The Cuddler

Yes, I Paid a Woman to Cuddle With Me

In my mind’s eye, I am backstage behind a curtain while Oprah tells her studio audience they are about to meet a man who paid a woman to cuddle with him. Her announcement is met with gasps, skeptical laughter, and facial expressions betraying attempts to wrap the mind around such a concept.

It’s true: I paid Sam Hess, the professional cuddler in Portland, Oregon, to cuddle with me for an hour.

You’ll have a hard time convincing me it was just a coincidence that less than 24 hours later, my doctor’s office recorded my lowest blood-pressure reading in years. Or that post-cuddle I felt better physically and emotionally than I had in a long time.

Why did I pay $80 for 60 minutes of snuggling next to a stranger, in my queen-size bed? I could say I thought it would be an interesting topic to write about for you after I first read about her in the Oregonian newspaper. I could say that at a time when I had a heightened awareness of people carving out creative careers for themselves in this new economy, I was intellectually curious. Those reasons are true and valid, but I also wanted someone to hold me– and someone to hold. It had been a long time. I needed it.

I know you have questions: about her background, her motivation, how she sets boundaries, and so much more. The FAQ at has your answers, and I recommend reading her site for context. What I hope to do in this space is to put you in the experience with her, as best I can.

A mandatory part of the process is a face-to-face meeting in a public place before a session is even scheduled. Sam and I met at a coffee shop, nearly three weeks after I first emailed her and asked for a session, and we talked for an hour. Yes, to prepare for an hour of snuggling with a new client, she spent an hour of her time with me and drove an hour round-trip for the meeting. There she was, 5 feet tall, not even 120 pounds, and there I was, towering over her inside a bustling Starbucks.

Bill Hayward (Column 3)A mandatory part of the process is a face-to-face meeting in a public place before a session is even scheduled. Sam and I met at a coffee shop, nearly three weeks after I first emailed her and asked for a session, and we talked for an hour. Yes, to prepare for an hour of snuggling with a new client, she spent an hour of her time with me and drove an hour round-trip for the meeting. There she was, 5 feet tall, not even 120 pounds, and there I was, towering over her inside a bustling Starbucks.

Let me tell you: She was in charge. She wanted to know about me, and she remarked that I was more guarded than most of her clients, and she had to gently nudge me a bit to get me to reveal enough for her to understand why I wanted to cuddle with her. The more time I spent with her, the more I found myself saying things I was surprised to hear myself saying to someone I’d just met. There is something about her that invites you to open up to her, even as your resistance remains high. That’s probably a subject for a much longer article on another day.

We scheduled the appointment for two weeks later. (That’s 34 days from the initial email to the day of the cuddling, which gives you an idea of how far in advance she was booked.) The night before my session, I did laundry, chose the clothes I would wear, and made sure to allow time to shower, shave and brush my teeth before she arrived at my place. When I awoke early on the morning of the session, I was instantly reminded of one of the questions in her FAQ: What about “natural reactions”? Yes, I woke up that morning with an erection, and I began to wonder if it would happen as we cuddled, and how we would react. I tried not to let it worry me, and her answer on the FAQ page helped: “This will happen from time to time. When these things come about we just change positions so that it does not become a focus of the session.”

She arrived a few minutes late. We hugged at the door, and I realized I was meeting her full embrace with one of those patented ‘guy hugs,’ with plenty of nervous, no-idea-what-to-do-with-this-feeling pats on her back, which I’m sure was the first of many clues that I was several layers of emotional protection removed from her open, giving nature. We talked for a few minutes about the weather, and then I paid her, to get that out of the way. I asked her how a session usually begins, and she told me to get in whatever position I wanted — on the couch, in bed, wherever — and she would come to me. She offered to play music from her iPhone if I wanted that, and I opted to begin with no music and perhaps ask for some later if I wanted. As it turned out, we never put on any music.

I got into my most relaxing position, to start: on my back, on the right side of my bed. All along I’d wondered if I could be comfortable spooning at first, and actually I just love having a woman rest her head on my shoulder. Without my having said so, she crawled into bed and got into that position, snuggled up against me on my left side, with her head on my left shoulder.

As she had at the coffee shop two weeks earlier, she could sense my holding back. One of her first comments to me during the cuddle session was about my noticeable nervousness. Well, with me it’s a dead giveaway. I don’t have the steadiest hands, and my body feels like it’s in a perpetual state of anxiety, with an elevated heartbeat and borderline high blood pressure. But it was an amazing sensation in those first few minutes feeling someone nestled in that spot on my left side, near my heart, and things changed. She touched my face, and I touched her hair. Skin touched skin in different places, all of them appropriate relative to her boundaries, and we began to hold more tightly to each other. In the weeks leading up to the session, I’d had so many worries. What if I get sweaty? What if my stomach growls? What if my body does any number of things it seems to do more frequently and awkwardly the older I get? What if I have a cramp or a spasm? Or if I sneeze? Oh, why am I doing this?

