Elisa Meyer offers cuddling for a fee. Some confuse this with prostitution. The professional cuddler is all about tenderness – and warmth.
A woman is waiting in front of the door of the Kuschelpraxis in Leipzig-Gohlis. Her features are relaxed, she is smiling in the afternoon sun. Another woman with short hair, bloomers and a scarf comes out of the old building. The two hug and stroke each other’s heads until a taxi pulls up in front of them. The women have just taken part in a touch workshop for two days. They say they felt relaxed and exhausted.
Elisa Meyer feels the same way. The 36-year-old native of Luxembourg is sitting cross-legged on the couch. She speaks slowly, her eyes are sleepy, she is wearing pajamas. Meyer shows the seminar room of her practice: stuffed animals, there is a cloud and also a rainbow, form a circle on the mattresses lying on the floor. It’s still in the air that people cuddled collectively in this room. Little by little, Elisa Meyer opens all the windows, and a fresh breeze comes in. Then she shows the yellow room with a double bed, set up for cuddling hours for two.
However, it is not possible to fulfill all wishes when cuddling for money. Kissing or being kissed, for example, is not allowed with Elisa Meyer, as with all professional cuddlers. On the table in the waiting room are the rules for a cuddle session and the price: 70 euros. Next to it are sweets, Meyer’s first book “Hunger for Touching”, a box of tissues with the words “love” written on them, and also: a drawing with “taboo zones”. The parts of the body that are not suitable for cuddling are marked in red. Meyer likes the childlike figure on the already crumpled paper. She drew them when she first started being a professional cuddler.
In the workshop, Elisa Meyer talked about her path and her everyday life. And she showed touch techniques, using her boyfriend as a model. “He was cuddled by me for four hours,” says Meyer, smiling at him. Her partner doesn’t mind that she cuddles with others for work. “He got to know me that way and found it interesting.”
Cuddling is an “intentional touch”
However, her work is not well received by everyone. When Meyer says she gets paid to cuddle, she’s often looked at with skepticism. “Hey, are you a prostitute?” people ask. “They find it unusual to charge for intimacy,” says Elisa Meyer. “For them, that means sex work because they don’t know anything else.” But in contrast to sexual touching, cuddling, together with the massage, is one of the “unintentional touches”; it’s about tenderness and warmth.
Meyer studied German and philosophy. Writing her doctoral thesis on physical identity and touch in literature, she began researching body therapies and learned about professional cuddling. In 2016 she learned this in the USA and England, where this method had already become a trend.
After her training, Meyer began working as a professional cuddler in Vienna, then she moved to Leipzig because of Martin Grunwald. He founded the haptic research laboratory at the medical faculty of the University of Leipzig and wrote a book about why humans cannot live without touch: “Homo hapticus.” Meyer wanted to learn more from him. In 2021 she will finally open her own cozy room. In her spare time she also accompanies dying people. They’re all about holding hands.
“I’m like a gas station for cuddling,” says Elisa Meyer, but you have to be careful with that. In the beginning she was afraid of experiencing a “cuddle burn-out”. Cuddling with three or four people every day is too much. “In the end I was empty.” She has learned to recognize her own capacity limit: “Up to five customers per week, with breaks in between, is okay”. With additional workshops, lectures and cuddle parties does she make ends meet. What she also learned from the experience: accepting friends or acquaintances as customers is not possible. “I prefer to cuddle with them after work.”
When rules are broken, the fun is over
Elisa Meyer also passes on all this knowledge to the people she trains as professional cuddlers; now more than twenty nationwide. A job that is not suitable for everyone: You should bring joy in touch, “even if you personally find the other person unsympathetic,” says Meyer. “If the person sticks to the rules and doesn’t become unhygienic or abusive, then you have to give them what they paid for.” In all of this, ideology, political opinions or even the appearance of the people play no role. It’s only when the rules are broken that the fun is over.
Cuddles are only clothed, the “taboo zones” (such as breasts or mouth) may not be touched. If the cuddler notices that a meeting is “going in the wrong direction”, she breaks it off, talks about it, changes position. “Take a deep breath and start over,” she says.
Seventy percent of the customers are men and they “are also afraid of doing something wrong with me”. With them, Meyer explains everything in more detail, “because the traditional role models intervene more quickly”. Then the customer reveals why he is there. “We settle in and slowly start holding hands and chatting.” Next, the customer suggests a snuggle position and relaxes. “I then scratch my head or my back until we eventually get into the flow.”
Elisa Meyer has also cuddled professionally in the park or in the cinema. But many customers hide their cuddle date. “They are ashamed of it or afraid of being stigmatized.”
Not yet recognized by the health insurance companies
So the hardest thing about her job isn’t complying with the rules, but “not always being able to help,” says Meyer. “When customers suffer, feel pain or tell me that they don’t want to live, I find it difficult to bear it. Many regular customers are lonely or depressed.” But she can’t flip a switch and people are fine again. Just like cuddling cannot replace psychotherapy – “but it can complement it”. Meyer hopes that in future the health insurance companies will recognize cuddling as therapy and cover the costs. If society were more attuned to cuddling, she believes there would be fewer addictions and anxiety disorders.
“The unintentional cuddling is like a little world of my own where I can leave behind the feeling of loneliness, my insecurity and shame for my body and gain a little more self-confidence,” reads an entry in Meyer’s guest book. A woman writes that she had waited more than twenty years for the moment to “finally” be hugged.
So is cuddling about the release of oxytocin, i.e. happy hormones, or about the illusion of not being lonely? “Both,” Elisa Meyer replies. Many studies have shown that children who have no physical contact with their parents are more prone to conflict. Meyer was lucky: “To this day I like to cuddle with my mother when she visits me.”
Just as she cuddles with her mother, Elisa Meyer also prefers to cuddle with her customers: in the “cradle”. “I like to hold my customers like babies in my arms.” Most of them fall asleep.