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Felicity Azura On Loneliness and Professional Cuddling

Felicity Azura On Loneliness and Professional Cuddling

Why we need to advocate for more community care initiatives and support community caretakers

“I understand why self-care is important, but self-care cannot be a replacement for community care. You cannot ‘self-care’ your way out of horrible mistreatment, and mistreatment is often systemic,” explained Felicity Azura, my guest for this episode of the Left-Handed Journeys Podcast.

Felicity is a writer, professional cuddler, sex worker, and host of Pro Cuddle Hustle —the world's first podcast on the cuddle industry. We talked about the unique space that professional cuddling holds in society, how loneliness is the result of late-stage capitalism, the problems of always being the caretaker, and more.

So much of our conversation was centered around loneliness, so I’ll offer some highlights and additional thoughts below.

The Loneliness Epidemic

Even before the pandemic, loneliness was a widespread issue. Per a Kaiser study, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. and Great Britain, and 1 in 9 adults in Japan claimed to always or often feel lonely. Meanwhile, Columbia University researchers found that loneliness is an issue that impacts all age groups: “In comparison to the roughly 50 percent of adults over the age of 80 years who experience loneliness, the proportion of adolescents and young adults who experience loneliness reaches 71 percent.”

We’re lonelier than ever, and Fecility sees the issue as rooted in capitalism. “People are working longer hours than ever and getting paid less — that is because of capitalism. People not having access to reliable transportation, the lack of third spaces … how many third spaces can you name where you're not expected to pay money?”

And an issue that goes hand-in-hand with loneliness is touch deprivation, which has real emotional and psychological ramifications. Touch helps reduce stress and regulate mood and boost the immune system. Being touch deprived, then, has been linked to depression and susceptibility to illness, among other issues.

It’s physical. It’s psychological. It’s spiritual. People need touch.

During our conversation, we didn’t really get into how capitalism connects to touch deprivation. But I believe that the examples that Felicity brought up, like working long hours, the lack of community spaces to hang out in — they mean we’re less likely to have time and be in spaces where we foster the kinds of connections that can lead to physical intimacy. Even just hugs.

And this is where professional cuddling (and sex work) come in.

The Need For Touch Professionals

Felicity is aware of the irony of paid services being part of the solution to a problem created by capitalism. “As much as I love these jobs, I wish they weren't a necessity,” she explained. But you could say the same thing for social workers and activists who are combatting trauma and injustice. They’re doing the work because it’s necessary.

Professional cuddlers and sex workers fill a necessary gap in our society: they touch people who need to be touched.

And it’s such a huge shame that more people aren’t aware that professional cuddling is a thing and that there’s so much stigma around these roles.

The result is a shame barrier that potential customers have to cross in order to get their needs met, as well as a lack of resources and safety for touch professionals.

In this capitalistic, puritanical society, everyone suffers.

The Need for More Community Care Options

In our chat, Felicity mentioned that one of the needed solutions to loneliness is a larger focus on community care which community organizer Nakita Valerio defines as “People committed to leveraging their privilege to be there for one another in various ways."

In a viral post, Stephanie Tait quoted Valerio who said “Shouting ‘self-care at people who actually need ‘community care’ is how we fail people.”

In other words, people shouldn’t just be expected to take care of themselves when entire systems are failing them.

Felicity explains that both are necessary. And community care efforts need to address systemic issues like racism and misogyny.

I understand why self-care is important, but self-care cannot be a replacement for community care. You cannot ‘self-care’ your way out of horrible mistreatment, and mistreatment is often systemic.

Felicity Azura

The Loneliness of Being a Caretaker

Another issue is the lack of support for those in community caretaking roles. Ask any social worker about burnout, poor work conditions, or lack of support from their organizations, and they’ll all have stories. Sex workers and professional cuddlers face the same issues.

This results in a different kind of loneliness — especially for caretakers in stigmatized roles.

“I have been told so many ridiculous things like ‘how can you be lonely? You cuddle people for a living.’ But it's so hard to be self-employed … Professional cuddlers take care of other people, but who's gonna take care of us?”