She and I talked about this next aspect moments after I became aware of it, but it was a revelation to me how muscle memory came into play. Yes, it had been a long time since I had cuddled with someone, but my hands and body began to touch and stroke naturally, like a reflex. It was as if the part of me that knew how to tenderly touch a woman had been frozen by cryogenics, in a state of suspended animation, and upon awaking, it knew instinctively what to do. Of course, there is an aspect to this I think probably speaks to some of the differences between men and women and their experience of cuddling– that it’s easy for that muscle memory to lead to a level of touching beyond the mere cuddle. In my experience (and I think I’m not alone), women have a much easier time separating cuddling touch from other forms of touch. That’s not as easy for men to compartmentalize. I had to monitor myself, check myself, to ensure I was not in any danger of touching her inappropriately. If I had allowed my body to completely take over and not involved my mind, who’s to say? When I addressed this with her moments after realizing it, she told me, “Don’t worry; I am in control,” reassuring me that she knew how to protect her boundaries. It was then that I became aware of the strength in her tiny body. The grip of her legs around mine may well have been a natural part of her cuddling, but it served her well in letting me feel her power, which could easily be dismissed by simply looking at her. After an hour of snuggling with her, I believe the same energy that flows from her and heals also invests the kind of strength that allows her to feel in control, and in fact to be in control.

In terms of touch, I probably erred on the side of caution, which I’m sure made me seem even more like I was holding back. My reasons were honorable, but in so doing I came off as keeping a bit of distance, and truth be told, no doubt I was protecting myself as well.

Prolonged eye contact up close was difficult for me at first, and she noticed. I think there has to be a certain allowance for the fact that you’re in bed with someone with whom you’ve spent little more than an hour, someone you’d never met before that coffee shop meet-and-greet. Sam has such active eyes; even when they are still and focused, they are communicating so much, and I felt them saying what she’d told me was the goal of a session: to let someone feel unconditional love and acceptance, and to feel human touch and its many benefits. There is so much empathy in her eyes, and it can easily draw out emotion — and the same is true of her touch.

“This is hard for you,” she said, alluding to how I could go only so long with direct eye contact before pulling her close to me in a tighter bear hug. I needed the embrace, yes, but I’m willing to concede I needed to retreat from the intimacy of extended eye contact. Know this: I consider none of that a reflection of her or her eyes; rather, it’s all about me and my insecurities, and needing my bubble.

But wow, I’d forgotten what it was like to touch a woman, stroke her hair, feel her face, put my fingertips on the back of her neck. I had often found myself wondering if I even remembered how to touch someone in a way that made them feel good. The part of me that has wanted for so long to be intimate and sexually active again, which has been building with intensity lately, was naturally curious as I touched Sam. Does this feel good? And a two-pronged question: Is this arousing in any way? If yes, great; I still know how to touch another person and stoke her fire. But then, the realization: That’s not what this is about. Be careful. Don’t let yourself go down that slippery slope.

Still, I couldn’t help but think that cuddling with Sam was an important part of preparing for relationship intimacy again, peeling off my layers a bit at a time, allowing someone to hold me and not my armor when I am finally in someone’s arms again, and she in mine. There is probably some value in the flip side, in allowing that person to be the one to do the peeling, but I sensed my cuddling time with Sam was a precursor to creating a comfort level with human contact I would not have otherwise been able to nurture. Although it might have nothing to do with Sam’s purpose, it felt like a wonderful byproduct of the experience, of her therapy.

I use that word intentionally: therapy. I’ll leave it for you to evaluate her credentials, but I consider Sam a therapist, someone skilled in the healing arts, and after reading her website and spending two hours with her, I know this is a person with a plan, a purpose, a methodology, a gift, and a wonderful way of pulling together her innate qualities and learned techniques to develop a powerful dynamic. At one point I said to her, “You know what you’re doing.” She said, “Yes, I do.” She is following a plan, but it clearly comes from her heart. You can’t look into her eyes and come to any other conclusion.

At the very least, her cuddle sessions are a wonderful exercise in aspects of nonsexual touching. She said she’s a nonverbal communicator, and that’s so true. I asked her where her empathy comes from, as the analytical side of me is curious, and has been, and she told me a personal story detailing its history. That’s a story for her to tell at her choosing and not for me to share, but the roots of her empathy for others evoked empathy within me for her and her loved ones, and for the suffering they endured. From that pain grew a powerful healer.

About halfway through the session, I felt my emotions break through. Tears in the beginning stages of crying welled up during a period of eye contact, and I pulled her close to me again. “Let it out,” she said. It didn’t last long, much like when it happens in therapy. It was a soft, breathy cry, not bawling, and I soon regained my composure. But there was some release.

I had a hard time shutting off my mind. The writer in me was making mental bookmarks of moments to remember so I could journal this experience, and I had to guard against writing it in my head before it had all unfolded. I got better at that in time. Late in the session she said I was more relaxed, more in the moment, and letting go more than I had been — “now that you’re not interviewing me,” she said, smiling and laughing softly. Indeed, I struggled with being fully in the moment, but part of that is an occupational hazard of being a writer.

