MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s ultra-liberal capital city is a place where just about anything goes, from street parties to naked bike rides. But city officials say a business is pushing even Madison’s boundaries by offering, of all things, hugs.
For $60, customers at the Snuggle House can spend an hour hugging, cuddling and spooning with professional snugglers.
Snugglers contend that touching helps relieve stress. But Madison officials suspect that the business is a front for prostitution and, if it’s not, fear that snuggling could lead to sexual assault. Not buying the message that the business is all warm and fuzzy, police have talked openly about conducting a sting operation, and city lawyers are drafting a new ordinance to regulate snuggling.
“There’s no way that [sexual assault] will not happen,” Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy said. “No offense to men, but I don’t know any man who wants to just snuggle.”
Snuggle House owner Matthew Hurtado hasn’t responded to multiple requests for an interview. His attorney, Tim Casper, said last month that the business is legitimate and that Hurtado has put precautions in place to protect clients and employees from each other.
“The concept is obviously a novel one, and you can see where [the city] might be a little skeptical,” Casper said. “Could something happen? Yeah, I suppose. But they’re taking every precaution.”
In recent days, it’s been unclear whether the house is still in business. No one answered the door Saturday. A posting on a Facebook page claiming to be the Snuggle House’s site said it had closed, but the page owners wouldn’t identify themselves or confirm if it was the business’s official site. Neither Hurtado nor Casper have returned phone and e-mail messages.
Concerns in Madison seem to run deeper than in other cities where similar businesses have set up shop, as cuddling has grown into a cottage industry over the past decade.
Police in Rochester, N.Y., said they’ve had no complaints about the Snuggery, which offers overnight cuddle sessions. Be the Love You Are in Boulder, Colo., features cuddles with “Snuggle Stars.” Cuddle Therapy in San Francisco offers packages that “focus directly with your current needs around connection, intimacy, and touch,” according to its Web site. Police in San Francisco and Boulder didn’t respond to Associated Press inquiries about those businesses.
The nonprofit organization Cuddle Party has trained about 100 people across five continents to run group snuggle sessions, said Len Daley, a psychologist who serves as executive director at Cuddle Party headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. Betty Martin, a Seattle-based sex educator who facilitates cuddle parties in that city, said she’s never had problems with government officials or police. Cuddle Party participants must keep their clothes on and go through a pre-session workshop on how to say “no,” she said.
“People think if there’s touch happening, there must be sex happening. That’s not the case at all,” Martin said.