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She hatched her idea earlier this year after reading about a different cash-for-cuddles scheme.
Two men were soliciting hugs at a farmers market, Hess recalled. The other clutched a sign that read “Deluxe Hugs .” People flocked to the guy offering two-buck hugs.
About a month later, Hess learned of a woman living near Rochester, N. She met with a lawyer, who drafted a waiver for clients – be clean, keep your clothes on and no funny business. For people like Illige-Saucier, her service is a sensuous treat. “I’m in a relationship, and there’s no physical side of it right now,” said a 65-year-old client who has been with his girlfriend for 27 years.
Then Hess called her mother to tell her what she was about to do.“I thought it was awesome,” said Laura Olson, who lives in Lincoln City. She’s always been super cuddly.” Since June, Hess has put her snuggle skills to the test. “I felt degraded to have to beg for it.” Feeling the squeeze But this business isn’t all warm hugs, compassion and positive vibes, Hess has learned. Her cuddling contributed to one marriage ending, she said.
She’s nuzzled lonely 24-year-olds who toil at graveyard shifts. Nor is she immune to the raft of controversy and skepticism that comes with professional cuddling. She’s been asked to star in an amateur pornography film. As for the legality of it, cuddling rubs uncomfortably close to Oregon’s definition of “sexual contact” under the state’s prostitution statute.
Her client, Etienne Illige-Saucier, quickly followed suit. Her fingers roamed Illige-Saucier’s shoulder, coming to a rest in the thick of his hair. Then Illige-Saucier arose and left, a serene and sleepy smile drawn across his face.“Touch is often something that we skirt around,” he said. And before you go shaking your head and grousing that the wool is being pulled over someone’s eyes, know that she isn’t alone.
His tattooed arm wrapped around her waist as jazz guitar riffs rippled through the room. “But I indulge in it.” And for that, he turns to Samantha Hess. She is one among a budding industry of healers sprouting up nationwide who believe that an intimate – though strictly non-sexual – snuggle by a stranger can bring contentment and solace to those who otherwise might go without.
For the next 50 minutes, their eyes stayed shut, their clothes stayed on and neither uttered a word.
Crops of cuddle therapists have taken root in places like western New York and Madison, Wisc., but the 29-year-old Hess emerged this summer as Portland’s pioneering practitioner. “It’s something I knew there was need for,” Hess said during a recent interview, seated cross-legged in Laurelhurst Park.
Charging an hour, Hess cozies up to men of all stripes and ages – and, so far, one woman – in movie theaters, parks and clients’ bedrooms. She had been scrawling “You Are A Bucket Of Awesome” and other positive affirmations in sidewalk chalk near the park’s horseshoe pit awaiting a reporter she invited to talk cuddle shop.
She’ll wear glittery makeup and put her hair down, if it makes her companion more comfortable. Optional, as are the colors of the tank tops, t-shirts and capri pants she dons during snuggle sessions. The 5-foot, 115-pound Hess greeted her visitor with a three-minute hug.