I'm A Professional Cuddler — This Is How Much I Get Paid

Since the rise of cuddle cafes in Japan, the non-romantic cuddling profession has seen a recent boom: Now, plenty of people offer their services of being a big spoon for an hourly fee. But while media stories might portray the industry as simply an innocent need for connection, in reality, practitioners often have to navigate the murky waters of what's allowed. Do you wear clothes? Where do you touch? What is (and isn't) appropriate? And after the cuddle, how much do you tip?

We met with a 31-year-old professional cuddler to chat candidly about her work experience in the last year. And yes, as a note, she does give great hugs.

How did you get your start in the cuddling business?

"I got my masters in Fine Arts, and after a brief stint in New York I moved abroad with my partner and had a very comfortable life. We were on our way to get married, and I kept working, but I didn't have to worry about rent or car payments. But when that relationship didn't work out, I decided to move back to New York — and I found that at 31, it was really difficult to find a job. I teach yoga, I do theater, but it's tough if you don't have New York experience. Even a restaurant job was hard to come by.

"I went and saw this play about a professional cuddler, and I was like — I could do that. I grew up with so much affection in my family, so I have a certain level of comfort with that. I went online and I found this website for professional cuddlers. I sent in a blurb about my background: I'm a yoga teacher, I do a lot of adjustments in classes, I’ve never been scared of moving or adjusting people — and they picked me."

The guy who owns the website, I call him The Pimp. He's not a good person, but he's the one who sends you clients.

How does it work?

"So the guy who owns the website, I call him The Pimp. He's the one who sends you clients. I’ll get an email that someone is interested in me, and I'll email back to tell them my rules: There’s no kissing from me; you can’t touch my breasts, my privates; and I’m not going to be touching your private area. And if they want to proceed, then we’ll set up a time.

"Each session is supposed to be an hour, and the rate is $80 an hour in cash plus tip. The tough thing is that you’re supposed to give 50% of that to the person I call The Pimp. So what you learn to do is, and it might not even be ethically correct but we're being honest here, every first person I meet that he sends me over — I give him his cut. If I do subsequent visits, I won’t always. Because he’s not doing any of the work."

So, why do you call him The Pimp?

"I don’t think he cares about any of us. He just wants his money, which is fine. I’m grateful because he sends you these clients. But the first guy I saw warned me to try to stay away from him as much as possible because he's greedy and he doesn’t take care of his girls."

About 10 minutes before the session ended, he turned around and pulled off his pants...

After the initial introduction email, then, what happens?

"I'll email back and say, 'I hear you’re interested, can you tell me a little bit about yourself, where you are, etc.' I always have the conversation about why they need me, or why they sought this out. And I really appreciate when via email they’ll say, This is my story. I was married and this is what happened.

"I try to gauge what they want from this initial email interaction. Last week, someone emailed me and was like, How much is your rate? And I said $80 per hour. And he said, If you wear only a bra and panties, I’ll give you $115 per hour. I told him that’s not how I work. And he said, Well if I do $130 can you do that and heavy petting? And I said, you know, I really think you’re looking for someone else. And that's where it ended.

"If they agree to my terms, we’ll do the first meeting and talk for 10 to 15 minutes. I’ll try to read them, and if I feel like something's off, I'll leave. There was only one time I walked out because I had a bad feeling. From the beginning, he kept asking well what about this, what if I do this, and then we laid down and he immediately put his hand on my breast."

Is that typical? Do you find that most clients try to push your boundaries?

"It happens a lot, since it is undefined and you can set your own ground rules. They’re going to test what they can do. Even regular clients. The more trust and comfort there is, the more they’ll ask for.

"I had this one client. Married, kids, I think he’s even younger than I am. He paid for this hotel, since I only do outcalls. And he told me he likes massages so I was giving him a soft touch massage, and he was in his underwear, and he asked if he could take his underwear off. I said no, but he kept persisting. About 10 minutes before the session ended, he turned around and pulled off his pants and he started to pleasure himself. I got off the bed, and I said, 'Do not do that, we agreed on what was allowed.' But that’s where the lack of respect comes in. If you knew what I told you and you’re still choosing not to listen to me…

"I still needed to get paid, so he ended up finishing, but I didn't know who to report this to. A lot of people might say, 'Well you decided to put yourself in that situation...' What could I have done? What would I tell people? I agreed to meet with this man for money in a hotel room… it gets very complicated. I started to get paid up front after that. But you know, some people are willing to do those things, so who am I to say? If that’s okay for someone else... but it wasn’t for me."

