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A professional cuddler who earns $100 per hour for an individual session has explained why she really loves performing some of the stranger requests that her clients give her - provided they fall within the code of conduct that she works within, and everyone feels comfortable with it. Watch:
Professional cuddling hasn't quite broken into the mainstream over in the UK just yet, but with the coronavirus pandemic leaving many people isolated and starved of basic human contact, it's easy to see why the services of a professional cuddler might be popular.
Keeley Shoup is one such cuddler working out of Chicago over in the United States. She has been working in that capacity - and helping those who have suffered from trauma and abuse - for around seven years.
Of course, there is a strict set of rules in place to protect her from anything that crosses the line beyond her services. However, Keeley says the sense that her clients can trust her enough to make special requests is one of her favourite things about the job.
She explains: "I kind of love strange requests, because what that means is that that person trusted me enough to tell me a thing that they wanted.
"That is atypical in society, that means they have to trust me a lot.
"That means that I have created a space safe enough where they don't feel like I'm going to judge them.
"I love that. I want them to have places in their life where they don't feel judged.
"One of the rules that I have is that they can ask me for anything that falls within the code of conduct, and they won't be judged.
"I'm not going to say yes to everything, I'm still going to check in with myself and see whether this is something I can actually do wholehearted - I'm not going to do anything that I will resent them for.
"I will hold my own boundaries, and I will never put myself in a position where I'm uncomfortable.
"That gives them the freedom to ask for anything."
So, what does that entail? Obviously nothing sexual or provocative, as that would be in violation of the strict rules that Keeley sets for herself and her clients. But there are some things that she will gladly do.
She says: "I've had tickle fights with clients before. That's something that's kinda atypical or out of the norm.
"I've read books - like children's stories - because they wanted to feel taken care of in that way, and that was a thing they remembered from childhood that was really reassuring and nurturing.
"I've wrestled around like a puppy with someone before, just to get that sense of play.
"I say 'weird' in the most loving way possible. One that I think most people resonate with but don't think of it was... when you were a kid, you'd draw on someone's back and they had to guess what shapes [you were drawing].
"That, I love doing, but it's not something that adults typically do."
Of course, the cynic in many would assume that there could be another type of overtone to this, but Keeley believes that - so long as everyone is aware of the boundaries - there's no reason for that to be the case.
She says: "As adults, we do ourselves a disservice to ourselves and our community by limiting what access we have to platonic touch.
"Because of fear or lack of clarity, or for shame around what is and isn't sexual.
"Whereas someone can absolutely do those things in a sexual context, and that is a subjective experience, I think a lot of people limit what they allow themselves to want, despite what they actually may want.
"They're so afraid of being judged or ostracised or shunned because other people wouldn't believe them when they said it wasn't sexual."
Keeley reckons that only a very small amount of the people she has encountered over the course of her career are after something sexual, and even expressed a wish that sex work was legal so that she could refer those who need that form of intimacy to them.
However, despite some - admittedly very rare - bad experiences, she loves her work and loves her clients.
After all, she's proving basic intimacy to people who otherwise wouldn't experience human contact or intimacy in that form.
She explains: "This feels like my life's purpose. When I get up in the morning, if I don't think 'I just wanna go and do this', it's just because I have not given myself enough rest.
"I do so much of it because I love it so much.
"I burn out a little bit and don't monitor my sleep or eating.
"There's nothing else I would rather do. I want to cuddle people all the time, always. I have an infinite capacity for this stuff."
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