She’s been on the local news, CNN, and Fox World News. Now, the Penfield woman who started her own cuddling business is getting more national attention than she ever imagined.
Jackie Samuel, a University of Rochester graduate, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work, and opened The Snuggery after the spring semester ended.
“What I like to do is cuddle, so I figured it was a good thing to do,” said Samuel, 29. “A lot of people didn’t like the idea so I figured it would be kind of an underground small-scale operation and provide a little extra income.”
But since word has started to spread about her unique product, she’s appeared on the air to answer questions from curious outsiders.
Earlier this week she agreed to appear on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and will be featured on Sirius XM Radio’s Playboy Radio channel. She hasn’t heard of either of them.
Although she’s surprised by all the attention, Samuel hopes that more people will embrace the healing power of human touch.
How long have you been in the cuddling business?
I informally started doing it a few years ago. When I first started grad school, I just needed something interesting to do. I sold hugs one time on the street (laughs).
Really? How much does a hug cost?
A dollar. My sister and I made $80 in an hour. People would buy hugs for their friends or buy a pack of five hugs. I thought it was hilarious.
What kind of feedback have you gotten about your business since it began?
I’ve been getting emails from people all over the country who are saying they’re inspired and I’m going to start a movement, and everybody’s going to cuddle more now. I haven’t gotten a whole lot of negative emails, probably because people who feel negatively don’t want to reach out to me.
But you have been teased on the air about the sexual undertones that can be associated with cuddling. How do you respond to that?
I maintain the position that I have the right to cuddle, and I’m straightforward that there’s no sex involved.
Do any of your clients seek sex?
I haven’t had anyone, no. Hypothetically, if someone were to get aroused, I would just communicate that that’s not what we’re doing. I’ve had to restate boundaries before, but I think that’s normal of any new thing.
What do you enjoy about the business?
I’m really relaxed when I’m cuddling. I’ve always been really quiet, and I’m one of the quietest people I know when I’m in a group of people, and I feel like when I’m cuddling I have an opportunity to engage and be present. My mode of operation and where I’m most comfortable is when I’m cuddling. People say, “Isn’t it weird to cuddle with a stranger?” and honestly, I feel like it’s more weird to sit down and have a conversation. Once I’m cuddling, I feel peaceful and good.
Page 2 of 3 - It’s fair to say that most shy people are scared to even hug a stranger. Do you ever have reservations like that?
I remember the very first time I cuddled with a stranger. When we first spooned, I felt like I couldn’t breathe in all the way. I couldn’t catch my breath because I was anxious. But very quickly, I just sank into a very peaceful state, and it was enough of a peaceful feeling that it washed the anxiety away and I didn’t ever feel it again.
Do you think there’s something wrong with our society if people don’t want to touch others?
I do. I’ve traveled a ton and I’ve noticed in other countries how much more friendly people are, and how much more willing they are to engage in touch with other people. Every time I come back to this country I feel like there’s a void — there’s something missing and there’s a coldness.
Why do you think that is?
There’s such an emphasis on buying comfort, using money to buy fast food or clothing or things that make us supposedly feel good but don’t have any kind of enduring effect on our happiness. I feel like I’m a product of my culture, in some ways, to know there’s such an emphasis on using money to get that kind of happiness. I just wanted to offer something that would reliably make people feel good and relaxed.
Do you come from a family that was very ‘touchy-feely’ and if so, how did that prepare you for this career?
I’ve always been a very quiet person and more engaged when touching. I think early childhood really matters, and in my early childhood I had a lot of touch, so maybe that made me more comfortable with it.
What are some of the health benefits of cuddling?
It lowers blood pressure. If you’re comfortable with touch, it can reduce your cortisol levels, and most studies show that when they have a reduction of cortisol levels, they’re immune system is stronger. Cuddling can also increase your seratonin and oxytocin levels, which help you to feel calmer and more relaxed.
Many of your clients are men who are middle-aged and older. Do you ever feel unsafe or threatened?
I’ve never felt at risk, no.
Do you hope to grow the business?
I always envisioned to grow it and hire other people to cuddle as well and offering that on a larger scale. I don’t know if Rochester is big enough to supply a steady clientele. Something that’s always excited me, if I did have a steady income, is providing cuddles for people who can’t afford it — homeless people and people who are isolated from society and give them the opportunity to experience touch.
Page 3 of 3 - What would you like to say to people who find this strange or disturbing?
If someone’s disturbed, they need to ask why they’re disturbed. It’s not like this is the only thing in our culture and society that we pay for that’s intimate — and I’m not talking about prostitution. I’m talking about therapy and all sorts of alternative healing. I just want people to really think about why they’re critical.