The session became a series of back-and-forths — eye contact, followed by the tight hug with no eye contact, and the same again and again. Over time, the periods of eye contact lengthened as I got more comfortable with them. But she again noted that eye contact was hard for me, and she said I was almost bi-polar about it, which she later described as flippy, a pronounced all-or-nothing quality. I told her she could not have hit the nail more squarely on the head with that insight. In therapy I often describe myself as all or nothing.

Physically, it’s hard for me to stay in the same position for very long, so we changed positions a few times. Late in the hour, she “squashed” me, curling up half against my left side and half on top of me. Again I could feel her strength and her positive energy. She had a way of making me forget how I was so much larger than she is, and that was more liberating than you probably can imagine. After she left, I felt lighter than I had in years, as if I’d unloaded the weight of my world from my shoulders, and even my insides felt less stressed than I’d thought possible. My cravings — the ones that are my demons, always squeezing me in their tight grip — were gone. It was almost uncomfortable, this feeling of needing nothing to fill my emptiness. It was not the norm. It was beyond my ability to describe in words. In those moments, though, I dictated notes to myself so I could remember them later:

“Incredible. I have this feeling right now I haven’t felt in a long time. I don’t feel the heaviness of my body. I don’t feel this big hole that needs to be filled.”

It didn’t last. In fact, it scared me, and within hours I sought comfort in food, in distraction, in my devices. The unbearable lightness of lightness, as I decided to call it, was too much for me. But it opened a door, giving me a chance to know it’s possible to feel that way. It made me want to feel it again and to be able to let myself continue to feel it.

Sam has big plans for her cuddling business, which has drawn a lot of attention and has more demand than she can meet by herself. She’s identified a building for a home base. She’s going through applications from people who want to work with her and do what she does. She has a 40-hour training program designed for them. She’s written a book. She’s receiving hundreds of emails a day. I hope she’s taking care of herself and doesn’t burn out, and that as her cuddle business grows, it never strays from its simple roots: her caring soul.

The eye contact reminded me of “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present,” the powerful HBO documentary about the performance artist and her uncanny ability to be in the moment, and the effect she has on people who sit across from her and make eye contact with her. I recommended Sam see the documentary. I plan to watch it again after having cuddled with Sam.

Sam loves people. She has a way of drawing you out of your shell as she holds onto it. She has become part of a reawakening within me, which someone else has been a big part of as well, a reawakening that’s reminding me of what I want. Having stripped away all of my confusing cravings, all of the curiosities and fantasies that have overwhelmed me for so long, through touch I reconnected with who I am deep down, and what I want: a woman to share my life with, all of it — the confusion, the curiosities, the heaviness and the lightness, and all that’s between them.

Between the first writing of this piece and the final edit, life happened, life continued, giving me insight that wasn’t there in the days after Sam cuddled with me. Initially I thought there was something missing during the cuddle session: that my heart was not involved. In the early stages of attraction to someone else, I felt my heart was in another room, far away, but that it let me know it wants to be a part of physical touch, of cuddling, of intimacy, of my sexuality. It wants me to reclaim my whole self, not fragmented pieces that seem like the perfect fix at a certain moment. It wants me to learn how to integrate all of my pieces so I can love again, starting with loving myself.

That other person is no longer in my life, but I see now that in her own way she helped me reconnect with that aspect of my heart. She and Sam, in different ways, triggered moments of emotional catharsis connected to my heart beginning the healing process. That connection was ephemeral, and I see that the journey will take a long time to complete, but I was given a glimpse of the future of my heart, and now I am moving step by step toward it.

At the end of the session, Sam gave me a choice. We would play a two-minute game — what she called “the repeat game,” or eye contact. I would either try to make eye contact with her for two minutes, or for two minutes I would repeat a mantra she’d picked out for me and this session.

I chose the repeat game. So, for two minutes, I repeated each of the following sentences after she said them, all while making eye contact with her: “I am respected. I am accepted. I am worthy.”

Thank you, Sam.

Sam told me when we met at the coffee shop two weeks earlier that her wish is for the world to evolve into a place where her service is no longer required. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. In fact, I see the next piece of the new wave of alternative health care forming.

I’m wondering if others, especially men, feel some reluctance regarding contacting Sam for a cuddle. Is it somewhere on the scale of social stigma between ‘Signing up for an online dating service’ and ‘Paying for sex?’ Like, I want this, I need this, but I can’t tell anyone I’m doing this? I’ve read comments at the bottom of news stories about Sam, and I am not surprised by the skepticism, the snark, the dismissal of her as someone using a gimmick to gain fame or fortune, or both. Others can evaluate her as they see fit. All I can speak to with any authority is how it felt to hold her for an hour, and for her to hold me, and to look into her eyes, and to feel my walls coming down.

The next day, when I learned my blood pressure was at its lowest in a long time, I couldn’t help thinking I’d experienced the early stages of what will soon be considered an integral part of healing. I have little doubt that if in years from now massages are still covered by insurance plans, cuddling will be too. In fact, I am going to share this with my doctor.

But I wanted you to be the first to know.

And now you can share this link with the women in your life, women who might have a hard time believing that a man would pay someone to cuddle with him. I did, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

submitted by Anonymous

Originally posted on Psychology Tomorrow Magazine: