I need to confess something and it’s not going to be easy – the thought of selling my body for money has crossed my mind once or twice. I am not proud of it. I am even more shamed by what my college Women’s Studies professor would think or, say, my parents who paid good dollars for said college probably so I never have to think that thought. But during my flings with unemployment and subsequent Showtime’s Gigolos marathons I have had the passing thought – those dudes kind of have it made.
This brings me to the topic of the gray area entrepreneur, Jacqueline Samuels, who has opened up a snuggle spa, a cuddle concierge, a spooning salon that is the Snuggery. Turns out, American culture is chronically deficient in non-sexual touch – I guess we just go straight for the junk and maybe save the cuddling for after. Maybe. Probably not. Probably we have a really early appointment we have to make in the morning so let’s do this again sometime. Well apparently that’s our first mistake. Are you feeling anxious with the weight of the world on your snuggle-stunted shoulders? Perhaps consider treating the afterglow as the main event. Numerous studies (that seem to be clogging my pacifist-filled Facebook newsfeed) have shown that cuddling raises the levels of the oxytocin hormone that creates calmness, helps with depression, reduces stress and addiction and ups your immunity. And as we Californians know all too well, where there’s promise of inner peace, there’s a new age buck to be made – I’m looking at you, Lululemon.
Samuels, a self-proclaimed rock star cuddler has created a business that monetizes this “healing touch” – in her bedroom, at a dollar a minute. For 30, 60 or 90 minutes she provides a fully clothed cuddle sesh where no sexual touching is allowed, although face, hair and arm caressing is, which I am glad to have learned is evidently always non-sexual. (Thankfully there are self-appointed arbiters of the sexual to non-sexual physical contact spectrum, otherwise how would I know what I am allowed to do to random people on the street, legally?) Boners, however, do happen and, as Samuels assures, are perfectly normal. I appreciate her doctor-speak but her cavalier manner of discussing 50% of her perfect stranger clientele tenting it up in her bed is disgusting shows how dedicated she is to the cause.
I have to admit, at first blush, I didn’t think it was half bad idea. I mean, why be a barista if you can take a nap next to a warm human pillow and pay your rent? In fact, I had the brief reaction I usually have when I see some new iPhone app and think – how the fuck didn’t I think of that? After all, cuddling is one of those no harm no foul activities, no risk of pregnancy or STD’s (although my fourteen-year-old self wouldn’t take your word for it), probably a low risk of cuddle-pimps getting in on the action. But as I thought more about the implications of the enterprise my opinion quickly boomeranged to that face you make when you say, “Ugh” and then “Aw, sad”. Sure, I am probably a product of my casual-sex-trivializing environment, but sometimes a good cuddle can be more intimate than sex, which is a pretty strong argument for not doing it with STRANGERS, especially ones you HAVE TO PAY.
There is something unsavory about the Snuggery concept and I think it has to do with its conspicuous leaching more onto the clientele’s emotional void than the physical. Samuels admits that many of her customers are going through a divorce or a breakup and miss being touched…I am assuming by those people who aren’t strangers…whom they knew and cared about. Say what you want about prostitution but working girls tend to perform a service, to or in pursuit of completion, with no kissing or bonding allowed. (Except for sometimes marriage and, yes, I do get my underworld education mostly from Pretty Woman.) Maybe I am being judgmental, but these guys (the clientele is disproportionately male) who pay good money for their blueballs feel like very sad characters. And with the age range of 21-85, I can’t shake image of awkward college virgins and widowed septuagenarians looking for a manic pixie dream girl fix without breaking the law or having to dance in the rain or something.
Having someone poke you with their boner in candlelight and call it a work day feels like a brand of exploitation opposite to that of prostitution – that of the customer. It feeds on our innate need to connect, fabricates intimacy, then stamps it with a price-tag. And how does this bode for repeat costumers? How much can you nuzzle into someone’s nook (yes, I am referencing Carrie/Aidan SATC debacle) before you become attached? And isn’t there something icky and hypocritical about proposing the fundamentality of the human need for affection and then charging for it? Samuels recounts an anecdote of being kicked out of the local mall for offering free hugs. So the obvious reaction to our touch-repressed society/mall cops that can’t handle display of free love – is to charge for it? I am imagining a scene with a Hollywood old-timer and an ingénue as he smokes a cigar and says, “You will soon learn, my dear, everything is a transaction”. But is it really? Is nothing holy? Should I start charging a quarter a smile, a dollar a hug, a fiver a crotch grab? Kidding, crotch grabs are always free.
And, really quickly, the math. Let’s say you make it to the Snuggery once a week for a 90 minute session just to keep your sanity in check. That means you’re dropping 360 buckaroos a month. For that kind of money you can get a purebred puppy, pay someone else to do all the work while you use the puppy for cuddling purposes only and reap the same benefits, if not more, because you can be confident that the puppy loves you more than Samuels. Added bonus is you avoid people thinking you are the kind of person who pays for someone to lay next to you.
Don’t get me wrong – I think cuddling is great, I think it’s important, I think it’s cozy. If I get a dose of non-prescription oxy out of it the whole thing is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas and rainbows. I love cuddling with boys, my girlfriends, my cats, fuck, I love cuddling with my pillows and maybe even my high school cheerleading trophies. I would imagine I would like it a lot less if it ended at the checkout counter.
Thanks rumpleteaser for the photo!
Maria Melnik is a writers’ assistant on cable show about pirates, which has had a profound effect on her understanding of the morality spectrum. When not pillaging, she enjoys long, immobile, hours on her couch with her televised and fictional love affairs, punctuated by some (more narratively-disjointed and wine-fueled) real ones. You can follow her shamefully recent Twitter debut at @_mariamelnik.
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