If you’re a professional cuddler and you’re like me, you love to talk about why you love the work you do. And why wouldn’t you? What feeds the soul more than drawing from yourself to bring out the comfort and trust in others? At the end of a successful session, you might often feel like you’ve encountered an outstanding lady, gentleman, et al who you completely trusted to respect your presence as a professional. While we’re meant to be giving a service and putting our client’s needs ahead of our own, what often happens in a great session is a reciprocity of sorts. You reciprocate the cuddle by taking turns holding one another. You reciprocate respect, empathy, and trust as well.
As is with humankind, there are some people who don’t have your best interests at heart, however. As much as you’d like to have optimism about the kinds of folks you’ll be dealing with as a professional cuddler, sometimes you do need to err on the pessimistic side for your own safety.
Today’s post is about the red flags professional cuddlers can watch for with a client… before, during, and after a session.
More Than Simply A Helping Hand
This morning I was talking to a new professional on Cuddle Comfort. She was trying to deal with the aftermath of having a session with an unpleasant, boundary-pushing person. One of the first things she told us about was the fact that he made a blatantly red-flag request: could he masturbate if he happened to get aroused? Obviously the answer was no, but the fact that someone even has to ask this should be cause for concern. The pro described the man committing various boundary violations, as well as moving her hands to places on his body which the average person should be able to denote as obvious non-platonic intent. Every time she tried to move them away, or say “no”, he would just slide her hands back to his thighs and eventually inch them closer to his groin. Then, he would claim that he wasn’t trying to get her to do anything, even laughing and denying his responsibility for his actions at one point when she clearly and loudly told him to stop.
She mentioned that she had stayed the duration of the short session, biding her time, and giving him multiple warnings about his behaviour. This man outweighed her by 200 pounds or so, and could easily immobilise her if he was given the chance. All while laying there, she ran through a laundry list of self-defense moves. For safety, she carried a stun gun in her bag (which is legal in her state), but was unable to reach over and use it if the occasion should arise that this man tried to seriously violate her.
At the end of the session, she collected half her payment in cash, and half was sent to her PayPal account – the client later canceled the electronic payment, and although she planned to call them in the morning to confirm its status, she did not know if she would see her money. I wasn’t there, and I’m not the client, but I can almost smell the message he intended to send: “Your inability to co-operate and give me a handjob means you don’t get your money.”
At the end of telling her side of the story, she let us know that she intended to consult with a friend who was formerly in the army about some other self-defense moves she can use in case a dangerous situation arises. It’s sad that we live in a world where we need to take these kinds of precautions.
For me, it was a sickening account to read because I have been in a similar position many times, especially when I first started offering this service. Sometimes, I still find myself in that position today where clients try to pull a fast one, or they attempt to shortchange because I really meant it when I said this is a therapeutic experience and nothing sexual would happen. I know now to put my foot down from the start, give no second chances to abusive behaviour, and walk away.
I gave her some advice as to how she can conduct business in a way that this won’t be so much of a risk, and she certainly will not have a reason to stay if this happens with someone else.
“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.”
— Michael J. Fox
How She Can Keep Safe
1. Cutting off contact when a potential client mentions or requests “relief”.
Sure, they were just asking… but anyone who brings up masturbating is someone who does not understand the service we provide, especially on a site like Cuddle Comfort where the rules are clearly stated and established. Upon being asked a question like that, many pros including myself would have reported and cut this person off immediately without booking anything. It’s clear their intents don’t line up with ours, and the fact that a red flag like this is flying so early in the interaction means there will probably be a lot more down the road.
Whether you are interacting with this person before their session, during, or after, drop that conversation and the person facilitating it like a hot, rotten potato and run. Trust. Your. Gut.
2. Having a zero-tolerance policy regarding inappropriate touch or behaviour.
It might seem best to give someone the benefit of the doubt when they act inappropriately the first time. Maybe they were just losing control and honestly didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Maybe they will accept your words and stop. You’re doing what you’re supposed to do when you communicate your boundaries by saying “yes” or “no”, and this professional did so repeatedly. But maybe that’s just prolonging the problem. Every time she kept saying “no”, the client would just keep doing it, or deny that he was doing anything wrong. This is called gaslighting. It is an abhorrently abusive behaviour used to confuse and control others. At that point, I would have left.
