Would you cuddle a stranger for $80 an hour?

Snuggling enthusiasts say a new pay-per-cuddle practice is therapy. Police say it's a front for prostitution.

(Image credit: (Thinkstock))

Cuddling feels great. But cuddling also has lots of quantifiable medical benefits. It releases the trust hormone oxytocin, which creates a sense of well-being and happiness, and endorphins, which are a natural painkiller. It also relieves stress, reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure, and may prevent depression.

A way to create and maintain social bonds within families, most cuddling takes place between sexual partners, or between children and parents. But a new slew of businesses have appeared offering cuddling as a paid-for service. And the prices can be steep.

Soineya — literally, the "sleep together shop" — opened in 2012 in Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics and geek culture district. For $80 an hour, customers can spend an hour sleeping and cuddling in a variety of different positions with scantily clad young women:

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It was only so long before professional cuddling turned up in America. Up until Friday, customers at the Snuggle House in Madison, Wis., customers could spend an hour hugging, cuddling, and spooning for $60:

Image removed.

(The Snuggle House)

The Snuggle House employed three females and one male and described the service as "an exciting opportunity to receive the benefits of touch therapy in a nonsexual way and feel connected in a disconnected, digital world."

Yet on Friday the business announced it was closing, citing harassment by city officials.

The city suspected the business was a front for prostitution and feared that snuggling could give rise to sexual assault. Police had talked openly about conducting a sting operation at the business.

Assistant city attorney Jennifer Zilavy told the Associated Press: "There's no way that (sexual assault) will not happen. No offense to men, but I don't know any man who wants to just snuggle."

But cuddling enthusiasts — yes, they really do exist — disagree that cuddling is just a front for prostitution. In fact the nonsexual nature of cuddling, they say, is the point. A nonprofit called the Cuddle Party Movement, which organizes group cuddling sessions, explains:

Nurturing, welcome consensual touch is good for you. Good for your body, heart, and spirit. Good for your blood pressure, your nervous system, your emotional health, your ability to connect with and trust people, your ability to respect and care for yourself, your creativity, sense of safety and comfort and belonging. Infants who are deprived of touch fail to thrive; we never outgrow the need.

Why is it so hard to find? Because for the most part, we think it has to do with sexual relationships, or at least romance, hooking up or "attraction."

What if it just has do with being a human being who cares about other human beings? Kindness, compassion, comfort, and nourishment. [The Cuddle Party]

And just because the Snuggle House shuttered doesn't mean someone in search of a long hug can't pay for one. Businesses continuing to offer a cuddling service in the U.S. include the Snuggery in Rochester, N.Y., and Be the Love You Are in Boulder, Colo.

Personally, I think it is difficult to separate close bodily contact between adults from sexuality. Cuddling is an inherently intimate behavior. So professionals offering a nonsexual service may frequently have to deal with their clients becoming aroused. And like "massage," it can very easily be used as a euphemism for prostitution.

But if consenting adults want to pay another person for an hour of nonsexual cuddling, then why not? The health benefits of cuddling are clear enough.

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John Aziz is the economics and business correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also an associate editor at Pieria.co.uk. Previously his work has appeared on Business Insider, Zero Hedge, and Noahpinion.