It's noon on a Wednesday, and thick grey smoke billows out of the burning sage in Kan Seidel's hands. “Sage clears the air of bad and unwanted energies,” says Seidel. “I do this before every cuddle session.”
He makes about $80 an hour cuddling with strangers and is currently averaging about one session a week via cuddlist.com, a website devoted to both linking professional cuddlers with clients and training individuals in professional cuddling.
“Trust me, I don't do cuddling for the money,” says Kan. “I started cuddling because I felt like I had the power to really help people.”
Like Kan, Amaku Ukpong had a similar feeling when she first heard about cuddling. She began her exploration into cuddle therapy in early August. Her first session was with Kan and since then, the duo has continued to cuddle on a regular basis. Ukpong is now a certified professional cuddler.
Cuddlers and cuddlists have a strict Code of Conduct they must follow, and each cuddler is sufficiently trained to keep him or herself safe at all times.
When clients contact Kan through the site, they fill out a questionnaire and talk over the phone to determine whether they might be a good match. “I've never felt unsafe cuddling,” says Kan. “To me, the screening process makes it so obvious what people's intentions are.”
Kan thinks the industry will continue to grow as more people become aware of its healing potential and oddly enough, I agree.
When I first contacted Kan, I expected to film a light-hearted and somewhat awkward exchange between the two new-age therapists, but what I felt in that apartment was complete relaxation and bliss. Entering into Kan's apartment, I immediately got the sense that he was a real healer.
Contrary to my initial beliefs, there was nothing sexual about the encounter. Clothes stayed on, conversations remained PG and private area contact was consciously held to a minimum.
I had expected to hear nightmare stories of clients demanding something more than they had signed up for, but the stories I heard instead were that of connection and healing.
“Some [of my clients]... have been people who I got the sense they were on maybe the autism- Asperger's spectrum where they just have never been able to engage in a natural intimacy,” says Kan.
And with that, I'm a believer. I think cuddling, or as Kan calls it, “alternative touch,” does have the ability to heal people, and I hope those who could benefit from the practice sincerely give it a chance.