It’s important to know when enough is enough. The first time could be a mistake (and we’re all human – let’s not pretend mistakes aren’t made). However, I believe that someone who is truly in the right frame of mind for a platonic cuddle service will do all they can to avoid losing control. You can tell their intent lies in the exact same spot as yours. The second, third, or fourth time someone is acting out and you’ve asked them to quit it, they were making a conscious choice to ignore your “no”. The only “no” you can give them at this point is getting up and leaving, or kicking this slimeball to the curb.
3. Collecting payment first, before anything begins.
Do not let money be the thing that keeps you in situations where you may need to endure abuse. Collect your payment on the client’s arrival, or as soon as you get to the location where you will cuddle. This way, you do not have a reason to stay should this person begin pushing boundaries at any point. You can simply leave, or ask the client to leave if you are hosting.
Of course, I know it can feel really, really gross to have to ask the client for your payment upfront the first few times. You may have thoughts running through your head like, “What if asking up front communicates to them that I’m only here for the money?” or, “I don’t want to be rude.” Your first lesson in professional cuddling should be this: You are not here to be “nice”. You’re a professional who is here to share a soulful experience. You are here to be a giver, you are here to nurture another person and exercise your empathy. However, do not conflate this with being “nice”. When you give a person an inch just for the sake of avoiding any level of conflict (being “nice”), they may take a mile. This is why professional cuddlers need to be able to clearly communicate their expectations on payment before the session begins. Once in online interaction, once with the voice (or FaceTime, what have you…), and once in person.
This action is not communicating that you are only here for money. It’s communicating that you are a businessperson providing a service, and that you have expectations in place and are ready to put your foot down from the get-go. If that isn’t empowering, what is?
There Will Be No RED FLAG Above My Door
I have heard some people say they don’t believe that exposing red flags is a good practice, because it allows abusive people to learn “better” ways to be abusive. The truth is, abusive people will find ways to be abusive and fly under the radar at the same time no matter what. It’s what they are. All we can do is remove ourselves from these situations when they present themselves. It’s important that we arm professional cuddlers (hell, everyone!) who may have been victims of abuse and misconduct with the information they need so they can learn from these interactions themselves, and know when to cut the cord in the future.
Here are some things you can watch for before, during, or after your session to determine if it’s probably not a good idea to have a cuddle with this person. Due to the nuances of individuality, there are so many potential issues that can pop up. I won’t list every single one here. I’ll save that for a grand “masterlist” post on another day. A lot of these will be pretty common offenses that you may encounter at least once, and most are relatively easy to pick up on.
They use a subtle, vague or covert communication style.
Covert communicators rarely mean what they say and say what they mean. In other words, they can say one thing but it has a hidden message and could mean the exact opposite. To determine if someone’s communication is covert can be very hard, especially if you’re just talking to them online. You often won’t find out someone is a covert communicator until you see them in person and realise that their actions don’t match up with their words. If this person sounded like they understood your terms and conditions when they were booking the session, and yet they start moving hands all over you, or doing inappropriate things once you’ve met, chances are they used the written communication simply to gain access to your trust. This is a manipulative behaviour, and if you encounter someone who has done this, don’t spend a minute more of your time on them and walk away. You deserve a client who can be honest and upfront, not someone who finds it okay to play mind games to get what they want.
They want to pay at the end, or attempt to shortchange you.
It’s understandable for people to be paranoid about paying upfront, but they need to understand this is ultimately a personal service – not a restaurant with a running tab. You should be especially wary if someone says that they want withhold payment until they “see where things go”. This is often a covert way of communicating that they will pay you the full amount or more if you agree to do sexual favours etc. Other times, after the session is over and the client feels it isn’t exactly what they had in mind, they may make an excuse about leaving the rest of the money in their wallet somewhere, and all they can give you is a partial payment. Don’t buy this line of bullshit. Accept your payment in full and upfront, or else business is not conducted.
