Job diary: I'm a professional cuddler who gets paid up to $100 an hour for a cuddling session — here's what my job is like

Madelon Guinazzo during a professional cuddling session.Madelon Guinazzo
  • Madelon Guinazzo is a Chicago-based professional cuddler and cofounder of Cuddlist, a company that trains, vets, and connects professional cuddlers with clients.
  • She worked in the healthcare industry for 15 years before discovering the therapeutic benefits of cuddling in 2008.
  • Before accepting any client, Guinazzo says they must agree to follow a code of conduct, which specifies that the service is strictly platonic and that sexual arousal cannot be encouraged or pursued.
  • Guinazzo holds cuddling sessions in a dedicated space in her home. They last one to two hours, at an hourly rate that ranges from $60 to $100.
  • Since the pandemic, she's been seeing clients virtually.
  • Here's her story, as told to freelance writer Jenny Powers.
Advertisement

Our society is often confused about the connection between touch and sex. Not all touch (and not all cuddling) is about sex. Human beings need touch for a variety of therapeutic reasons — to help with trauma, overcome social anxiety, deal with grief and loss, set boundaries, express consent, and often simply as a means of self-care.

My role as both a professional cuddler and the director of certification training at Cuddlist is to ensure our network of certified practitioners establish a safe container to hold space for a platonic, consensual, and often healing, transformative experience. For these reasons, a client's wants and needs become our top priority.

My introduction to the world of cuddling began in 2008.

For more than 15 years, I've worked as a consent expert with medical students, role-playing a series of patient scenarios and coaching them on communication techniques. This instruction has expanded into teaching them how to conduct various types of physical examinations. It fits very well with my focus on consent in boundaries in a professional healthcare setting. I freelance at a number of universities in the Chicago area — mainly University of Illinois, Chicago, and Midwestern University in Downers Grove.
Advertisement
I was 41 years old when I first learned about Cuddle Party, a California-based nonprofit of which I now serve on the board. The organization is dedicated to training facilitators to create and maintain safe and fun opportunities for people to learn about non-sensual touch, affection, boundaries, and communication.

I'm a spiritual growth junkie, so my interest was piqued. I attended a workshop and see what it was all about. At the time, I was working on a series of self-development issues, including setting boundaries, and I had an epiphany that I needed to bring cuddle parties to Chicago where I lived.

By 2009, I was hosting my own cuddle parties.
Advertisement

I have to practice what I preach. Since I adamantly tell trainees that they need to do sessions as clients, I felt like a hypocrite when I didn't. Being the head of the company made it so I couldn't really see the people I trained, so it's a bit trickier for me. I've been able to find a few people with whom I can be a client; for instance, there's one woman who also worked as a hospice chaplain. She's older than me and has a very motherly energy that is quite nurturing for me.

There are countless cuddling positions, so many that I wouldn't even dare put a number on it.

Guinazzo was first introduced to the benefits of cuddling in 2008.Madelon Guinazzo
Some of the most common are spooning, sitting toboggan style, back to back, and resting one's head in the other's person's lap. I like the human blanket best. I'm fairly petite, so I lay on top of the client like a weighted compression blanket.
Advertisement

We don't offer a menu of positions because that could potentially limit people's imagination and we want our clients to feel free to be as creative as possible. Two books I recommend to familiarize yourself with all different types of cuddles are The Book of Cuddles written by two cuddlists (I wrote the foreword) and The Cuddle Sutra.

One thing I've always believed was there ought to be some sort of training before you can call yourself a professional cuddler. Since there is no regulating board, it all seemed a bit willy-nilly.

At Cuddlist, my business partner Adam Lippin and I decided to begin creating and developing protocols so that we could establish a curriculum to train and certify the independent contractors that partner with Cuddlist. We follow guidelines from the massage therapy industry on client confidentiality, practicing consent and boundaries, and being respectful of personal hygiene.
Advertisement

Since launching Cuddlist in late 2015, over 1,600 individuals have been through our extensive online at-your-own-pace weekly teleclasses. We offer basic as well as advanced training. The basic "trained" level takes place online whereas the certification level requires an in-person session that is evaluated.

The most important thing for a cuddlist to possess is a good balance of empathy combined with healthy boundaries, and of course to enjoy platonic touch. Somatic awareness — the ability to turn into your internal physical senses — is also a good trait to have.

In my role as director of certification training, I lead workshops, train other facilitators, and work with medical and health practitioners in my role as a consent expert. I also see clients individually as a professional cuddlist. Prior to the pandemic, I was seeing five clients a week. That number kept me from burning out or feeling overly-cuddled.
Advertisement

Before I accept any client booking, we must both agree to including the understanding the service is strictly platonic.

We must both adhere to a code of conduct, which includes to not to pursue or encourage sexual arousal. I always insist on having a screening call with a prospective client first to ensure we are on the same page. It's important to hear one another's voice. I ask what they are looking to get out of the experience to ensure I can confidently provide whatever it is they are looking for. I always ask if they want a platonic experience or if they are settling for one to suss that out in advance.

Twice in five years we've had to suspend profiles or remove people from our membership, which is a lesser repercussion, because they did not live up to the Cuddlist standards. While they can still say they've been trained by us, they can no longer be represented on our site. We take what we do very seriously and expect the same of those we train.

I prefer in-call appointments and have a dedicated space in the townhouse where I live that houses a large couch.

The space in Guinazzo's townhouse where she offers cuddle sessions.Madelon Guinazzo
Advertisement

I play calming nature videos, diffuse essential oils, and keep cuddle accessories on hand like a big teddy bear named Tugboat. Both me and my clients typically wear pajamas or sweatpants as comfort is key. Statistically, most clients are men, while most cuddlists tend to be women.

Whether it's my first session with a client or our 300th, we always begin with an opening agreement ritual and verbal pact that we promise to remain present, practice consent, and attention to personal boundaries at all times.
Guinazzo sets up the cuddle area with candles, music and calming videos, and stuffed animals.Madelon Guinazzo
Sessions are a minimum of one hour, and it's common to be one-and-a-half or two hours in length. The minimum suggested hourly rate is $60 and it's based on local economy and cost of living, though the standard going rate is usually more like $80-$100 an hour. Cuddlist does not receive any portion of the money earned. One hundred percent of that goes to cuddlists, who are all independent entrepreneurs.
Advertisement

We do have suggested safety protocols in place to keep our cuddlists safe.

Known as 'the silent alarm,' we advise cuddlists share their appointment details with a good friend in advance. If the friend doesn't hear from the Cuddlist after a specified time, they know to reach out to ensure they are safe. In all the years I've worked as a Cuddlist, I've never had any safety concerns or issues and have found all of my experiences to be good-hearted and genuine.

We made an amazing discovery during COVID-19 when we realized how much our services can actually translate into a video session, which are usually half the price of a live session.

There's a lot more variety that one would think during a cuddling session, much of which can be attained virtually, like guided meditation, eye-gazing, ASMR, story-telling, singing, and movement.

I haven't done a live cuddle session in six months because of the pandemic and am not sure when I will again; however, I'm seeing clients via online sessions. In fact, in some instances, I'm seeing my regulars more than we saw each other in person. I've had one long-standing client of four years that I used to see twice monthly, and now during the pandemic, I'm seeing them weekly.
Advertisement

Now more than ever, people are feeling socially isolated and touch-starved and are craving authentic human connection. Whether our practitioners are serving the community through in person sessions or virtual ones, our goal is to meet and satisfy their needs.

{{}}