Do men really crave more snuggling? Yes, says Jacqueline Samuel, and they're willing to pay for it. Samuel is the founder of the Snuggery, a start-up in the suburbs of Rochester, New York where clients—mostly men—drop $60 to snuggle for an hour. Samuel also offers a $120 "double cuddle," which lets you spend an hour gently sandwiched between Samuel and her sidekick, Colleen.
Touting the physical and psychological benefits of "nonsexual touch," Samuel emphasizes that "just snuggling" means just that. Sexual arousal is an occupational hazard, she says, but it's surprisingly rare. Controversy is a bigger problem. Although Samuel has consistently explained that sexual activity is not part of the package, neighbors still petitioned to shut the Snuggery down.
"They thought clients would be sex offenders," Samuel explains. "They set up surveillance cameras and said what I was doing was prostitution. They wanted undercover cops to come in." She pauses and laughs. "Imagine—undercover cuddlers."
Nosy neighbors weren't the only problem. The publicity got her "kicked out" of Nazareth College, where she was close to earning a graduate degree in social work. Samuel claims that college officials said her profession would deter social-service agencies from hiring her for a required internship. She was also told "full disclosure" required that she include snuggling on her résumé. Samuel says she appealed to three levels of college administrators without success. (A Nazareth spokesperson stated, "The college is not able to comment on the story.")
With the Snuggery now settled in a more remote, low-key location, all the fuss still befuddles Samuel. A pretty and petite brunette who is pictured in a lacy white dress on her website, she says she has always been more comfortable communicating and connecting through touch. Since the Snuggery opened, she has snuggled with hundreds of clients, many of them married middle-aged men starved for affection.
Samuel says that while clients have respected her rule that snuggles are not foreplay, men occasionally desire a deeper emotional relationship. "There have been a few times I've had to terminate the relationship with a client because they were hoping for something that was deeper than just snuggling," she says.
Once snuggling up to 14 hours a day, Samuel has since cut back, snuggling only with a core group of regulars and rarely taking on new clients. She is focused on training and hiring new cuddlers, having recently added another to her crew, and still hopes to one day finish her master's degree. In the meantime she vows to remain an advocate for the benefits—and acceptance—of therapeutic snuggles.
As she wrote in a blog entry not long after the Snuggery's opening, "Today, I snuggled. It was great. I'm living my own version of the American dream."
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Playboy.
Photography by Andrew B. Meyers