Nikki Huiras practices professional cuddling.
There’s nothing quite like cuddling up with a loved one. Take a deep breath and let the cares of the world melt away in the arms of another. That is, if there’s actually someone to cuddle with. Regrettably, it appears that cuddling for cuddling’s sake is on the decline. To fill this void, the act has now become a profession. Cuddlist.com, the nationwide online cuddling platform, trains and certifies “cuddlists,” and then makes them available for $80 an hour of strictly nonsexual life-affirming cuddling. The service’s first Bay Area practitioner is Albany resident Nikki Huiras. A somewhat recent transplant from Chicago where they (Huiras prefers being referred to with a gender-neutral pronoun) worked as a self-described cubicle-bound “office monkey,” Huiras decided to come west to dive into the “gig economy” earlier this year. I tracked down the amiable cuddlist recently at a north Berkeley teahouse, and, after a warm embrace, we got down to brass tacks about their pioneering new career.
Paul Kilduff: What attracted you to cuddling?
Nikki Huiras: I am a huggy person. With my friends and dear ones, I just love being wrapped up with them. Also, I’ve considered myself kind of a service-oriented person. I’m always the mom friend, or the auntie friend. I’m always the person who’s like, “Oh, dear. Sit down; let me get you tea. Tell me all about it.” I’ve always had that sort of capacity.
PK: You’ve always been a nurturer?
NH: Yeah. Part of that is, I was raised as a woman, but I’ve over the years reflected that that also comes from me. I don’t like to see people feeling cut off. You can tell when someone feels uncomfortable around other people. Or when someone feels alone in a crowd. I don’t like to see that, and I want to make it better.
PK: The training to become a cuddlist—is it like learning CPR or something?
NH: We don’t have mannequins yet. Honestly, I think that would not be conducive to the type of training we need. Can a dummy consent?
PK: Seriously, though, what’s involved?
NH: It’s an online course, mostly online. There is obviously an element of coaching and interaction to it, once you get to the approval session. For me, working full time, it took about a month to get through the materials. It includes a documentary that was done about cuddlists and people who do this kind of very intimate bodywork. There’s sort of a run down of best practices for making your client feel secure, making yourself safe, and also the foundational work that you do with people to establish, “OK, this is a safe space. This is a space where you can express wants, and those will be heard, and you won’t be judged, and where we can negotiate what kind of touch you like.”
PK: It’s made very clear that this is nonsexual, but if someone’s not familiar with cuddling, do they ever have a hard time expecting it not to be?
NH: What I respect about cuddlists is they’re very clear from point zero about their nonsexual policy without sex shaming. There’s recognition that we are trained kind of from birth to think, “Oh, that person’s body looks nice. They look nice to be with and touch. I guess I want to be sexual with them.”
PK: You can’t help it.
NH: Well, you can. That you can’t help it is also another point of programming that we’ve tried to undo. Yes, it’s always your choice to complete an action, or to take a step. We require that people agree to the code of conduct before they submit a request. I always go over that with my clients when I set up a screening. And I ask everybody this regardless of age, gender identity, whatever. I ask, “Can you assure me that you’re not seeking a sexual service? If you are, that’s awesome. I’m glad that you’re that in touch with yourself, but you need to go somewhere else, because I can’t provide that.”
PK: Do you pick clients whom you’re not attracted to so that this doesn’t even come up?
NH: I wouldn’t say so. For me, being in tune with someone is important. Meeting in person is important. Getting that sort of gut check. Your gut brain is a lot smarter than you are most of the time.
PK: What are red flags for you with a potential client?
NH: Red flags for me really just consist of a lack of active listening on their part. A lack of responses that indicate my input is not valuable to them. For any type of service, there should be a give and take. Obviously, when it comes to bodywork, I trust people to be the experts of their own bodies and their own desires. When people say to me, “You’re the expert; tell me how to cuddle.” I sort of gently correct them. “No, I’m not the expert on how you cuddle. You have to let me know, and we’ll work it out.” When I’m screening somebody, and I say, “OK, so clothes stay on the whole time; there’s no kissing. It’s fine; it’s natural if arousal happens, but we won’t pursue that because that’s not what this session is for.”
PK: Your favorite cuddling position is the spork. What is it?
NH: You know spooning?
PK: I’m not really clear on that.
NH: Like spoons in a drawer, you’re snuggled up behind someone. Maybe you’re holding them. Maybe you’re just putting your hands on their back. Sporking, you turn one person around so you’re face to face. You’ve got opposing curves, so you might be head to head a little bit. You can hold each other’s arms. And what I like is you can intertwine your legs. You just get a lot different contact than with spooning, and you’re face to face so you can converse more easily.
PK: Seems like that’s a lot more intimate.
NH: It can be. Gazing into another person’s face can be very intensely intimate, whether you’re touching or not.
PK: Do you think it’s sad that we’ve gotten to the point where cuddling is a service? That people even need this?
NH: I do. I do intensely. In fact, one of my friends from Chicago, when I told him what I was leaving my job job to do, his first reaction was, “Oh, people are so lonely. That’s awful.” I completely understand where he’s coming from. Yes, in an ideal world there would not be a need for this type of service. Just like in an ideal world there would not be a need for retirement homes or facilities where we lock up people who just have medical, social, and psychological needs. It’s the culture that we live in. Cuddlists, as I see it, are trying to put ourselves out of a job, one cuddle at a time.
For more Kilduff, visit the “Kilduff File Super Fan Page” on Facebook.
Birthplace: St. Paul, Minn.
Astrological sign: Capricorn
Book on Nightstand: Queer & Trans Artists of Color: Volume 2 by Nia King.
Favorite curse word: “Imperio”
Favorite cuddle position: The Spork
Motto: “No matter where you go, there you are.”