In our interview, Felicity talks about ways that the cuddle industry fails those doing the work: from cuddle agencies not having proper safety protocols in place to not paying cuddlers a liveable wage.

She discusses similar issues on her podcast.

A post shared by Pro-Cuddle Hustle (@procuddlehustlepodcast)

The Good Outweighs the Bad

I asked Felicity with all of the issues surrounding the industry, why she’s so passionate about it. In fact, she believes she’ll be cuddling forever. She spoke about how the job has helped her learn to set good boundaries for herself and become a better communicator. She talked about the variety of people she’s gotten to meet and the value she gets to offer people.

From a personal growth viewpoint, I have a very, very, very hard time imagining what I would be like if I’d never become a professional cuddler. I don't want to imagine what I would be like if I’d never become a pro cuddler.

For more, check out Pro Cuddle Hustle here and follow Felicity on Twitter.

Transcript for This Episode

Felicity: this really contributes to the widespread loneliness problem that's not just in America. It's a worldwide thing. Because we're all suffering under late stage capitalism, and we all could use a hug and community care .

Jera: Felicity Azura is a writer, professional cuddler, sex worker and podcast host. They're the host of Pro Cuddle Hustle, the world's first podcast on the cuddle industry. When Azura isn't cuddling people, she's advocating for the decriminalization of sex work.

Felicity, thank you for joining me on Left-Handed Journeys. Thank you

Felicity: for having me. Even though I'm not left-handed right,

Jera: neither am I. But I think I'm on a left-handed path, but I don't expect everybody who's on this podcast to like, relate or identify with that. But you are definitely somebody that has a unique or interesting erotic journey and you just told me that you had something that you wrote in 2020, you feel like relates.

So why don't we start with that, what you wrote and we'll, we'll go from there.

Felicity: Okay. So in 2021, I, I was perusing these Christianity forums. I myself have never considered myself a Christian and a majority of the religious people in my family. Consider themselves Christian, but we don't talk about very specific stories within the Bible is the religious people in my family.

They're more like, be good people, be nice towards others. So in 2021, I found a very scathing forum discussing professional cuddling. And if that is, I don't know if the word is blasphemous, like the opposite of kosher right. One Islam, they call it Haram. But I, I found this forum where a majority of the people were saying that professional cuddling is wrong.

And a true Christian would wait until marriage to cuddle someone. And the only person. Who voiced support for professional cuddlers brought up this one amazing book in the Bible. I had no idea that there was a professional cuddler in the Bible, but yes, kitty. Oh no kitty, don't step on a laptop. So there's a person in the Bible named Aho and she even has her own Wikipedia page, like it says her Hebrew name.

And according to Wikipedia, Aho was a beautiful young woman chosen to be a helper and servant to King David in his old age. So if you're familiar with the story of David versus Goliath, I believe this is the same David. And so. One of Abi Shaw's duties was to lie next to David and pass along her body heat because quote from the Bible, they put covers on him, but he could not get warm unquote.

So in One King's one floor, it specifically states that David did not engage in sexual intercourse with her. So it, I don't know how you can deny there being a professional cuddler in the Bible. There's, that's amazing. I ha I don't know if there are professional cuddlers in the Quran or other religious texts, but I would love if there are any non-Christian listeners tuning in.

Can, can y'all like, Do research on your religious texts. Like, I want to find every professional cuddler in an ancient text. Cause this stuff is very, very interesting to me. And it's proof that professional cuddling is not a new thing. This job has been around centuries. Love

Jera: it. Yeah, that's great. Okay, so you have sort of outed yourself as a professional cuddler.

Why don't, why don't we start there? Hey, Felicity, Felicity is a professional cuddler. Tell us a little bit about yourself. First of all, like what, how I normally start this? And I think that was such an amazing introduction. What are your spiritual roots like? What were you raised in?

Felicity: I was raised by a very secular family, so most East Asians, I would say are Buddhist, and if they're not Buddhist, they're probably Christian. And so I may have spiritual relatives, but they weren't like, well, you have to have the same spiritual beliefs as me. But even though I have a lot of secular relatives, like my parents, they still instilled a lot of conservative ideals.

