Snuggle Up: Professional cuddlers are changing the way people view touch

DES MOINES - From a simple hug to a full body embrace, a much-needed profession is giving people the warm fuzzies.

“It's innate.  We have to have human touch,” Des Moines Area Community College counselor Sheila Aukes said.

As babies, we are swaddled, wrapped in comfort and closeness. As adults, we often forget that we still need touch.

“Ok, would you like to be the little spoon or the big spoon?”

Questions like that might raise a few eyebrows, and so will Michelle White’s job description.

“I say that I'm a platonic touch practitioner because it kind of covers the whole gamut of touch," White said.

She is a professional cuddler and gets paid to touch, hold and comfort her clients.

“When people ask me, 'who is this for?'  I say, if you have skin and a heartbeat and can talk, this could be for you,” White said.

For wife and mom Becca Hodges, a cuddle session is part relaxation, part therapy.

“It's comfortable enough to just say what’s frustrating you and what's hurting you and things you just need to let go of,” she said.

So who is paying to be cuddled?

“I see people all across the board.  Ages 20 to 70.  Those who might be on the autism spectrum, those who are dealing with chronic illness and it's hard for them to be touched in certain areas of their body, but they still want that connection,” White said.

No two cuddling sessions are the same.  They are tailored to your level of comfort.

“There's so much research that shows the benefit of touch, so it just makes sense that this industry has come up as a way to meet some of that need,” Aukes said.

Cuddling as a type of therapy is rooted in the healing power of touch. As you would expect, there are a lot of opinions when it comes to the growing industry.

“We still have a tendency as a culture to sexualize touch, and that's why I think we have a lot of taboo about touch because so much of it now we're trying to teach people about what is good touch and what is bad touch that we're going the opposite way of not touching at all,” Aukes said.

Getting up close and personal isn’t for everyone, and White said she never tries to force it.

“It's just a different of relaxation.  I feel like it's more of a relaxation.  Kind of for your soul than your body,” Hodges said.

The cuddling industry isn’t regulated.  An online search shows a list of professional cuddlers in about 40 states.  However, not all of them are trained or certified.  Right now, White is the only certified cuddler in Iowa.  She went to Colorado to get hands-on training and paying a monthly membership through the Cuddlist website.