Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, studies the effects of massage therapy and other forms of touch at all stages of life, from newborns to senior citizens."There are a number of conditions that benefit," she says. "Cancer, asthma, diabetes, fibromyalgia. We've come to see it as a major biological and physiological reaction that happens when you're moving skin against skin."
Mary Jo Rapini, an intimacy and sex psychotherapist for the Methodist Hospital Pelvic Restorative Center in Houston, Texas, has seen the power of touch first hand. She often asks couples she works with to touch each other—because many, she says, can't remember the last time they held hands. Still, she's apprehensive about the safety and practicality of a venture like The Snuggery. "My immediate reaction is that it's a little bit odd," Rapini says. "There's no certification, and it seems a bit naive, like it could turn into something dangerous."
And on its surface, engaging in intimate touch with a stranger does appear to be a paradox. Spooning with someone you've never met before? Squeezing someone you feel no emotional attachment to, have no shared history with? But touch experts say the benefits remain. "The mental and physical effects of touch don't require that the persons touching have a relationship," Jonas says. That said, having a relationship can indeed alter those effects, for better or worse. "While a hug from someone you love may be more relaxing than a stranger, a hug from someone you fear can generate more anxiety than from a stranger," Jonas says.
Still, Rob Grader, a massage therapist and author of The Cuddle Sutra, believes cuddlers achieve the strongest benefits when they're with someone they care about. "There are lots of ways to have casual sex, but casual cuddling is pretty hard to find," he says. "Cuddling intensifies the intimacy of a relationship, and it's good for both partners. It's a chance to talk, to touch, and to just experience togetherness."
He's right about that. And maybe Sigley is right that, in an ideal world, cuddling-for-hire wouldn't be necessary. He's looking forward to a day when there's no longer demand for his services. "There's a need for this right now," Sigley says. "We live in a culture where people have no other way of exchanging affection than by paying for it. It's a valuable service, and it's good to have it while we need it. But it shows that we've lost connection with each other on a genuine, day-to-day level, because our priorities and needs have been focused elsewhere."