Despite their restorative and intimacy-inducing effects, cuddling services are increasingly coming under attack. Are critics simply out of touch?
Photo by David Goehring
America can be a lonely place. Study after dreary study suggests that every year we feel a little more isolated and unloved. So it’s probably not surprising that a new business called The Snuggle House, offering up an unusual menu of emotional comforts, was set to open in Madison, Wisconsin last fall. The Snuggle House was exactly what the name suggested—a place where the disconnected could come and, for $60 an hour, cuddle with one of four cuddle technicians (three women, and one man). It might sound like a predatory, and maybe even ribald service, but owner Matthew Hurtado, a man who say’s he’s familiar with loneliness, considers cuddling a necessary, therapeutic service for those who are short on company. Still, the project didn’t sit well with some Wisconsinites, who delayed the storefront’s opening until November, ultimately concerned that it might be a front for or turn into a brothel. After just three weeks in business, the flack built to the point that Hurtado was forced to concede defeat, and the ostensibly innocent and honorable store shuttered its doors.
There were plenty of reasons to be wary of The Snuggle House. Hurtado, for instance, reportedly authored the biography of a sex-addicted millionaire, and sold questionable health supplements—not the most wholesome credentials for a cuddle care provider. But most of the valid critiques against The Snuggle House didn’t involve prostitution or safety. Although the chance of something sexual occurring was inherently present, the business had all the requisite protocols and permits, as well as eight security cameras and a 100-page manual outlining procedure. The Snuggle House followed in the footsteps of a handful of other cuddle-oriented services around the world, that have been selling affection for years without incident.
Photo Courtesy of the Kurt Löwenstein Education Center
One of the earliest, and currently the largest, snuggle services in the world is the Cuddle Party, founded in 2004. The group isn’t a business, but instead offers workshops with trained cuddle facilitators who, for free, or for a suggested donation, host local events for interested strangers to give it a go. Through mediated spooning and shiatsu, cuddle-curious patrons learn about communication, boundaries, and non-sexual touching and consent. In the wake of the success of Cuddle Party’s events, numerous other cuddle facilitators have popped up across the country, like Travis Singley of San Francisco, who since 2012 has traveled up and down the California coast, hosting canoodling retreats and offering snuggle therapy.
That same year, two serious cuddle shops opened their doors in Tokyo and Rochester, New York. Thanks to a series of documentaries and point-and-stare articles, the Japanese business is the better known of the two, and also the more troublingly lascivious. Dubbed Soineya, literally and non-euphemistically “Sleep Together Shop,” the store hires girls to lie beside its customers. They charge a $30 admission, $10 to pick a girl, then $30 for 20 minutes of sleeping next to, but not touching, a female attendant. For an extra $10, you can order three minutes in her arms, a foot rub, or petting her on the head, among other options. (Soineya did take some heat when it added $10 per minute ass-as-pillow and slapping services.) But Rochester’s The Snuggery, charging $1 per minute for a single female buddy ($2 per minute for two girls) is a simpler, less tawdry-seeming setup. The girls lay out clear rules for their patrons, and have accepted the fact that people will get aroused (50 percent of their mostly male clientele pitch a tent at some point), but the business brokers no nudity or groping and has never had much of a problem with rowdy customers. They’ve had such great success and developed such strong relationships with those in need of human contact that they’ve even begun offering their best clients overnight sessions for just $425, replete with movie watching, joint book reading, and snacks.
Services like those offered at The Snuggery will still probably sound suspect to many. For some, it will always feel wrong to pay for human intimacy of any sort. But cuddling apparently bestows numerous health benefits—lower blood pressure, improved memory, and even pain relief, to name a few. Some people don’t have the luxury or ability to find this kind of comfort naturally or socially, for a variety of reasons, and so long as no harassment or vice is taking place, why not create a safe space where these lonely folks can have access to something restorative? The formula seems to be working in Rochester and at Cuddle Parties all across America. It’s just a shame that for the time being, with The Snuggle House’s failure, Madison, Wisconsin, will stay just a little bit lonelier of a place.