designed a certification process so that anyone can come and take the course. Then they can go back and start up their own practice wherever they are.
BTR: What does that process entail?
SH: Oh man, a whole lot… we’ll touch on everything from ensuring you have a proper business license and you’re legal with the government, on to how to pick the right clients and how to advertise. Social media, interviews, how to fill out forms and paperwork, and probably most importantly how to keep yourself safe and secure throughout the process. How to guide a session through trigger points, learning each of the 50 different positions that we use…
SH: Yeah (laughs). The biggest piece is how to keep people comfortable. We also specialize in autism and trauma victims as well. We want our employees to know how to deal with every person who comes in the door.
BTR: So this goes far beyond the “big spoon/little spoon” mentality…
SH: Exactly, that’s because everyone needs something a little different. Everyone has a different comfort level with personal touch. And people who have had difficult past experiences with touch may not feel comfortable with spooning with you right away. It might not be appropriate for everyone, which is why we have a whole host of alternatives available for even the “anti-cuddlers.”
BTR: You were speaking a little bit earlier about navigating around people’s “trigger points.” What exactly are these?
SH: They mean all sorts of things; they can be the subconscious things that you do without noticing, that point to you being uncomfortable in some way. For instance, my trigger warning is that I’ll grit my teeth. For other people it could be a clenching fist, raised heart beat, or heavier breathing. It’ll be a sign where you realize “this is something I need to pay attention to.” We teach you to tune into these things so you can develop instinctual movements to keep you both safe and comfortable.
On the client side that can mean anything from you touched their hair and that makes them really uncomfortable, or they’re pulling away because you crossed a line even though you didn’t mean to. It also has a lot to do with intentions–maybe they have trigger that causes them to enter a state of mind where they develop the wrong intentions. As cuddlers we need to be aware of these shifts in order to get the most productivity out of the sessions.
BTR: What do you do if a client becomes unintentionally aroused, and begins to take the session in a direction a little more intimate than it should be?
SH: Obviously it will be a little different with every person, but that’s why the training program is so long. This is often people’s first experiences with intimate touch in their adult lives, and so guiding them through that while using our redirection techniques to keep them in the right state of mind are vital. There are all sorts of techniques we use to keep any unwanted contact from happening, and it’s often best learned from experience.
BTR: You’ve written all of these training procedures yourself?
SH: Yeah, it’s been crazy. It’s been a six-month writing process where I’ve recorded everything that I’ve learned from doing it on my own. I’ve done hundreds of sessions, and the kind of feedback I’ve received is truly invaluable.
Be sure to check out the great work that Samantha is doing on her site.
Go cuddle today!