When you ask for basic identifying information for safety purposes such as a name or photo, the person gets defensive.
People usually have good reasons for withholding information, especially in an age where your identity can be swiped in a hot second. However, when you’re meeting someone for the first time with absolutely no pretense, it’s important to know who you’re meeting for safety’s sake. Don’t agree to book a session when you don’t know who will be at the door. Clients who refuse to confidently give you the info you request are not likely clients who will have your best interest in mind. If they just seem a bit skeptical, or paranoid, you can try meeting in person… but sometimes…
This person refuses to meet you in a public place or makes excuses as to why they can’t.
Whether it’s because they don’t have your safety in mind, or because they fear being recognised by people in their neighbourhood, it probably isn’t a good idea to meet with someone who a) doesn’t want to show you what they look like, and b) doesn’t want to give any sort of identifying information, and c) doesn’t even want to meet up in order to assure you that they’re a real person who isn’t out to hurt you. A public meet and greet is best practice for both parties because it helps to affirm that you’re not going to be cuddling a suspicious individual. Again…anybody who doesn’t have your safety in mind, and only cares about their own is not somebody you need to give the time of day to.
They make mention of being “open-minded”.
If someone claims that they are open-minded, you need to ask them to honestly explain what they mean by this without any judgment or accusation. Open-minded could mean that this person thinks freely, is willing to learn, is not bigoted, and is generally a very accepting individual. Given that the context of cuddling is physical, there is a good chance that this person is trying to communicate something else. “Open-minded” is often yet another covert way of saying that sex is desired or is on the table should you agree to it.
The person uses pet names like “babe” instead of your real name.
While there’s nothing wrong with pet names inherently, it’s simple social etiquette that using them3 doesn’t make everybody comfortable all the time. If you have not even met the person and they’re calling you stuff like “babe”, how likely do you think it is that this person honestly views you in a platonic manner? Drop this client, as they couldn’t even ask beforehand if using pet names would make you uncomfortable.
They want to meet last minute, or right away without any formalities (especially at odd hours).
You are not a drive-thru. You are a cuddler. You’re providing an emotionally driven experience and getting in close proximity with another human’s body. Doesn’t it make sense to screen this person and make sure their intent matches up with yours before you get right into a cuddle session with them? Chances are, someone who wants to meet up at the last minute without having even met you is doing so for nefarious purposes (couldn’t get a date on Tinder, for example). You can give this person the benefit of the doubt, but make sure to get to the bottom of the issue – “why does this person need to meet me right now”? Do they even care about your safety?
The client is externally focused or flirtatious, and makes questionable comments on your looks.
There are different kinds and levels of attraction, but we’d be foolish to think that some people don’t hire us at least partially because they like how we look. It’s totally fine for a client to remark, “I love your eyes. They’re very soothing.” or, “I love the curvaceousness of your body. You’re so soft!” We’re metacommunicating at that point about what we feel and what we see, and that’s natural. Where you need to start asking questions is when the client is saying things that are questionably, borderline, or outright sexual and obnoxious. Be with yourself in the moment and ask yourself how their interaction is honestly making you feel.
They talk about what other professionals do or don’t do when you are talking about your boundaries.
Somebody who is making comparisons between you and another cuddler could very well be “just talking”, but if they are making comparisons when you voice a boundary, that’s another talk entirely. For instance, you might say that you expect the client to cuddle completely clothed. They might respond with something like, “Well, the last person I saw said I could take my shirt off. I’d really like to do that with you.” It’s a manipulative, sneaky way of saying “This person is better because they’re doing and allowing everything I want, and you’re not.” You’re better off not taking such a joker as a client who can’t even respect that you have a right to set your own rules. Perhaps “the customer is always right” is true in other industries, but not in ours.
The client keeps mentioning arousal or the fact that they are aroused, and begins subtly acting on it.
