A mom of three who rakes in R15 910 a week from spooning strangers has opened up about life as a professional cuddler.
Jessica O’Neill began professional cuddling six months ago and could soon earn up to R832 500 a year by cuddling strangers at her studio on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia.
The 35-year-old – who’s spent a decade being a massage therapist and counsellor – has only recently introduced cuddle therapy to her treatment list.
Jessica claims the cuddles help people suffering loneliness and depression to feel loved, valued and cared about.
“I’ve always been a really affectionate person and have always cuddled people. It’s just in my nature and is part of who I am.”
She says her mom was always affectionate and loving when she was young. She adds that people always responded positively when she hugged them.
“Everyone loves a cuddle.”
Jessica started massage therapy when she was 20, then went on to study fitness instruction, nutrition and counselling.
“When I started counselling I just felt like my clients needed more. I wanted to be closer to them so I could pick up on what they were feeling.
“It’s not normal to give your clients a cuddle. These environments are usually clinical and sterile.”
But she introduced hugging her clients at the beginning of a session, and it just started form there.
“It totally allowed them to drop their guard and open up so much more. I could see their anxiety and tension melt away. Then I could get to the core of their persona and do what I can to heal them.
“So really, it was a long time coming. I first heard about cuddle therapy six years ago and I remember telling everyone that’s what I wanted to do.
“They thought I was crazy, and probably still do. But I love it so much.
“It’s so much more rewarding than just massage or counselling. I feel like it’s what I was put on this Earth for.”
Cuddle therapy with Jessica starts at R851 an hour for “strictly cuddles” in the studio, while hugs and counselling costs R1 165,50 a session.
For those longing for the blissful combination of caffeine and cuddles, a “friendship-style” session of drinking coffee followed by cuddles will set you back R1 591.
Jessica says most of her clients are men older than 35, but revealed she has a growing number of middle-aged women seeking cuddles too.
“Before we start our sessions we do mediation to connect on that spiritual level.
“Then the clients sit on a chair while I sit by their feet and we have a little chat about why they’ve reached out for cuddle therapy.
“Everyone has a different story. But the most common factors are loneliness, depression, isolation and anxiety.”
She also claims there are younger men coming in for cuddles due to experiencing loneliness and disconnection in the digital age.
And despite the cuddle sessions being intimate, Jessica insists that 99% of her clients are well behaved and never cross boundaries – but has had one or two awkward experiences.
“If an awkward situation does arise, I assertively direct the client with no embarrassment or further issue.
“We often have sex addicts or porn addicts come in seeking therapy. It really helps them connect to their bodies in a healthy way.”
Jessica said her husband, Jason (34), has been there for her since day one and is supportive and understanding of her career.
“He loves what I do and thinks it’s really beautiful.”