Why can’t we hug? Men, Touch, and Social Norms

Do you ever notice how little we touch each other as a culture?  I’m pretty sure I could count the number of times I’ve hugged anyone but my wife and my parents/siblings in the last five years on my hands.  But hugging is great.  The following blogpost will be from my perspective as an aspiring touchy feely male who feels deep discomfort with being touchy-feely.

In every culture there are norms for touching.  Usually there are different norms for nonsexual  intergender and intragender touching.  That is, usually the cultural rules that govern how and when men and women  are allowed to touch each other are different from the rules that govern how women are allowed to touch other women and how men are allowed to touch other men in polite company.  I’ll mention intergender touching norms briefly, but I’m more interested in discussing the norms for nonsexual touching amongst men.

Let me paint a picture that should sound familiar.  Two couples finish a double date and say goodbye for the evening.  The women hug goodbye.  The men hug the women goodbye.  The men proceed to shake hands.  Perhaps, at most, the men will bro-hug, which is a hybrid hug/handshake meant to avoid the intimacy of a hug.  Anything beyond a bro-hug, for anything but the closest of friends, is nigh out of the question.  The stronger taboos against touch for men with other men is confirmed by a recent oxford study.

But touch is a very important and fulfilling part of human life.  So let’s assume that the strong norms against male/male touching is a problem.  The question I think is interesting is this: What is the cause of the problem?  Maybe touch is too highly sexualized for men.

This seems to be suggested by the response a homophobic high school bully has to male touch.  The bully conceives of male/male touch as gay and thus as a thing he must struggle mightily against, worrying that such touch will awaken something within him.  A friend comes into the bully for a hug and comes away with a black eye.  This seems to assume that, at least for this one case, the bully’s reaction is connected to conceiving of male/male touch as sexual.

Then again, maybe there’s some other reason why male to male touching is considered more taboo than female/female and male/female touching.  I’m not sure.  But there’s one thing I am sure of.

Men need to start hugging more and becoming more comfortable with touch in general.  I’m tired of touch being unsettling.  We’re human beings.  Human beings are mammals and mammals are cuddly.  It’s time that men remembered this.  Next time you see me, give me a hug.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the social norms surrounding touch in our culture are out of wack?  Should we touch each other more?  Let me know in the comments

Peace be with you.
-JS

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