One married mom of three rakes in $57,800 a year by hugging total strangers. Jessica O’Neill, 35, started professional cuddling six months ago — and makes $1,100-a-week from her unusual job.
She spent a decade working as a massage therapist and counselor before adding cuddles to the treatment list at her studio in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. O’Neill claims the hugs, which cost upwards of $60 an hour, help lonely people and those suffering from depression feel loved and valued.
“I’ve always been a really affectionate person and have always cuddled people. It’s just in my nature and is part of who I am,” she said. My mother was always super affectionate and loving when I was young. Her hugs always made everything OK even if there were bad things happening around us.
“I’ve always had a really lovely response from the people I’ve hugged. Everyone loves a cuddle.”
O’Neill swears her husband Jason, 34, doesn’t mind her intimate profession — despite the fact that most of her clients are men.
“Jason is very supportive and completely gets it. He loves what I do and thinks it’s really beautiful,” O’Neill said. “He is super affectionate and he gives me cuddles at home. Our relationship is what makes me so strong.”
Of her decision to go into professional cuddling, she continued: “It all started when I began giving my clients a hug when they’d come in for a counseling session. It totally allowed them to drop their guard and open up so much more. I could see their anxiety and tension melt away. Then I could get to the core of their persona and do what I can to heal them.”
“So really, it was a long time coming. I first heard about cuddle therapy six years ago and I remember telling everyone that’s what I wanted to do. They thought I was crazy and probably still do. But I love it so much. It’s so much more rewarding than just massage or counseling. I feel like it’s what I was put on this Earth for.”
Jessica charges $60 an hour for “strictly cuddles,” while a hugs and counseling session costs $80. Clients can also book a “friendship style” coffee and cuddle session for $110.
Most of O’Neill’s customers are men over the age of 35, but she revealed she has a growing number of middle-aged female clients — as well as younger men who experience “loneliness and disconnection” in the digital age. She admits she has had “one or two” awkward experiences but insists 99 percent of her clients are “very well behaved.”
O’Neill added: “Before we start our sessions, we do meditation to connect on that spiritual level. Then the clients will sit on a chair while we sit by their feet and we have a little chat about why they’ve reached out for cuddle therapy.”
“Everyone has a totally different story. But the most common factors are loneliness, depression, isolation and anxiety. All of them just have that desire to connect with someone.”
“They absolutely love it. It’s like being refueled with love and affection. I always feel safe and comfortable. I love what I do. There are very clear boundaries set in place and 99 percent of people would never dream of crossing them,” she revealed. “If an awkward situation does arise, I assertively direct the client with no embarrassment or further issue.”