Like my mother is like, bless her heart, she's very sex negative. Like she believes. Even if you're married to someone, if you have sex for reasons outside of procreation, then that's like blasphemous. And so, Where did that come from? Do you know? I'm just going to assume that she's had negative sexual experiences and so that's why she thinks that.

Okay, sure. Everyone should only have sex for procreation.

Jera: Okay. So you were raised in A household that was sex negative, that has various spiritual roots, but was pretty overall secular. Do you identify, and you don't have to obviously, but like do you identify as a spiritual person?

Felicity: Can I worship cats? Does that count?

Jera: A hundred percent? Yeah.

Felicity: Now do you think you can be a spiritual person without worshiping anything?

Jera: Yeah, I think to me spiritual means whatever the fuck you want it to mean. If you identify, it's sort of like being queer, right?

Like who gets to decide what queerness is for to you? Nobody, you know, it's a pretty open ended term. Yeah. Yeah.

Alright, well let's move away from that for a while. So spoiler alert for those listening, if you haven't read the bio yet. Actually I'll open with the bio so everybody will know, but you, you've done, you are a stripper, you're a professional cuddler, you're also a student.

How did you get there? How did, how did you become who you are?

Felicity: Okay. I was raised by parents who told me that my life doesn't really begin until I do X, Y, and Z. Like, my life does not begin until I. Get a bachelor's degree. My life does not begin until after I make a certain amount of money, and it's, it's not an ideal way to raise children.

So I wanted to take a gap year between high school and college to figure out what I wanna do for the rest of my life. And my parents were like, absolutely not. You're not even going to community college. You're going to a four year university immediately. And thank goodness, I am happy with the university I picked, but like most freshmen in college, I was broke and I'm like, what am I gonna do?

Because I don't want to just follow my parents' orders 24 7 and. So I did my research and my research. I mean, I matched with someone on Tinder when I was 19 who told me they're a professional cuddler. And I'm like, wow. So I say I did my research because back in 2018 there was only so much information readily available online.

Sure. I would say there's a lot more information in 2023, but there's still barely any, and a lot of the information you have to like know the right people so you know that this Facebook group exists and then you send in an application and then you can get approved or disapproved. And so when I was 18, I knew I wanted to become a teacher of some kind, preferably a high school teacher and.

I knew when I started doing sex work that it was gonna follow me forever. And up until very recently I started thinking, you know what, maybe I should just become a college professor because maybe there'd be a smaller chance of me getting fired for doing sex work on the side. I have been asked if teaching paid well, would I still be a professional cuddler?

Would I still do sex work? And I, I said, if it paid well then I wouldn't. But I don't. I live in the United States. Teachers here are paid pennies. . So teachers are not treated with dignity and when teachers demand for higher pay, s superintendents are like, okay, we'll just shut down your school cuz we don't wanna pay you more. We would rather shut down the entire school, then pay you better. I really do think that I'm gonna be professional cuddling and doing sex work for the rest of my life.

And as much as I love these jobs, I wish they weren't a necessity. Most people join these job, most people enter these industries out of necessity because they're as broke as I was when I was a college freshman. And that's so disheartening, and I know we have the resources. And when I say we, I mean the United States.

I know we have the resources to take care of everyone, but the people in power are greedy and they choose to prioritize the elite over all the average people. And that's why so many people are so lonely nowadays. And I'm sure there's a lot of think pieces on pay-walled News websites titled The Loneliness Epidemic: Men are having less sex than ever now, and I hate that portrayal of loneliness.

I could rattle on and on and on about why people are lonely. But if I had to summarize, I would say everything ties back to capitalism. People working longer hours than ever and getting paid less. That is because of capitalism. People not having access to reliable transportation. That's cuz of capitalism.

The lack of third spaces, I hope I'm using that term correctly, is cuz of capitalism. And so I believe third space means a, like a place to gather that's outside of the home and outside of school slash work. So many third spaces are like 21 and up because there's like alcohol involved. So many third spaces are, are super consumerists, like shopping malls.

And like, how many third spaces can you name where you're not expected to pay money? Like I'm trying to be as respectful as possible to all the queer bars and all the queer nightclubs because they do wonderful things, and I wish I had jobs in those places, but there should be queer spaces that aren't 21 and up that where there isn't a pressure to drink alcohol or to do any kind of drugs.

And it's like, this really contributes to the widespread loneliness problem that's not just in America. It's, it's a worldwide thing. Because we're all, we're all suffering under late stage capitalism, and we all could use a hug and community care.

 I understand why self-care is important, but I think what a lot of people miss is that self-care cannot be a replacement for community care. I would love to live on my own. I love going on solo vacations. I love, I love eating alone. But. You cannot self-care your way out of horrible mistreatment. And mistreatment is often systemic. Like I recently got fired by a cuddle agency and there's no HR. And frankly, even if there was an HR at this cuddle agency, they're probably not gonna side with me. And that's partly why my job is so lonely. I have been told so many ridiculous things like how can you be lonely?

Your professional cuddler, you cuddle people for a living, but it's like it's so hard to be self-employed. And even though there are some cuddle agencies out there, some of them will be like, you need to give us a thousand dollars just to apply. We're not gonna guarantee that you'll get hired. And it's like, what?

And so there are cuddle companies in general tend to advertise using flowery language like We hear you. We know you are seeking human connection. We are going to provide you that connection that you haven't had in so long, but you desperately need. But professional cuddlers like myself, look at that and my response is, okay, you know how to use a, thesaurus, but why is it that the rates per hour is something like a hundred to $200 an hour, but the cuddle providers, we have to pay an egregious amount, amount of money to be listed on your directory.

Like, are you really prioritizing genuine human connection and helping the masses and curing widespread loneliness problem or ...

I wish the cuddle industry was more inclusive. I don't know of any cuddle agency run by a woman. Oh, I don't know of a single cuddle agency run by a woman of color. Like there used to be a cuddle agency in Atlanta, Georgia called Cuddle Sage. It was all black. And they had this like training course to teach non-black professional cuddlers how to be anti, how to be anti-racist.

And I don't know why their website is now defunct. I hope whoever was running that agency is at a good spot in their life.

Jera: and you can burn out too, right? With Oh,

Felicity: oh yeah. Burnout is so real. I think a mistake that a lot of people make is they absorb the pain that a lot of cuddle clients bring mm-hmm. To appointments. Mm-hmm. But I would say you should be like carrying that weight whilst you are in session. You're not supposed to absorb it and just be like, Atlas carrying the weight of the world on his back.

And professional cuddlers, we take care of other people, but who's gonna take care of us?

 I like feeling taken care of when I'm in a relationship, but I am currently in a relationship with someone who is also disabled.

And when disabled people date each other, we just, we gotta find a way to lean on each other. And it's, it's hard cause when I google like what to do when you're dating a disabled person, I'm sorry if that's not. Like a appropriate way to phrase it. But a majority of the results are like, Hey, able body person, are you dating a disabled person?

Here are like five things to remember. And it's like, where is the advice for disabled people who are in love with other disabled people? I mean, I have a best friend who is disabled and he takes care of his mom, who is also disabled. Not the same kind of relationship dynamic, but they lean on each other.

And so that is one few examples I have where it's two different disabled people leaning on each other. I wish, I wish I knew of more examples, but I don't, even though there are a ton of disabled people out there and a ton of them are In love with other people. So it's just, I, don't think a lot of our problems can be solved by dating people with more privilege.

Mm-hmm. Like I'm sure a lot of the time when female professional cuddlers complain about the woes of our job, people will respond with, well, why don't you just settle down with a nice man with a lot of money so you don't have to work this job anymore? But it's like, I love feeling taken care of, but I don't wanna be dependent on a man.

Jera: So for people that don't, for f listeners, for whom this is new, can you just talk a little bit about like w what the cuddle industry is like and what sets it apart?


There are a few facets to the cuddle industry. I would say people who organize cuddle parties or part of the cuddle industry. I would classify independent pro cuddlers like myself, a part of the industry. I would classify the people who train professional cuddlers and train cuddle party facilitators as part of the industry.

