Cud­dling goes pro­fes­sional.

Pro­fes­sional cud­dlers pro­vide phys­i­cal in­ti­macy of the pla­tonic va­ri­ety.

Milwaukee Magazine - - Content - BY ZACH BROOKE

DENISE LOVERIDGE didn’t grow up in a house­hold big on snug­gling. “My par­ents cud­dled me here and there, but I wasn’t touchy-feely,” she says. In col­lege, she dated a man who was af­fec­tion­ate and loved touch, and by the time her kids came along, years later, she was a ful­lon cud­dler. But she didn’t con­sider cud­dling for pay un­til the need arose to make some ex­tra money, be­yond what she makes as a pro­gram di­rec­tor and grant writer for an elder-care-fo­cused non­profit. She kept run­ning into news sto­ries about pro­fes­sional cud­dling, an oc­cu­pa­tion born in the past sev­eral years that seeks to ex­tri­cate touch from the com­pli­ca­tions of sex­u­al­ity.

Af­ter some on­line course work, self-re­flec­tion and an in-per­son exam with a trainer, Loveridge be­came a cer­ti­fied snug­gler, via a com­pany called Cud­dlist. Based in part in Chicago, it’s an ef­fort to pro­fes­sion­al­ize cud­dling, ac­cord­ing to CEO Adam Lip­pin, and pro­vide more sup­port and guid­ance to cud­dlers than other agen­cies. Each prac­ti­tioner sets their own rates (Loveridge charges $80 per hour), and most clients are men deal­ing with some kind of stress, anx­i­ety, trauma or se­vere dis­abil­ity. All touch re­volves around an ex­act­ing sys­tem of ask­ing for con­sent.

In the past year, Loveridge has cud­dled with around 20 peo­ple, most of them mid­dle-aged men, but she’s seen younger guys, too, as well as two or three women. “I’m not sure why there are fewer women,” she says. “Maybe it’s be­cause women touch each other more, and we share more with our friends than a guy might.” Most peo­ple who come to her are, in her view, lonely. Some are wid­owed and miss the in­ti­macy they en­joyed dur­ing mar­riage. Oth­ers have been alone so long they know hu­man con­tact only through hand­shakes.

A typ­i­cal ses­sion in­cludes lots of ca­resses and con­ver­sa­tion, and some clients will want to touch more than oth­ers. Oc­ca­sion­ally, clients will fall asleep, and one time, Loveridge her­self dozed off. The client took it as com­pli­ment. “At the core, this is a safe space to be your au­then­tic self without shame and to re­ceive ac­cep­tance and nur­tu­rance,” she says. “Right now is a hard time. Peo­ple feel dis­con­nected. We’re a so­ci­ety that isn’t treat­ing each other well.”

What clients don’t re­ceive is kiss­ing, sex­ual touch­ing or the like, and Loveridge says she’s never had a prob­lem with some­one cross­ing her bound­aries, largely be­cause she screens each so­lic­i­ta­tion. But there are times when her male clients will be­come phys­i­cally aroused, some­times quite un­ex­pect­edly, which Loveridge says doesn’t bother her un­less the man at­tempts to act on it. She nor­mally deals with the sit­u­a­tion by ig­nor­ing it, chang­ing po­si­tions or talk­ing about it. “Willy will go away, and we’ll have a nice, car­ing ses­sion,” she says.

The liv­ing room in Loveridge’s Grafton home serves as her “cud­dle stu­dio,” and she also trav­els to cus­tomers’ res­i­dences, or a third space, such as a park. She met one client in the cabin of a sail­boat. Both her ex-hus­band and cur­rent boyfriend have ex­pressed con­cerns about her safety but re­main sup­port­ive. Her kids, how­ever, can’t help but think it’s a lit­tle strange.

Denise Loveridge has worked with about 20 clients, most of them men.

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