For a fee, Samantha Hess will spoon with a stranger. Starting in June of this year, the 29-year-old former personal trainer has been offering her services as a professional cuddler to residents of Portland. (Where else?) Hess, who offers hour-long sessions for $60 and 30-minute ones for $35, says cuddling is her only income and she snuggles up to as many as five clients a day.
So, you are a professional cuddler. How does one come into that line of work?
That’s kinda always been my dream job. I’m an extremely touch-driven person. I heard about a lady in New York who does it. What really took me over the edge in deciding I needed to do this was an article I read online about a guy in a farmer’s market giving away free hugs next to another guy who was offering “deluxe hugs” for $2. The guy who sold the hugs got more hugs than the free-hugs guy! I thought, “You know what? That’s a real thing! That’s America! I’m gonna make that happen.” I bought my website a couple weeks after seeing that.
Tell me about the typical session.
It’s always a little different. My average session is 60 minutes long. It’s guided by the client. Touch is appropriate anywhere where it would be acceptable to touch a child. That’s an easy guideline to get people in the right mindset. I will touch clients’ legs and hair, their shoulders and arms, their back — that’s about it. I don’t do chests even because I don’t want any sexual aspects at all. It’s all about the healing aspect. Human touch can do many things for us. So many studies have shown that. At the end of the session, to solidify that human connection, I make them play a game with me. It’s their choice of the repeat game or the staring game, and it’s two minutes long. In the repeat game, they do a mantra for two minutes with me: “I am peaceful. I am loved. I am happy.” I make them say that for two minutes. Or the staring game: two minutes of direct eye contact. Blinking is okay but they are not allowed to look away.
Is there a typical client? Is it someone who is lonely or depressed?
My youngest client is 25. My oldest client is mid 60s. Typical client would be late 30s/early 40s single dad who doesn‘t have the time or energy to put into dating and just misses that connection. I also have several clients who are clinically depressed and really struggle with that and this seems to be one of their only connections but it does a lot of good. I’m amazed to see the progress they make.
You mention on your FAQ clients can talk during a session. What do they talk about?
Most clients don’t talk much during a session. Maybe in the first ten minutes there can be some chit-chat, but the experience can be almost overwhelming for some of them. It’s sensory overload. If they ever do talk, it’s just about stuff going on in their lives.
And you go to clients’ homes?
I go to my clients’ homes or parks. I do a lot of park sessions. We have so many amazing parks around here, and I have done some in movie theaters. We have some movie theaters that have loveseats and that kind of thing.
You sent me a copy of the waiver clients sign. In addition to stating the nonsexual nature of the business, you let them know you carry “a non-lethal personal defense item” and you give their names and addresses and the time of the appointment to a third party. How vulnerable do you feel doing this?
I have to trust my clients. My business is built on trust, absolutely. But I also realize I am five feet tall and I am 115 pounds and I have to be able to protect myself. I am kinda lucky in that my ex-husband was a Marine, so I got to learn from his experience. I am trained in the art of small joint manipulation and can get out of most situations pretty easily. But I also really work hard to see that the clientele are people I trust.
I love the idea of a professional cuddler who is also trained in hand-to-hand combat.
I am also certified as a personal trainer, and I am super-strong for my size.
What is the etiquette when a male client becomes aroused?
What I like to say is, “Natural reactions will occur.” It happens much more frequently than not, but as long as we move into a position where I don’t have to know about it and we can mellow out, it’s fine. I’m great at being the big spoon, and there are plenty of other positions we can move into to avoid that become the focus of the session. It’s not what this is about. Nothing is going to be done about it, so it just needs to go away. We just move so it doesn’t get any attention.
Do some people call or email you with the wrong idea?
Definitely! I’ve gotten some people who think it is a front for a prostitution service. I’ve had someone who thought it was a sting operation for the cops.
They thought you were an undercover police officer?
Yes, and I have some people ask me if they paid this much or that much, could they get this service or that service? I have had to say, “No, this is a very straightforward, basic service. There are no upgrades.” That is why I don’t take tips. I don’t want anything to be misconstrued. You’re not going to get any more out of me. It’s a basic, platonic service.
How do you get the word out about this business?
It’s kind of exploded. I’m not even three months into it and my website already has more than 200,000 views. I do flyers around town. I advertise online with The Oregonian, Willamette Week and The Mercury. I hand my business card out to everyone I meet and I talk about it with as many people as I can.
What do your parents tell their friends their daughter does for a living?
My mom loves it! She thinks it’s fantastic! She talks about me all the time to people. They have no problem with it at all. My dad is Italian. We are a very touch-driven family. I still kiss my mom on the mouth. It’s just a thing. It’s how we work.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Storytime section.