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Hug It Out

Men need to embrace platonic physical contact…

I love a good hug. Not a tepid side hug or half hug, but a full-bodied embrace.

I have a group of cisgender, straight male friends and the way we greet each other is always the same: we open our arms wide, wrap them around each other and squeeze tight. More than a means of exchanging hellos and positive energy, the hugs serve as a regular reminder of our shared humanity and that we’re all in this together. There’s nothing sexual about it. It’s just two guys hugging it out.

Scientific studies show that hugs lead to better outcomes in terms of both health and happiness. Hugging increases levels of oxytocin (also known as the cuddle hormone), a naturally occurring brain chemical strongly linked to social bonding, while at the same time decreasing heart rate and blood pressure, which can help alleviate stress and anxiety. Put simply, hugs make you feel good and they’re good for you, too.

So why are so many men afraid of a little platonic physical contact?

In today’s cultural climate, it’s automatically assumed that men can’t be completely trusted when it comes to connecting on a physical level. Touch has been hyper-sexualized; whether it’s a man hugging a woman or two men hugging, the interaction is viewed as sexually suspect. Outside of sexual relationships, the rule of thumb for men and displays of physical affection is: do not touch.

Added to the mix are pervasive messages in the media promoting toxic masculinity. Men are encouraged to wear the “tough guise” from a very young age. Being rough and hard is heralded as a show of strength, and any hint of softness or tenderness is inevitably seen as a sign of weakness. It’s a world in which the mission statement is to be macho and the motto reads: real men don’t hug.

The end result is that men are starved for affection and unable to fulfill a basic need for platonic physical connection. This lack of touch leaves men feeling isolated, disconnected and alone, feelings that go hand in hand with addiction, depression and abuse. It’s a destructive cycle, to say the least.

Could hugs really be the solution to such complex societal ills? By themselves, no…but they’re a good place to start.

What if instead of being held hostage to the fear of judgment that surrounds men giving hugs, we chose to give men permission to embrace platonic physical contact? What if we stopped requiring that men wear masks, and instead allowed them to be vulnerable and show up in the world as themselves? Imagine if men weren’t told to ignore cravings for physical connection and were able to surrender to their desire for non-sexual, consensual touch?

These may seem like big shifts in beliefs and behaviour, but they start with being brave and being role models for each other. The next time you encounter a male friend, gay or straight, give them a hug – a real hug – and see what happens. Even if they’re a little surprised at first, chances are they’ll hug you back, and you’ll both reap the rewards.

Hugs are free, but the payoff is priceless.

JUMOL ROYES is a Toronto-based writer/PR & communications strategist with a keen interest in personal development and transformation. Follow him on Twitter at @Jumol.

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