The Reluctant Adventurer: Q & A With Professional Cuddler, Samantha Hess
Friday, December 12, 2014
The session was with Samantha Hess, a professional cuddler who recently opened the cuddling storefront “Cuddle Up To Me” on East Burnside Street in Portland.
Samantha has been cuddling professionally out of her home for the past 18 months, but in order to meet demand, she’s now hired three other cuddlers who have gone through 40 hours of cuddling training with her.
Cuddling sessions can last anywhere from 15 minutes to five hours at a rate of $1 an hour. Clients can choose from myriad positions Hess has in her back pocket, which she leads them through during the course of the session.
Samantha’s new storefront (and a really good publicist) have garnered her attention from media across the country and the world, including People Magazine, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN and CBS This Morning.
After our session, we chatted for bit. What follows is our conversation, edited for content and clarity.
GoLocalPDX: Since you opened your storefront, you’ve gotten 10,000 emails and tons of media attention. Why do you think there’s been such a huge response to what you do?
We're genetically coded to be social creatures, but now we're doing that online, not in person. And even when we are in person, how often are we messing with technology in some way instead of actually looking someone in the eye? I feel so much more comfortable looking at a dog in the face than a human.
Samantha Hess: We're not connecting with one another and that's why people come in here. Because they need someone to see them for a minute. Just recognize that they exist, and they're okay, and worthy of love and acceptance in their own life. I feel so strongly that if people don't have that level of existence, they disappear.
You've said that you come from a very cuddly family, and that you've always loved hugging and touch. Oftentimes when someone loves something and then starts doing it for a living, it becomes less pleasurable. Is that true for you?
I still want cuddles at the end of my day, because it's so different in my personal life than my professional life. After I've given to people all day, I need people to give to me, so I never get sick of cuddling. It's only solidified even stronger my need for touch.
Some people see what you do and think it’s sad that people have to come to professional cuddler. Does it make you sad?
It's hard. When I have clients who have severe disabilities or diseases or have severely shortened life spans or have gone through stage 4 Cancer - people feel so isolated. It's not easy but it makes me feel so good that people recognize that they need to attend to themselves and put themselves out there in that vulnerable place - the value it provides is so much greater than the risk.
I understand how frightening it can be to put yourself out there. I get death threats and awful things said to me all the time and you have put up with it and know that the people who are the most upset about this are the ones who need it the most and don't know how to reach out. They're upset that it's here but they don't know how to interact with it.
Who are you getting death threats from?
All the threats I’ve received have been online. It's usually super religious folks from other countries. Nothing I've actually been concerned about. It's more often stuff like "You are disgusting for making people pay for love," or "I hope you get raped," or "You are the devil." I'm sure anyone who does something controversial must deal with it to an extent.
When you describe some of those tougher cases, it seems like it would be draining to do all day. Is it?
That's part of why we only do up to five sessions in a day because you can't go through that much emotional stuff in one day. There are sessions that are just easy and fun and there are sessions that are very draining and difficult.
How are they difficult?
Having people come in who have that hole - there's something missing and they don't know how to fill that void and they don't really know what's wrong most of the time. Having people break down and cry and not accept themselves. It feels so good to get people to realize that but sometimes it takes a lot of work. It can be emotionally draining for me.
You mentioned that you grew up seeing your mother get physically abused—how do you think that’s impacted you in what you do here?
I've seen that situation, so I've learned to really pay attention to the world around me and those minute little cues people give you. The details are astounding. Like, whether or not someone can look you in the eye, whether they do that slow, cat blink or they have to look away a lot.
And you can see the tears well up. How they're able to touch you and respond, where they tense up, what they're able to talk about or not. Every different interaction that I have with people is something I'm putting in my calculator and figuring out what makes the most sense.
How many of your clients become repeat clients?
Pretty much everybody.
Do you find that you are training some people to be better at intimacy?
Absolutely. It's been really interesting because I've had enough clients who are pretty long term that I’ve gotten to see a difference. One client in particular, when he first started coming, he was only able to accept touch, he wasn't able to give it. It took him about 7 or 8 months before he wanted to focus on giving touch to me and it was really interesting to see that dynamic change.
They learn to touch in a more vulnerable way - not be so in that moment and anxious.
When people want to give touch it means that they're in a good place in their world and touch is absolutely acceptable to me as long as it has the right intention and is in the right place.
The intention thing is an interesting question – I’m sure men get excited, how do you handle that?
It depends on the situation. I've gotten really good at redirection, and my turn of phrase is, "Natural reactions do occur." But it's just part of life and as long as you aren't making a big deal out of it or putting shame or judgment on it, I'm great at being the big spoon and there are plenty of positions where that doesn't have to be anywhere near the session.
It's pretty rare that that happens because people understand that it's more of a family connection. It's so much more than that romantic, sexual intimacy, it's so much more vulnerable than that can be.
I have so many clients who come to me because they can find all of these women to have sex with but nobody that will cuddle with them. It's so sad that that's how our culture is set up - that sex is so much more accessible than this kind of real human intimacy.
Have you been in situations where you’ve done the interview ahead of time, but then decided you weren’t comfortable going through with the session?
Of course. You can tell. If someone's asking you 10 questions about what's appropriate, they're not the right client. If they're asking about different things that they can do, you can tell what their real intentions are.
I’ve never had to end a session early. In hundreds of sessions. I've had a couple where they've asked to do more sessions and I've decided against it.
How many women do you see?
25-30% of my clients are women.
How different are they from your male clients?
Not really. They do talk a bit more sometimes.
Is there any difference in what they want to do?
In the beginning, they were much more along the lines of wanting to hold me but now it's been much more reciprocal. There's not much distinction between a man and a woman during a session. But I don't go to genders, I go to human. There's no boxes with me. It's just not a thing.
How do you respond to people who have a problem with you trading money for affection?
The fact that people pay me is what makes it work. In a normal relationship, you feel obligated to give back to me if I give you affection. But once you pay me, that takes away any obligation for you to do anything. It frees you up to be selfish and ask for everything you need. And that's how people get what they need. By asking for it.
Related Slideshow: Cuddle Up to Me
Cuddle Up to Me, owned by professional cuddler Samantha Hess, opened in Portland November, 2014. See photos from The Reluctant Adventurer's one hour spent with Hess in a professional cuddle session.
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