Professional cuddler Amanda Souza gets paid $80 dollars an hour to cuddle complete strangers
Amanda’s very first session went a little like this: She laid down beside a 19-year-old boy from India and although it was awkward at first, the dopamine kicks in. During the session he begins to open up and tells her that he has broken up with his girlfriend and starts bawling and not before long – he tries to kiss her. And if you thought that was as strange as it would get – after that one session, he began to text her every single day. One texts reads “ I haven’t had any physical touch for one year so the moment you touched me I fell In love”. He even asks her to break up with her partner to be with him.
One year later however, Amanda is still a professional cuddler.
“For every 2 good sessions, I have 3 bad sessions,” She says.
“I always say I have two types of clients, 40 percent are lovely and respectful and we have an amazing time together, after It feels like a massage on my heart. But the other 60, which is sad actually, they get really excited and they try to kiss me they get aroused, and they try to do things and it’s really hard.”
Amanda is one of the few cuddle therapists in Sydney. She advertises her services on a website for professional cuddlers called Cuddle Academy – an Australian website catered specifically for those who practice “cuddle therapy” which claims to have emotional and wellbeing benefits. According to studies, cuddling releases chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin which lower your blood pressure and levels of cortisol, known as the “stress hormone”.
So far Amanda has had over 50 clients with 48 of those, being male.
“Most of my clients are married and they just call me and they say I’m married but I just need some cuddles and it’s something they hide. They are ashamed to ask for love, I’ve realized and it’s sad”
The 31-year-old believes that the clients are mostly men because they’re not used to showing affection and touch because of the “ridiculous thinking that guys who show affection are gay or are not manly enough”.
A regular cuddle session with Amanda usually last between 45-50 minutes and costs 80 dollars and takes place in a room she rents out in her friend’s holistic centre. The cuddle session also involves “head rubs” and “back scratches”. Amanda follows a book called “The cuddle sutra” which teaches of various cuddle positions that each have different effects on the cuddlers.In addition to a pure cuddling sessions, she also offers “cuddles and a coffee” for 150 dollars or “cuddles and a movie” for 200 dollars.
Before they begin the session, she makes them sign a consent form to agree that the session will be respectful and non-sexual.
But it doesn’t always go as expected. At one of Amanda’s sessions, she cuddled a guy who claimed to not have any physical touch for 5 years and things got aggressive.
“He started squeezing me so hard, he grabbed my neck and he was so strong he hurt me and gave me a bruise on my neck,” she says.
“I was like excuse me you’re hurting me. I had to ask him to leave and it was 9 pm and I was by myself in the holistic center and he was huge, he was really big and I lost control for a few seconds which was really scary. I left there crying like ‘oh my god that’s not safe, what am I doing putting my safety at risk to help other people’”.
To become a cuddler on cuddle academy, one takes an online course to get their diploma in cuddle therapy. This course gives safety pointers but no real measure is taken to ensure the safety of the cuddlers.
On the cuddle academy website, a page is dedicated to the benefits of cuddling. The second benefit listed reads “ It Makes You Feel Sexy in Your Relationships” going on to say “cuddling can lead to fun sexy time or relaxing and loving time post-sexual intercourse. There is also the release of dopamine, which is an excitatory hormone that increases sexual desire,” Horowitz says. Plus, studies show that sex is healthy for fitness and mental reasons, too. So it’s a win-win.”Which one can argue is where clients could get the wrong idea and lead to such situations Amanda has faced.
The full-time nanny, says it’s specifically challenging for her as a gay woman who’s used to being the stronger one in the relationship.
Amanda’s partner of 3 years is “fully supportive” of her and is actually who got her into this business in the first place. She tagged Amanda on a post on facebook of a cuddle therapist in New York, saying it would be the perfect job for her.
“She always said oh you know you have this urge to always touch people and I don’t give you that much so she recognize that she didn’t give me enough touch so it would be good for me if I can touch others.”
Amanda, says people who come to her are usually “depressed and lonely”. She says her clients “just want to feel valuable, they want someone to give them emotional support” and “someone to be beside them to make them feel safe and feel like they have someone that cares about them”.
She believes the best part of her job is being able to help others and that her job is perfect for someone of her nature.
“I’ve always been really affectionate I love cuddling and touching people, maybe because I’m from Brazil. We are like that in my country”, she says.
Amanda is now working with a friend to create an in-person course to better help those who want to become cuddle therapists.