You couldn't go to your boss about it?

"No. It’s up to you to figure it out. I don't know anyone else on the website. We don’t talk, we don’t know each other. And I’ve never gone to my boss for anything other than to pay him."

This guy who comes into New York for work, he says, 'My wife and I haven’t touched in 15 years.'

Tell me about the clients who do respect your rules.

"There are a few people. I see this guy every Sunday who just works a ton, he’s single, he sits in a cubicle all day. Every Sunday I go and lay down in bed and we just talk. At the beginning, I can feel that he’s super tense, and I’ll feel him slowly start to relax. Sometimes he’ll be napping by the end, which is good. So it's nice to know that you’re having that impact on someone. I like him as a client because I know that he’s getting something good. I know that he’s paying me, but I also know that I’m providing something.

"One of my other regulars is a widower in his 70s. Over a year ago he lost his wife, and he didn’t know how to be around people, so he contacted me. I think he sees other cuddlers and he’ll do sexual things with them, but with me, what we do is we lay in bed, and we cuddle, and we talk about opera and films. He’ll tell me stories about when he traveled with his wife. I feel like he’s taken the essence of what this job is, which is to provide comfort. A therapist can’t touch you, but I can hug him and I can touch his face and I can tell him that it’s going to be okay.

"There was also this guy who comes into New York for work and he says, 'My wife and I haven’t touched in 15 years. We’re still together, we don’t want to get divorced, but I haven’t felt the comfort and touch of a woman in 15 years.'"

Would you consider this cheating? Or I guess it's a gray area?

"The second I get asked out or it goes beyond my services, I stop seeing that person because I’m not looking for a relationship. I’m not emotionally invested. Sometimes the clients will ask oh, can I give you a massage? And I’ll say no. Or they’ll say, my other cuddle buddy lets me finger her, and I’m like, that’s great, but I’m not going to do that. Because I don’t want anything out of it. That’s why when one of the guys I saw wanted a date and I said no, he said, well I want another session, and I was like you realize you’re paying for my time? It was becoming more like a sugar baby position, and it's not the position I wanted to be in, so I cut it off."

So you see yourself more as a non-romantic therapist and masseuse?

"Yeah and it's a very draining job. That’s why in theory it’s a really beautiful thing because it’s people seeking human touch. But in practice, it becomes a very complicated thing because in doing that, emotions get involved. They’re confiding in you things about their life whether it’s in their marriages or just in their life."

I want to believe that it can be a really good thing and a really powerful thing but I think people can abuse it, too.

How does a typical session go?

"I’ll usually ask, What do you need? Do you want me behind you? I’ll start being big spoon and just scratching their back, and they ease their way really quickly. I’m not tentative. But everyone is different. One man, he was fascinating. After his divorce, he was so scared to touch another woman. So he saw this website and by the end of the meeting as far as I got was holding his hand. That was the baby step. And the next meeting we reached a hug — a quick one. So I want to believe that it can be a really good thing and a really powerful thing but I think people can abuse it, too."

How much money were you making from this?

"At the beginning, it was like, oh my God, I need to take as many clients as possible. So I made maybe $1200 or $1300 a month. But it started to get very draining, so I've cut it down. Now, I'm making a total of $600 a month from just cuddling. I'm also teaching more and I work at a restaurant, too, so I'm just making enough to pay rent — which is $1200 a month and expenses. I’m trying to transition out of this. My parents obviously don’t know I’m doing this, my sister knows, and a few of my friends know, and they’re just worried."

If you didn’t need the money, would you still do it?

"I hope I can get to a point where I don’t need to do it anymore. It’s been very draining. I feel very emotionally tired. And when I first started doing it, I was seeing someone and I felt like I couldn’t tell them because these men don’t tell their wives. It feels like cheating, even though it’s not sexual. I don’t know if any guy would be like okay with me laying down with strangers, other men. I know if I started seeing someone and got into a relationship, I wouldn't want this to be my job."

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This interview has been edited & condensed for clarity. Have a story you'd like to share? Email us and let us know.