A professional cuddler’s shift from “I would never…” to “I might if…”

Over the past year, I have discussed hundreds of topics with other cuddlers, especially on CuddleComfort.com. What I have seen, especially among professional cuddlers, is that those who have never done a certain thing with a cuddle buddy have a tendency to say “I would never do that,” yet those who have done that exact thing say, “I have done it and it has worked.”

I believe that those who speak from experience and have tried certain approaches and succeeded know that those choices can be ethical and effective, and those who say “I would never…” are suffering from a lack of imagination. I have learned through studying demand-control schema for the past 16 years, and participating in and leading case supervision with other ASL/English interpreters for the past 8 years, that whether a certain action is “good” and “works” depends on mitigating and militating circumstances. When practitioners come together and discuss their work with an open mind, we discover that things we thought we would never do can, in reality, make perfect sense to do when conditions are favorable. For example, as a man in a committed, monogamous relationship, I might say “I would never share a bed overnight with a cuddle client,” but if a person whose life partner recently died can’t sleep at night I might do an overnight session with that client, and I think my partner would understand that I was helping someone in need. This has not happened yet, but my training in self-reflection and ethical decision making allows me to use my imagination to say “I might do that if…” instead of “I would never.”

Robyn Dean & Bob Pollard, who created the demand-control schema (2001) from Robert Karasek’s job demand control model (1979), teach that in all situations there is a spectrum of controls, or choices or actions, from conservative (tending toward inaction) to liberal (tending toward action). At the far ends of the spectrum are controls that are so egregious that they are ineffective and unethical, but in the middle there is a whole range of controls that are effective and ethical. To apply this to cuddling, there are actions (or inactions) outside the ethical and effective range that are too conservative, such as having a session and refusing to touch a perfectly respectful client, and that are too liberal, such as doing sexual favors. Yet there are so many choices that can work and be good in ways you might not imagine unless you are in that particular situation. It is up to each person to obey rules and laws yet keep an open mind to the myriad ways they can operate within those rules and laws that can work and be good.

Earned my Professional Cuddler Certificate!

After completing my Cuddlist training online in May, I flew to Denver, Colorado to have an approval session in July, which involved a mock Cuddlist client screening and cuddle session. My evaluator, Kassandra Brown, played the role of a client and challenged my ability to spot potential incompatibilities, sensitivities, and pushing of boundaries. She evaluated my communication, boundary-setting and holding, consent, and cuddling techniques. She evaluated not just my natural cuddling style, but how well I cuddled the client the way she wanted to be held and touched; for example, my natural inclination is to stroke or squeeze, but she asked for stillness of my hand on hers, which required me to deny my natural impulses and prioritize her comfort.

After the approval session, I got really useful feedback from both my evaluator and Madelon Guinazzo, the cofounder of Cuddlist, during my finalization call. After that video call, Madelon awarded me the Cuddlist Certified credential, which is now reflected in my Cuddlist profile. I should also mention that certification included a criminal background check.

I must say I was more nervous going into this certification exam than any I’ve ever taken — and I’ve taken several interpreting certification exams! I can think of various reasons for this:

  • Before I took an interpreting exam, I took two years of American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting courses, and these courses had been around long before I took them, whereas I studied cuddling formally for only two months, and the course I took had only existed for six years before I tested.
  • The ASL/English interpreting field had professionalized thirty years before I became an interpreter, whereas the cuddling industry had professionalized only about six years before I became a cuddler.
  • The interpreting exams had required me to interpret either in front of a panel of examiners or in front of a video camera, whereas the cuddling exam was an intimate verbal and physical interaction with one person.
  • The interpreting exams had required me to answer hypothetical ethical dilemmas, whereas the cuddling exam required me to respond in situ to challenges during a role-play. It wasn’t a matter of “if this happened, I would…” but rather of speaking and behaving interactively as if these things were really happening— which, in the role play, they were!
  • The cuddling exam evaluated me on a very personal level, including how I smelled, how I held, how I touched, and how I responded physically and verbally to touch. It was about as intimate as it gets with one’s clothes on!
  • Another element I almost forgot to mention — though this is critical! — is that women routinely experience verbal oppression and unwanted touch from men, and this requires me to be extra careful about how I speak to and touch a woman. In the ASL/English interpreting field, interpreters have to be sensitive to the oppression (a.k.a. audism) Deaf people face from hearing people on a daily basis, but there is a real demand for male interpreters for male Deaf clients in this female-dominated profession. There is less of a demand for male cuddlers, though one does exist, and a market is still being created for this.

The reason I put certification before professional practice was because this field is unregulated, so a professional cuddler who is uncertified could easily be an unprofessional person charging money and doing harm. I want to do no harm, to be therapeutic, and to uphold the kind of standards that will move myself and this profession toward credibility. (Note: this is not to diminish the wonderful work of true professional cuddlers who have not yet pursued formal training or certification.)

One of my goals is to work with medical and mental health professionals whose own ethical practices are on the line when it comes to partnering with other providers; for this reason I want to be seen as a colleague who is as serious about patient care as they are.

Certification is only the beginning. I have a challenging road ahead of me since there is currently very little demand for male cuddlers, and there are not even many female cuddlers who make a living doing this. Luckily, I already have an established career doing something I love and have no desire to stop doing. I did not get into professional cuddling for the money or as a career replacement; I did it to add to what I do, vary what I do, and do yet another thing I’m passionate about.

A good deed to feel good about

Self-esteem is built by doing esteemable acts.

Author unknown

I’m writing about this not to brag but to share something positive. I flew out of town on business today, and I had an aisle seat I as usually do. When I sat down, the woman in the middle seat to my right was talking to her elderly mother in the middle seat across the aisle. So that she and her mother could keep each other company more easily – and honestly also so that she wouldn’t have to talk over me (my motives were not entirely altruistic) — I suggested that perhaps whoever had the aisle seat next to her mother could take my aisle seat, and I could take her middle seat so she could sit next to her mother. The man who originally had the aisle seat next to her mother was just as happy to take my aisle seat, so it all worked out. As I got up to leave the plane, she said “I wrote you a little thank-you note” and handed it to me. It read:

Thank you, Kindest of Strangers! My mom and I haven’t ventured out and about in more than a year. She was motivated to travel today to my daughters wedding. Thank you for caring about her comfort on this trip. All the best to you on your trip.

Safe travels,

Darla

It was a little thing for me, but it made a big difference to these two women on their very special day. I was taught in the Cub Scouts to do one good deed every day, or “Do a good turn daily” (Scouts slogan). I’ve tried to live up to this if not for others, then for myself— not to boast but just to feel okay about who I am. I’ll never forget what someone once told a group I was in: “Self-esteem is built by doing esteemable acts.” (The English major in me knows that esteemable should probably be estimable, but esteemable goes with esteem, so there you have it.) A person like me who has struggled with self-esteem his whole life understands that doing good deeds is like forgiving: it helps the giver as much as — or more than — it helps the recipient.

Again, I’m not bragging. I’m writing about this because doing this one little thing made more of a difference than I could have imagined to the people I showed kindness to, and because that kindness was repaid so graciously, and those thanks felt so good. So, next time you have a chance to do a good deed, do it! It might just make your day as much as it makes someone else’s.