The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer

touch

Mark Greene explores how in American culture, men avoid all contact rather than risk even the hint of causing unwanted sexual touch.

 

In preparing to write about the lack of gentle touch in men’s lives, I right away thought, “I feel confident I can do platonic touch, but I don’t necessarily trust other men to do it. Some guy will do something creepy. They always do.” Quickly on the heels of that thought, I wondered “Wait a minute, why do I distrust men in particular?” The little voice in my head didn’t say, “I don’t necessarily trust people to not be creepy”, it said, “I don’t trust men.”

In American culture, we believe that men can never be entirely trusted in the realm of the physical. We collectively suspect that, given the opportunity, men will collapse into the sexual at a moment’s notice. That men don’t know how to physically connect otherwise. That men can’t control themselves. That men are dogs.

There is no corresponding narrative about women.

Accordingly, it has become every man’s job to prove they can be trusted, in each and every interaction, day by day and case by case. In part, because so many men have behaved poorly. And so, we prove our trustworthiness by foregoing physical touch completely in any context in which even the slightest doubt about our intentions might arise. Which, sadly, is pretty much every context we encounter.

And where does this leave men? Physically and emotionally isolated. Cut off from the human physical contact that is proven to reduce stress, encourage self esteem and create community.

And where does this leave men? Physically and emotionally isolated. Cut off from the deeply human physical contact that is proven to reduce stress, encourage self esteem and create community. Instead, we walk in the vast crowds of our cities alone in a desert of disconnection. Starving for physical connection.

We crave touch. We are cut off from it. The result is touch isolation.

How often do men actually get the opportunity to express affection through long lasting platonic touch? How often does it happen between men? Or between men and women? Not a hand shake or a hug, but lasting physical contact between two people that is comforting and personal but not sexual. Between persons who are not lovers and never will be. Think, holding hands. Or leaning on each other. Sitting together. That sort of thing. Just the comfort of contact. And if you are a man, imagine a five minutes of contact with another man. How quickly does that idea raise the ugly specter of homophobia? And why?

While women are much freer to engage in physical contact with each other, men remain suspect when they touch others. There is only one space in our culture where long term platonic physical contact is condoned for men, and that is between fathers and their very young children.

I found this kind of physical connection when my son was born. As a stay at home dad, I spent years with my son. Day after day, he sat in the crook of my arm, his little arm across my shoulder, his hand on the back of my neck. As he surveyed the world from on high, I came to know a level of contentment and calm that had heretofore been missing in my life. The physical connection between us was so transformative that it changed my view of who I am and what my role is in the world. Yet it took having a child to bring this calming experience to me because so few other opportunities are possible to teach men the value and power of gentle loving touch.

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As a young child and as a teenager, contact between myself and others simply didn’t happen unless it came in the form of rough housing or unwelcome bullying. My mother backed off from contact with me very early on, in part, I think, due to her upbringing. I can only guess that in her parents’ house physical touch was something for toddlers but not for children past a certain age. Add to that, the fact that my father was absent due to my parents’ divorce and years of work overseas, and it meant I grew up without being held or touched

This left me with huge insecurities about human contact. I was well into my twenties before I could put my arm around a girl I was dating without first getting drunk.  To this day, I remain uncertain about where and how to approach contact with people, even those I consider close friends. It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s just that it remains awkward, odd. As if we all feel like we’re doing something slightly… off?

Hugs with men or women are a ballet of the awkward, a comedic choreography in which we turn our groins this way or that. Shoulders in, butts out, seeking to broadcast to anyone within line of sight that we are most certainly not having a sexual moment.

Contact with male friends is always brief, a handshake, or a pat on the back. Hugs with men or women are a ballet of the awkward, a comedic choreography in which we turn our groins this way or that. Shoulders in, butts out, seeking to broadcast to anyone within line of sight that we are most certainly not having a sexual moment. We’re working so hard to be seen as sexually neutral that we take no joy in these moments of physical connection.