The cuddle agencies are definitely part of the industry, even though they sometimes do unethical things like fire me whilst. Recovering from Covid. Yeah, unfortunately sex workers are not that welcome in the cuddle industry. Like mm-hmm. I have perused some cuddle websites, and in their terms and conditions, they'll say something along the lines of, if you are a sex worker, we would love to have you on our website.

Just don't try, just like don't offer extras to the clients. And it's like, there are so many ways that the cuddle industry could be better, but since SESTA/FOSTA happened, a lot of the changes have been negative. And to all the listeners who don't know what SESTA/FOSTA is, it's a 2018 US legislation that. Was supposed to curb sex. They said it was gonna curb sex trafficking, but all the sex workers were like, no, absolutely not.

Do not pass this bill. It's only going to harm sex workers and sex trafficking victims. But politicians did not care. They passed it. And of course, sex workers were affected first, but it trickled down to the cuddle industry. Like

a lot of cuddle websites nowadays, they require you to give your government information just to apply for a profile, which. There's this double standard where they will age verify providers, but they will not age verify client accounts. Hmm hmm. In 2018, I got only one inquiry from a minor. Thankfully it only happened once, but it sucks that it happened and there's just so many double standards.

Like when I got fired from a Cuddle in agency last month, I received an email from my boss that said One of your cuddle clients said you made them feel uncomfortable during a session. I'm not gonna say whom to protect their privacy, but I'm terminating you and my decision is final. And it's like, so one client.

Who had a negative experience for maybe 90 minutes of their life is more important than me having a job. And on top of that, my boss knew I was sick with Covid. Mm-hmm. Around the time I got terminated, which just sounds so illegal. There's that double standard again where the cuddle companies are like, yeah, we care about you, we value you, we appreciate you. But then there's this asterisk after the you, and it's like cuddle clients only professional cuddlers, we will not help you when it comes to paying or taxes. We will not help you when it comes to safety protocols.

Like I will only cuddle people who are vaccinated for Covid. I know not every professional is like that, but I personally think that cuddle agencies should be transparent when it comes to covid policies. Like a lot of agencies will have a thorough screening process, like clients, you need to send us a photo of your driver's license, your email address, your phone number, all that. But not every cuddle agency is going to have a Covid 19 policy.

Jera: So with all the issues like the, you know the issues with agencies and the difficulty taking care of yourself or taking care of others and, and all these things, why is this so you, you also said that you'll, you believe that you'll be a pro cuddler and a sex worker for the rest of your life.

So why does it stay so important to you?

I think, and I think this is a good question to end on too.

Felicity: So deep. Oh my God. Oh yeah. I mean, something that my therapist has been teaching me is boundaries and. A lot of professional cuddlers, they'll, they'll teach about boundaries, but only within a cuddle setting. Like, you don't touch these parts of me, and I don't touch these parts of you, we dandy. But boundaries are for everything in life. We need to have boundaries on the internet. We need to have boundaries within the workplace. We need to have boundaries with friends.

We need to have boundaries with family. We need to have boundaries with significant others. I, I can't name a single place where boundaries are irrelevant. And in sex work boundaries comes up a lot. When we discuss BDSM, I do a lot of BDSM in my personal life too. And with professional cuddling, it's okay.

You do need a lot of skills to be a professional cuddler, but I would say 10% of being a pro cuddler is cuddling. 90% of it is, well, I haven't created the pie chart yet, but I'll, I'll create a pie chart after this. There's, there's the cuddling aspect, but then there's, honestly, I would say maybe 50% or more of it is just being a good person, being a good communicator.

If you're good at listening to people talk, if you're good at talking to other people, then you're not only going to be a successful professional cuddler, I think you are gonna be successful in life in general. Communication is so important. There's not one right way to communicate. Let me be clear. But there are many ways to be a good communicator, and I talk to people from all walks of life through my cuddle job.

Granted, they're all men, but I, I do talk to people from all walks of life. Like, I talk to people who are not happy because their parents force them into an arranged marriage at a young age. I talk to people who live alone and work remote jobs, and so they don't really have friends. I, I talk to people who are like, I talk to people who are emergency responders.

