Keeley Shoup has a unique job. She opens up her home — and arms — to clients. Her office is a panda-packed pillow top mattress, where she banks $80 per hour. And where most would see a desktop computer, she has a copy of a book titled "The Cuddle Sutra" to help her clients with those touchy subjects.
Keeley cuddles as a career and is essentially certified in spooning via Cuddlist — a site that promotes a strict code of conduct for both users and facilitators. Newsy's Cody LaGrow lay down with her and asked, "What's it like to be a professional cuddler?"
Cody LaGrow: "What is the end goal of a professional cuddler?"Keeley Shoup: "What I do, in my profession, is I say consensual, nonsexual touch is the end goal. The goal is relaxation."CL: "Can you describe the rules when it comes to cuddling?"KS: "The rules are that are clothes are going to stay on. We are not going to touch other in our bathing suit areas. The other one, and it's kind of squicky, is no saliva exchange."CL: "Who is your average client?"KS: "I do have female clients. Love them. Average would be male — 35-60. Men aren't given as many outlets in life to nonsexually touch people. Women are traditionally the caregivers, they have kids, snuggle kids. They can hug each other. You don't see a ton of guys hugging each other because that's just not how our society, specifically in America, socializes and normalizes it. There's a thing called skin hunger."
CL: "Do you think you could show me and be my outlet today?"KS: "Do you have a favorite cuddle position?"CL: "I guess I'm always forced into being little spoon."KS: "Are you used to just spooning?"CL: "I guess my only experience in cuddling comes from spooning."KS: "Do you want to try something different today?"CL: "Yes."KS: "If at any point, you or I are uncomfortable, we're going to commit to yourself to say something. If you say, you know, 'I'm uncomfortable right now,' or 'I don't want to do this,' then I'll say, 'Thank you for taking care of yourself.' That's ground rule one. Rule two: Before we touch each other in any way, we're going to ask and make sure we get a verbal yes. And it's really specific. Can I touch your shoulder?"CL: "Yes."KS: "OK, this doesn't mean I can run my hand along your arm. So you get complete control over how you're being touched at all times. And so can I."
CL: "When you are done with a cuddling session, how do you feel different?"KS: "We call it the cuddle coma. You are in a pretty blissed-out state. You relax and it triggers the trust responses in our brain. So we are more likely to trust an individual, we are more open to connection, we have all those other benefits. Your heart rate is down. Your immune system is producing more. Your blood pressure is lower. You have this really great physical and mental state."CL: "It honestly sounds like the benefits of an orgasm without the risk of an STD."KS: "Yes, and without the risk of getting into that woods. A lot of my clients have a very rocky history with touch coupled with that sex."
CL: "This is a weird ask as the big spoon, but do you ever personally deal with erections?"KS: "I personally don't, but erections happen. A couple things to kind of touch on that. Erections are a natural body process. I encourage my clients to take a deep grounding breath. Normally, my clients report that when they ground themselves, and refocus and remind themselves that the intention isn't sexual, it's not going to lead somewhere else, normally it dissipates in a few moments. It's a practice."CL: "But like the commercials say, four hours or longer, you need to get to the hospital."KS: "Because I am fully aware and making the conscious decision to be nonsexually intimate, if I do, in another moment and then if I do, in an appropriate situation with a partner if I want to be sexually intimate with that person, it's a much deeper experience. It's much more intentional."CL: "I feel like you're exploring new depths to your brain is what it is."KS: "Absolutely. The kind of consent and control you're regaining over your life, your body and your intentions is profoundly transformative."