Not only do we men distrust others in this muddled realm of physical touch, years of shaming and judgement have left us distrusting ourselves. Did I enjoy that too much? Am I having taboo thoughts? This distrust leaves us uncertain about touching another human being unless we have established very clear rules of engagement. Often we give up and simply reduce those rules to being in a relationship. We allow ourselves long-lasting comforting touch with our girlfriends or boyfriends. The vast universe of platonic human touch is suddenly reduced to the exclusive domain of one person and is blended into the sexual. That’s a lot of need to put on one person, however loving and generous they might be.

Which leads to the question, how do we teach our sons to understand how touch works? How to parse out the sexual from the platonic? Is the pleasure of human contact inherently sexual to some degree?  I doubt its a question the average Italian man would ever ask himself. But here in America, generations of Puritanical sexual shaming have made it a central question. By putting the fear of the sexual first in all our interactions, we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, avoiding all contact rather than risk even the hint of unwanted sexual touch.

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Many parents step back from physical contact with boys when their sons approach puberty. The contact these boys seek is often deemed confusing or even sexually suspect. And, most unbelievable of all, all opportunity for potential physical touch is abruptly handed over to young boys’ female peers, who are suddenly expected to act as gatekeepers to touch; young girls who are no more prepared to take on this responsibility than boys are to hand it over.

And so boys are cast adrift with two unspoken lessons:

  1. All touch is sexually suspect
  2. Find a girlfriend or give up human contact

A particularly damning message to boys who are gay.

American culture leaves boys few options. While aggression on the basketball court or bullying in the locker room often results in sporadic moments of human contact, gentleness likely does not.

American culture leaves boys few options. While aggression on the basketball court or bullying in the locker room often results in sporadic moments of human contact, gentleness likely does not. And young men, whose need for touch is channeled into physically rough interactions with other boys or fumbling sexual contact with girls, lose conscious awareness of the gentle, platonic contact of their own childhoods. Sometimes it’s not until their children are born that they rediscover gentle platonic touch; the holding and caring contact that is free from the drumbeat of sex, sex, sex that pervades our culture even as we simultaneously condemn it.

Is it any wonder that sexual relationships in our culture are so loaded with anger and fear? Boys are dumped on a desert island of physical isolation, and the only way they can find any comfort is to enter the blended space of sexual contact to get the connection they need. Which makes sexual relations a vastly more high stakes experience than it already should be. We encourage aggressive physical contact as appropriate mode of contact for boys and turn a blind eye to bullying even as we then expect them to work out some gentler mode of sexual contact in their romantic lives.

If men could diffuse their need for physical connection across a much wider set of platonic relationships, it would do wonders for our sense of connection in the world. As it is, we can’t even manage a proper hug because we can’t model what was never modeled for us.

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We have seniors in retirement homes who are visited by dogs they can hold and pet. This does wonders for their health and emotional state of mind. It is due to the power of contact between living creatures. Why are good hearted people driving around town, taking dogs to old folks homes? Because no one is touching these elderly people. They should have grandchildren in their laps every day, or a warm human hand to hold, not Pomeranians who come once a week. And yet, we put a dog in their laps instead of give them human touch, because we remain a culture that holds human contact highly suspect. We know the value of touch, even as we do everything we can to shield ourselves from it.

We American men, have a tragic laundry list of reasons why we are not comfortable with touch.

  1. We fear being labeled as sexually inappropriate by women.
  2. We live in a virulently homophobic culture so all contact between men is suspect.
  3. We don’t want to risk any hint of being sexual toward children.
  4. We don’t want to risk our status as macho or authoritative by being physically gentle.
  5. We don’t ever want to deal with rejection when we reach out. (And in our touch averse culture that is the most likely outcome.)
But at the root of all these flawed rationalizations is the fact that most American men are never taught how to do gentle non-sexual touch.

But at the root of all these flawed rationalizations is the fact that most American men are never taught to do gentle non-sexual touch. We are not typically taught that we can touch and be touched as platonic expression of joyful human contact. Accordingly, the very inappropriate over-sexualized touch our society fears runs rampant, reinforcing our culture’s  self fulfilling prophecy against men and touch. Meanwhile, this inability to comfortably connect via touch has left men emotionally isolated contributing to rampant rates of alcoholism, depression and abuse.