I talk to so many different kinds of people, and that has, I feel so silly saying that has made me more empathetic. But I would say one of the hardest parts about being a sex worker is not hating men. Mm-hmm. Yeah. One of the pieces of advice I give sex workers is you need to interact with men outside of work because mm-hmm. If you only interact with men within sex work, you're gonna like hate every single man with every fiber of your being.

But like with professional cuddling, yes, I do get clients here and there who just make my blood boil, but I do form friendships with my clients and they're transactional. But I do think that these relationships make me a better person and well, it clearly makes them happy cuz they keep paying me to see them.

So I, I, I have like, we can just look at the money and be like, man, my life would be so different if I had it become a professional cuddler. But from like a personal growth viewpoint, I have a very, very, very hard time imagining what I would be like if I never became a professional cuddler. I don't want to imagine what I would be like if I never became a pro cuddler.

And I mean, yes, I don't wanna do this for the rest of my life because it's not a physically demanding job, butI wanna do this job for as long as I possibly can because there are, there are very few jobs like this in the world. Like I've worked in retail, I've worked in cafeterias, I've worked in wedding venues, and like the conversations I have with coworkers and customers there, it's just like, Hey, you wanna get this credit card that you really don't need.

The bathroom is there. If you've ever worked in customer service, you, chances are, where's the bathroom is the most common question. And it's like, I don't really know what I'm going to talk about when I'm heading into a cuddle session. But I view that as a positive thing. I would rather that than show up to work at a nine to five and be like, I wonder how many times I'm gonna tell customers they can't use their cell phone here.

I don't know if I wish … oh gosh, there's, it's such a huge point of contention within the adult industry where it's like, is it ethical to encourage other people to work this job? But it's like,

I don't, I think there are way worse things in the world than to. Encourage people to pursue jobs where you get to decide your own schedule. You get to, you get to decide what your screening process is like. You get to decide what your deposit policy is like and all these other freedoms. And

I forgot, what was your question?

Jera: Oh, you totally answered it. Like, why, why do you think you're gonna be doing it the rest of your life? And I think to summarize what it sounds like you're saying, and I totally get this, is that there's a lot of difficulties with this job. It's stressful. It's you run out of energy.

Like you, you can see the worst sides of people. But then the, the flip side of that is like you, you are empower. You set, you find new boundaries. It's enriching with the, like, the diverse amount of people that you run across. So in other words, like it feels like the benefits really outweigh anything else, right?

Felicity: That is absolutely correct. Yeah. Love it.

Jera: I wanna wrap up but anything else you wanna add before we, before we say goodbye?

Felicity: Hmm. I am in the middle of writing a book about professional cuddling and it's nice going to be the first of many books cuz I have so much to say. So I. Would love to hear what people want in a book. If you have someone in your life who's like, Hey, I'm like, considering paying a professional cuddler or I'm considering becoming a professional cuddler or someone just came out to me as a professional cuddler. What do I say? What do I do like that? That's not something I considered when writing the introduction, but one of my critique partners is like, this book is gonna be amazing for people whose significant others are professional cuddlers cuz you, you're someone in a relationship you wish that more significant others just, just knew. So I, I wanna hear what other people want in a book and when it's published, I think it's gonna make for a great gift.

Jera: Mm-hmm. Totally. Felicity, thank you for sharing so much about the cuddle industry that I think is so new to people, including me. Mm-hmm. And yeah, I love it. I love just your, your thoughts on loneliness and, and self-care and how we need to be thinking more about community care.

Not as that self-care should not be a replacement to community care. That's amazing. So. Mm-hmm. Thank you again.

Felicity: Thank you so much, Jera.

Radical Soul
Radical Soul
Formerly Left-Handed Journeys. Interviews with radical souls about their spiritual journeys, especially centering the stories of queer folks and sex workers.
This podcast is part of the larger Radical Soul brand which centers justice, strives to help others heal from religious trauma, and rejects white and Christian supremacy.
Want to be featured? Email jera@jerabrown.com.