For most of our history, human beings have slept communally. Whether it was three, four or more siblings sharing a bed, or hardworking men sleeping cheek-to-jowl in crowded tenements, there were practical reasons (warmth, security) and social ones (bonding) that kept many people snuggled up; for the most part, only the very wealthy could afford to sleep alone in large, comfortable beds.

And while I know I’m not the only one who appreciates the bed space we moderns have (not to mention the climate control), we also live more separate lives than ever before — at least physically. When I was single for three years, I know I really noticed the lack of human contact in my day-to-day life; with my family living on another continent and no partner, my girlfriends were the only people who ever came close, and that was just for a brief hug.

So I can fully understand how tough it can be for those people who have lost a partner, who have a terminal or life-threatening illness, or are experiencing chronic pain, to go through life with nobody touching you save for nurses or doctors.

Because we all know—and studies prove—that being held, hugged, and comforted physically is relaxing and healing for most people (those benefits accrue whether the person doing the hugging is a friend or a stranger). And while we may all be in closer communication with far-flung friends and family than ever before, there is more physical space than ever between us. So how do those who need some healing find it?

Enter Madison, Wisconsin’s Snuggle House; this (extremely tidy, clean and thoroughly average-looking, check out NBC's video below to see) home is set up as a business — the business of cuddling. Here, there are trained professional snugglers, ready to comfort the sick, lonely or dying. (Yes, there are very specific rules about what behavior crosses a sexual boundary, and they won’t do it.)

From the Snuggle House site: "This is an exciting opportunity to receive the benefits of TOUCH THERAPY in a non-sexual way, and feel "connected" in a disconnected, digital world.  One session may be all you require, from time-to-time, or use 'Snuggling' as a staple to assist you in getting through a rough time.  Our staff will be attentitive, courteous, polite, loving, and available to you within the boundaries of this new profession." 

While this may seem a little "out-there" right now, think back at how massage therapy was seen 30 or 40 years ago. It was often associated with sketchy fronts for illegal business, but has, over the last few decades, become legitimized as the many health benefits of massage have been studied, verified and accepted.

Why shouldn’t snuggling be similar?

Would you go to the Snuggle House? How would you feel if someone you knew went to one? 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Some time in the Snuggle House might be just what the doctor ordered
The elderly, the sick, and the just plain lonely might benefit from cuddling, even if it’s with a stranger