Being single in today’s dating and hook up culture can be empowering, freeing, and save you a lot of drama. But let’s be honest – it can also get lonely. A cuddle sesh with someone every once in a while might relieve some of those nights when all you’ve got to keep you company is Netflix.
Brianna Quijada has been there. After moving to New York City in 2008 and ending a long term relationship, the Arizona native was looking for more than just sex. She wanted to feel someone’s touch again. It’s not easy navigating those feelings, let alone in the Big Apple. Her move also brought her to question her future in theatre – her dream job in the city. Longing for nonsexual intimacy and being open to other job opportunities, she found a profession that filled some of the voids. Quijada found professional cuddling.
If you haven’t heard about professional cuddling that’s probably because it hasn’t been around for that long. The New York Times writes that while cuddle parties— the predecessor to one-on-one paid cuddling sessions – have been around for about a decade, actual professional cuddling sessions are something up and coming.
For Quijada, this new profession hasn’t just allowed her to share intimate, nonsexual connections with people, it has propelled her towards running her own business. In a recent phone interview, we got Quijada to tell us all about her services and how cuddling sessions work – just in case, like us, you’re wondering about it.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
What is professional cuddling?
In a nutshell, it’s a one-on-one nonsexual cuddle session. It can be a lot of things to different people, but it’s relaxation, it’s comfort, it’s intimacy, connection and it’s a chance to share a space with someone else and kind of let your guard down to just be. I don’t think we give ourselves a lot of opportunities to do that in our regular adult lives.
Do you work through a company or service?
I work with a website called Cuddlist.com. Through them I also received certification and online training, as well as in person training. But I basically run my business on my own. The website offers a place where I can put my profile – people can go there, look through cuddlist profiles and then send a cuddle session request through that website, but everything else I take care of on my end.
How did you become a professional cuddler?
I studied theatre in Arizona and my whole life I wanted to live in New York City. That was the dream, and I wanted to pursue theatre. Shortly after graduating, I came out here and I auditioned, but never really found the motivation that I needed to hit the pavement, submit my resume and go to all the auditions I needed to. It bothered me, because I knew that I had a passion for it, but whether it was the competition or just being too busy with surviving life in New York, I stopped. I had also just gotten out of a really serious six-year relationship and I was yearning and deeply wanting to connect with people. I found myself going out to bars and meeting people and bringing them home to cuddle with me… I just really was looking for nonsexual touch. I heard about Cuddle Party, which is a monthly event held in New York City – and also all over the country… It struck my interest, but I never had the courage to go. But it was through Cuddle Party that I received information about training for Cuddlist. So I went to a training and I almost left. I got there early and I [was] like “This is just crazy. What am I doing?” But I stayed and I am really really glad I did. I met Adam Lipping and Madelon Guinazzo – the CEOs – and heard about the mission. It just made so much sense to me that something like this is needed. It really resonated with me because I’ve always been told that I make people comfortable and also that I give really great hugs, so this is perfect for [me] and something I could potentially be really good at. I love cuddling, people love cuddling with me.
That was the first time you heard about professional cuddling?
That was the very first time… I was like this is crazy, like what will my mom think? But more and more the word is getting out there and the media has been covering a bunch of stories about Cuddle Party as well as this kind of profession, so I think it’s really cool. I kind of came out of the cuddle closet on my Facebook page, and several people reached out to me and said that it really resonates with them and that they want to be a professional cuddlers. So I feel so honored and grateful to be able to put my face to something like this and to educate people about what it really is. [I want] to get rid of that fear or the misconception that it’s a cover for sex or that kind of idea. More and more people are coming forward and wanting to learn more and to be professional cuddlers.
How much is a session?
Session start at $80 an hour, but that is also something that is up to the individual professional cuddler.
Is cuddling based on gender or is that up to the professional to decide?
In order to be a Cuddlist you have to agree to be open to all genders and gender non-conforming people. It’s very inclusive.
I know cuddling can be very emotional, at least for me. Have you ever grown feelings for a client?
Yea, it’s emotional because you put yourself in a very vulnerable place and when you’re there you get to see different sides to people that they don’t normally share with strangers. When it comes to any kind of profession where you’re close to people feelings may come up, attraction may come up and that’s ok, that’s normal. The idea isn’t to suppress those feelings necessarily or to feel bad about them. The point is to keep within the boundaries which we set for ourselves, which say that this is a professional relationship.
Are you able to see a client more than once?
Yes, I’ve had maybe a little more than a handful of people that I saw more than once, but mostly all have been first time people.
With apps like Tinder, where someone might be able to go home and cuddle with someone for free, what are the benefits? Why is having a professional cuddler better?
There’s definitely a different energy when you have hired someone to just be there for you, basically. Before I started, I was looking for nonsexual touch and to me the only way to get that was almost through a sexual way. You know, when you bring someone home there’s still an agenda and that agenda is sex unless you specifically talk about it beforehand and say ‘this is what is going to happen, this is what I want’ – which I wasn’t doing ’cause I wasn’t at a point in my life where I was good at asking for what I wanted. When you have a professional cuddle session, sex is completely off the table and I don’t think there’s any place else where you can experience that. Something really cool happens when that’s off the table.
Does it get awkward cuddling with strangers?
Yea, it does. We’re in a really vulnerable place together and it’s ok to be awkward. That’s kind of like another thing which is fun about this – we kind of give ourselves permission to be awkward… it’s awkward but then it’s not awkward. You move past it.
What is your favorite part about being a professional cuddler?
It’s like being a kid again and being scared and awkward about what might happen if I touch your nose. Just having that fun, playful, open, vulnerable space with another person that’s definitely my favorite part. My whole life I’ve wanted to find a way to just be able to connect with people and I think this is an amazing way to do that.
What would you feel would be a good quality to have to be a professional cuddler?
I think empathy is really important. Cuddlers come from all different kinds of backgrounds. There’s social workers, life coaches, massage therapists… all different kinds of people. I didn’t necessarily have any professional training, but for me, I know being a good listener, being an active listener, has helped.
Are there any rules for your customers?
Yes, there’s a code of conduct. They have to read it and agree before they send a request and that keeps it nonsexual and professional. [There are rules about] things like the clothing minimum (shorts that come to the mid-thigh and a tank top) for both people.
Can you walk us through a typical session?
I either travel to their location or I also host sessions at my apartment. It starts off with an agreement that if at any point either of us feels uncomfortable [for any reason] then we’ll say something –and I like to say that we don’t even need to know why and you don’t need to say why [you felt uncomfortable], but the communication is really important. So we make that agreement and that way we don’t have to worry about is this person not liking what I’m doing, should I stop? And then sometimes we’ll talk about the expectations for the cuddle session – what they are imagining? I ask them how they like to cuddle and then from there it kind of goes in different ways.