As I’ve made clear before, metacommunicating in a session is normal and it’s to be encouraged. When a client has an erection, I’m not afraid to bring it up with them and they shouldn’t be afraid to bring it up with me – it’s a natural occurence of the body and it doesn’t need to mean anything. Sometimes our bodies are aroused without us even thinking about sex. You can refocus by redirecting the conversation, and repositioning your bodies. However, if the person won’t stop bringing up the subject of arousal or sex, it’s a good indicator of where their mind is at. So if they start saying things such as “I’m trying to control myself…” and then they start rocking their pelvis back and forth, or grazing their hands all over your body, and even worse they keep doing these types of actions when you’ve asked them to stop… it’s time for you to communicate clearly that it isn’t okay and you’ll be leaving since they have not listened, and have disrespected your boundaries.
They try to make hand contact with your body in the area described as “above the knees and below the belt”, or they try to get you to touch them in that area.
While the thighs and belt area aren’t related to our private parts, they’re definitely close enough to the groin that all it takes is for someone to shift their body position just so that your hand accidentally grazes that area. For that reason, make a note not to acknowledge any request for you to place your hands (or their hands) above the knee or below the belt. Keep the use of your arms focused on hugs and embraces. Don’t let a client hold your hand if they keep moving it places for you without asking. That’s a violation of your boundaries. While some clients like to receive or give massages, it’s best to decline this offer with people you have just met, since it can put you in a vulnerable position.
The client asks to lay on top of you, or for you to lay on top of them.
There is a possibility that the client means nothing by this, but I usually draw the line at resting my torso or my head on a person’s chest and vice versa. The moment someone asks to place their whole entire body on top of me, or for me to do that to them, that flag is starting to rise from half-mast pretty quickly. From a safety perspective, this is not a good move. As in the story above about the professional who was violated, her client was much heavier than she, and was close to being in that same position. He was nearly laying on top of her to the point that if he moved any further, she may have been immobilised. No one with well-meaning intentions would want to place their entire body weight on top of another person they don’t know very well.
You are requested to wear something specific, or comments are made about your clothes not being “right”.
As a professional cuddler, it’s understandable that you want to make this the best cuddle your client has ever had and you want them to leave with a smile on their face. However, this does not mean you need to be a people-pleaser. When someone asks you to wear a certain shade of lipstick, or to wear a certain style of dress, or your hair a certain way, it almost seems to me that this person is trying to treat you like a doll rather than a human being. As well, if you show up in clothing that the client finds “unflattering” or “frumpy” and you are asked not to wear this outfit next time, that is a red flag that this person may be controlling, only cares about their desires, and has no regard for you as an individual. Run. Don’t give them a next time.
When they ask questions, it is as if they are collecting data on you rather than genuinely conversating with you.
Manipulative individuals use this tactic to gain information on the people they’re with so they can be exploited, or so that the information can be used against them at a later date. Although it’s normal for some people to be better at asking questions than really having a full-blown conversation, be conscious of what you’re actually being asked. If the line of questioning is mostly invasive or about your personal life, you could be facing someone who is preparing and grooming you to allow them to push boundaries. Keep conversation light and professional, focused on the client. Request silence if need be. Leave if they begin asking inappropriate questions or steering the conversation to destinations which make you uncomfortable.
There Are Amazing Resources Out There That Can Help You On Your Journey!
Obviously as I mentioned before, this is not a comprehensive list of all situations and all red flags you can encounter with troublesome clients. This is why it can be good to seek out training, do some research, and some asking around before you get into professional cuddling. I wish I had taken advantage of or at least known more about some of these things when I started. It doesn’t feel good to come into this newborn, wild-wild-west industry knowing next to nothing, and having no clue of how to defend or stand up for yourself.
Take yourself to Cuddle Party. Do the research online. Talk to other professionals. Ask someone if they’d be willing to mentor you. Invest in your business, and quality folk who appreciate your gift of platonic touch to the world will take notice.
Think only clients can be boundary-pushers? Shady individuals? Sex seekers? Think again! Coming up next… Sometimes A Professional Cuddler Proves To Be Unprofessional!