Professional cuddling business opens in Rifle
One of Rifle’s newest businesses is still trying to get its arms around the local market.
Touched, a professional cuddling company based in south Rifle, opened its doors two weeks ago. Since then it has been a slow slog to market not only the business but the concept of professional cuddling, said Aimee Wilshire, owner and founder of Touched and a Rifle resident for 16 years.
The business is centered on the concept that physical, platonic touching is beneficial in a number of ways, and that nonsexual touching is deficient in many adults’ lives.
Wilshire admits she has some work to do in opening people’s minds to the idea of paying a stranger to cuddle.
“It is definitely a weird idea,” she said. “The idea of just going somewhere and paying somebody to cuddle with you, it’s very weird … and it’s almost taboo, especially if you’re looking to reduce depression and anxiety and stress and get the health benefits of it. We’re taught basically (as) young kids that we’re supposed to, you know, you’re an adult, you suck it up, you just deal with it and you move on. You don’t really seek help for just minor things.”
She’s gotten some phone calls and a couple of interested people have stopped by the office, located at 818 Taughenbaugh Blvd. Suite 104, but Wilshire is still waiting for her first official client.
While the concept is, as Wilshire said, weird, it is not unprecedented.
Professional cuddling has become increasingly common, primarily in larger metropolitan areas. The New York Times in June interviewed a woman working for Cuddlist, a nonsexual touch website.
Many of the professional cuddling websites follow a basic template that makes multiple references to the benefits of touch therapy — which they claim can help with ailments such as depression and anxiety, among others. They also directly state that sexual activity of any kind is explicitly prohibited.
In 2013, Samantha Hess, of Portland, Oregon, founded Cuddle Up To Me. At the time, she had just ended a 13-year relationship defined by isolation and rejection, and noticed that all her male friends were instantly hitting on her, she said.
The thought of feeling love and acceptance from nonsexual physical contact was incredibly appealing and Hess started to think others had to feel the same way.
About three years later, Hess is in the process of training her fifth professional cuddler with Cuddle Up To Me and she has trained many others, who have their own companies, across the world.
The topic is polarizing.
“I’ve actually dealt with a ton of backlash on this,” Hess said.
However, she views her business not as a way to make money but as her life’s mission, saying she envisions the day where touch therapy is licensed like massage therapy and covered by health insurance, which it currently is not.
With that said, Hess is skeptical and at times critical of other cuddling companies. Some might have the best of intentions, but it requires real skills, Hess said while firing off a number of different “holds” for different situations. Bottom line is it requires training, she added.
With a lack of any training resources within a reasonable distance, Wilshire is relying mostly on her own research and abbreviated correspondences with other professional cuddlers.
For Wilshire, a video titled “People Spoon With Professional Cuddlers For The First Time” on BuzzFeed served as her initial exposure to the world professional cuddling.
Her first thought was: “Is that a real thing?”
“And I did a little more research on it and found out what it was about and who actually goes to a professional cuddler and the benefits of that,” she said.
As a former employee at Mountain Valley Developmental Services, a Glenwood Springs-based nonprofit assisting people with developmental disabilities and their families, Wilshire’s second thought was: “I can do that.”
“I was thinking it’s something right up my alley,” she said. “When I worked at Mountain Valley … I kind of had a problem with the touching boundaries. You’re supposed to care about your patients but not … get too close to them, and I always thought … it wasn’t real fair. Some of them never see their families and never get hugged or touched when they’re sad.”
Services offered at Touched include: companioning, which offers little to no physical contact; single cuddling, which comes down to “platonic touch in all areas except those which would be covered by a bathing suit’; and couples cuddling.
Unlike other professional cuddlers, Wilshire set up a by-the-minute fee structure — $1 per minute. However, Touched offers several discounts, including a special rate for the first responders in Garfield County.
Another difference, and one Wilshire was adamant about, is the brick-and-mortar location. Many other cuddling services allow for appointments at a person’s home or in a hotel room if a home is not an option.
“I’ve heard quite a few nightmarish-type stories from other people. They generally make house calls or meet at hotels and I just refuse to do that. That’s not safe and I’m not going to set myself up or my potential future employees … in a potentially dangerous situation,” she said.
To the best of her knowledge, Wilshire is the first professional cuddler on the Western Slope, where she said it takes a little longer for trends to truly settle in. With that in mind, she said she fully anticipated a slow start and is ready to try and change any skepticism people may have.
“New ideas don’t always take off right away and I knew it would be somewhat an uphill battle starting out.”