Let’s Cuddle, RVA

Cuddle RVA opened this week, and while it’s a new concept for many, the owners ask you to keep your mind open. It may be just the thing your very soul has been crying out for.

I’m not sure I understand Cuddle RVA detractors–and they have many. Mary Tucker, who co-owns what is the first cuddling salon in Richmond, is developing a thick skin as her new business gets more and more press. Sure, the concept is novel (to RVA, at least–plenty of other cities have already embraced the phenomenon), but so was talk therapy at first.

“Now we’re paying people to hug us??” ask many on social media…over and over again, and I fail to see their point. We pay for massage. We pay for therapy. We pay for acupuncture. We pay for hypnosis. We pay to go to meditation sessions. You’ll walk by several of these legit and (mostly) respected operations on your way down the hall to Cuddle RVA’s salon–a work-in-progress at 1805 Monument Avenue, Suite 600. 

So if you turn up your nose at the idea of someone paying money because they need to be touched affectionately–not sexually–you probably aren’t Cuddle RVA’s target market anyway. “A number of medical studies[^2] say touch raises serotonin in the brain and lowers oxytocin in the body, and oxytocin can be deleterious to your immune system,” says Tucker, who’s both a cuddler and a Cuddler herself. “There’s a correlation, some hospitals have programs[^1] been asking volunteers to touch and hold premature infants–they put on more weight and leave the hospital faster. Hopefully someone in Richmond will start a program like that, because if anyone needs a hand it’s tiny little three-pound babies.”

Here’s a great article from Salon on the professional cuddling experience.

Military spouses, for one, make up a big chunk of cuddling salon visitors, says Tucker. They’re often transplanted into a new town and feel a lot of isolation and often despair when the soldier is deployed. Not everyone has someone to hold them while they cry it out, people. Or even someone to talk it out. Or just nap. 

Tucker saw an article about Cuddle Up to Me, a terrifically popular cuddling salon in Portland, and thought it was pretty neat. But as sales began to wane with her goat-milk products (she’s a goat farmer on the side, because who needs sleep?), she and her partner, Robert Castelvecchi, started to think, “Well, why not? Why not that? Why not now?” Tucker remembers. “Somebody was going to be the first in Richmond to do it, and I thought, ‘Why not me?'”

But being the first of its kind in the area has brought some challenges. “We sort of exist in a grey area right now for a lot of things,” Tucker explains, as she refers to the fact that there’s not a lot of really legit certification programs for Cuddlers and setting up the business with the city involved a lot of square pegs in round holes. “We don’t fit the definition of any kind of standard business, so we’re having to make the road by walking, which is one of the reasons that we’re minding our p’s and q’s–all these policies and protocols we have in place to make sure everyone minds their manners. If we’re going to be the first one, I want to pave the way, not come in first and ruin everything.”

What IS it about cuddling that brings out the scoffers? Tucker doesn’t say so outright, but I notice from her anecdotes (and from reading some particularly scoffy comments online) that they’re usually men. 

Tucker finds herself combatting the same three arguments all the time.

Scoff Justification #1: It’s Creepy

Our society is an unfortunate mixture of over-sexualization and prudishness, says Tucker. “We over-sexualize everything, even the potential for human touch–and we’re not the only ones.” Because we’re still so puritanically repressed, we’re reduced to a desperately sick fascination with body stuff.

Single-sex cuddling is particularly confusing to some men. “Think about it, men in our society don’t hug and don’t touch,” she says. “Maybe some of handshaking and back-slapping, but in Asian cultures you’ll see male friends holding hands.” Cuddling isn’t macho, and that’s where a lot of the initial WTF-factor lies with a lot of men. 

This brings to mind a complaint females sometimes make to each other that their hetero partner only cuddles as an overture to sex, which also brings to mind the idea that both male and female in this scenario could maybe use a 60-minute cuddling session?

Also, the professional Cuddlers will have a very specific rulebook, including no touching inappropriate areas (theirs are covered with fabric of extra thickness, just so any brushing up of anything on anything results in anything). The client will get one verbal warning if the Cuddler believes it might have just been an accidental collision, but that’s it. Two strikes, you’re out.

Scoff Justification #2: It’s Unsafe

“It’s almost as if no one thinks we’ve considered our personal safety,” says Tucker, who has been asked plenty of times if she’s running a brothel (late-night callers asking her to send someone over for a house call is something to which she’s become accustomed). 

But the salon is not only being video-recorded (off-site) during every session, each client also has to have an ID photocopied upon arrival, not to mention a personal interview (in a public place) with Tucker before their first appointment. This is as much to get a sense of which Cuddler to pair the client with, and also just to make sure they don’t have any glaring signs of creepiness or self-neglect (body odor and the like). Hygiene is important when she’s asking her employees to snuggle up to a stranger.

Her concern now is putting policies into place to discourage attachment, which could be a very real problem. The rules demand that every communication between Cuddlers and cuddlees take place through Cuddle RVA, and all cuddling sessions must as well. If any Cuddler is caught giving a private sesh, he or she will be summarily dismissed.

Scoff Justification #3: It’s a Ripoff That Sells a Thing I Can Get for Free

Good for you.

Things you can do at Cuddle RVA

There are two rooms right now: the Big Chair room and “the room with the bed in it,” says Tucker, who wants to refrain from calling it the Bedroom. The space is sparse right now and reminiscent of a college student’s apartment, minus all the clutter. But the pair is proud to be bootstrapping after their indiegogo campaign didn’t work out quite the way they wanted, and they’re hoping it’ll take off enough to allow them to expand their operation and make any necessary improvements.

But for now, you can drink tea, you can read books together on the bed, you can listen to soothing music and just rest, or you can talk, listen, or just stare at each other. People who are big spoons at home can opt to be the little spoon for once–or maybe they’ve been the little spoon for years and now find themselves widowed, divorced, or just in need of some comfort, little-spoon style.

Cuddle RVA charges a dollar a minute, with a minimum of $30, scheduling in 15-min increments. When sessions hit 90 minutes or longer, the price begins to come down. Coming up soon: a movie night, where people can eat snacks, watch a film, and cuddle together. And lunch breaks–20-minute sessions during the midday where people can refresh, recharge, and suppress the urge to light their cubicle on fire. 

“Yes,” says Tucker. “It is odd, it is different. It’s going to land differently on every ear. I know a girl who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies and that’s fine! I’m keeping my eye on her,” she jokes. “But it’s fine. Cuddling is not for everyone and we don’t expect it to be!” 

But if you need them, they’re there.

Photo by: HckySo

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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