By Jera Brown,
When I worked as a cuddler-for-hire, I set boundaries – but they were regularly crossed.
I met my first cuddling client at Hot Tubs by the Hour, an innocuous-looking beige building on a busy street. The lobby was dark, and from behind the cash register, a round white woman, indifferent, watched me approach my client, Ron. He was pale and balding, with a pot belly spilling over ironed khakis. I introduced myself, shook his hand, and led him to the rented room.
The rented room was small with white walls and no windows. A simple bed abutted the wall and a hot tub released steam in the corner. He sat on the bed. We made a bit of small talk, then I said the line I’d rehearsed: “I’m looking forward to exploring different kinds of touch with you, but in order to feel safe, I want to remind you of the rules—no nudity, no kissing, and no sexual touch.” He agreed.
A week before, desperate for money as an underemployed artist, I’d combed Craigslist job ads and come across one seeking cuddlers: $40 per hour, no sex, no nudity. I needed the money, but I was also curious: What kind of person pays for cuddling? What would it feel like to cuddle a stranger?
Ron wore his boxers and I stripped down to my sports bra and shorts (I would later learn that stripping down isn’t required, but is often requested by clients).We embraced on the bed, my head nestled in the crook of his arm, and I rested my arm across his round belly. We talked while entwined. He owned a construction company, worked seven days a week, 17-hour days, and used this to relax. He asked me just to talk to him, so I told him stories about bicycling through my city when I first moved there. Then he asked if he could lie on top of me.
I could feel his boner pressing against my thighs. “You’re so beautiful,” he said, brushing my face with his lips. I reminded him there was no kissing. He grazed his hands along my breasts, and I gently pushed him away. “I just want to remind you of our agreements,” I said, over and over.
Cuddle Time, the agency where I worked, opened in New York and now has branches in 19 different cities. Their website is a quilt of mixed messages. At the top of their landing page is a photograph of two young blondes, smiling and leaning toward the camera, revealing dramatic cleavage. There are subtle reminders that the service is about platonic touch, interspersed with photos of young, sexy women. One of the FAQ answers reads: “Think of this like making out with your girlfriend, only this is not your girlfriend, and no making out is allowed.”