And what if the lack of platonic touch is causing some men to be far too aggressive toward women, who, as the exclusive gatekeepers for gentle touch are carrying a burden they could never hope to fully manage?  Women, who arguably are both victims of and, in partnership with men, enforcers of  the prohibition against platonic touch in American culture? The impact of our collective touch phobia is felt across our society by every single man, woman and child.

Brené Brown, in her ground breaking TED Talk titled The power of vulnerability talks at length about the limitations men face when attempting to express vulnerability in our culture. She notes the degree to which men are boxed in by our culture’s expectations about what a man is or is not allowed to do. I would suggest that the limitations placed on men extend to their physical expression though touch. And are just as damaging in that realm.

♦◊♦

But here’s the good news.

There are many reasons why full-time stay at home dads are proving to be such a transformative force in American culture. One powerful reason is the awakening of touch. As full time dads, we are presented with the absolute necessity to hold our own wonderful children. We are learning about touch in the most powerful and life affirming way. In ways that previous generations of men simply were not immersed in. Once you have held your sleeping child night after night or walked for years with their hand in yours, you are a changed person. You gain a fluency and confidence in touch that you will never loose. It is a gift to us men from our children that literally has the capacity to transform American culture.

Accordingly, now, when I am with a friend I do reach out. I do make contact. And I do so with confidence and joy. And I have my own clear path forward.

The patterns in my life may be somewhat set but I intend to do everything I can to remain in contact with my son in hopes that he will have a different view of touch in his life. I hug him and kiss him. We hold hands or I put my arm around him when we watch TV or walk on the street. I will not back off from him because someone somewhere might take issue with our physical connection. I will not back off because somehow there is an unspoken rule that I must cut him loose in the world to fend for himself. I hope we can hold hands even when he is a man. I hope we continue to hold hands till the day I die.

Ultimately, we will unlearn our fear of touch in the context of our personal lives and in our day to day interactions. Learning how to express platonic love and affection through touch is a vast and remarkable change that has to be lived. But it is so important that we do it. Because it is central to having a rich full life.

Touch is life.

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For startling new evidence linking boys’ friendships, homophobia and the resulting drop in life expectancy among men, read: Why Do We Murder the Beautiful Friendships of Boys? – 

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Remaking Manhood is a collection of Mark Greene’s most powerful articles on American culture, relationships, family and parenting. It is a timely and balanced look at the issues at the heart of the modern masculinity movement. Mark’s articles on masculinity and manhood have received over 100,000 FB shares and 10 million page views. Get the free Kindle Reader app for any device here. 

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SEE ALSO: 

Guess What? Women Also Struggle With Emotional Expression

When “Check Your Male Privilege” Becomes a Bludgeon

How the Man Box Can Kill Our Sons Now or Decades from Now

How an Epidemic of Loneliness is Killing the Men We Love

Why Do We Murder the Beautiful Friendships of Boys?

How America’s Culture of Shame is a Killer for Boys

The Culture of Shame: Men, Love, and Emotional Self-Amputation

The Man Box: Why Men Police and Punish Others
“Every time you do this, you become less free. A rat in a cage. A dog on a chain. A prisoner.”

For Crying Out Loud, Can We Please Stop Calling Them Highly Sensitive Men?

Why Men’s Friendships Can Feel Empty

The Man Box: The Link Between Emotional Suppression and Male Violence

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men of Touch

Touch Isolation: Insisting Boys Learn Independence Creates an Isolating Trap for Men

— Mark Greene (@megaSAHD) May 14, 2014
For those who are interested, here are a few sources on the issues I raise here:

In an article in Psychology Today Ray B. Williams writes about the central role of touch in living happier, healthier lives:

Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, says “in recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.” Keltner cites the work of neuroscientist Edmund Ross, who found that physical touch activates the brain’s orbitfrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Keltner contends that “studies show that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassion response…”

A clear indication of how central touch is in our emotional and cognitive development can be seen in the range of studies examining touch and infants (both human and animal), here summarized in an article titled The Importance of Touch in Development found on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s web site. The article notes:

Developmental delay is often seen in children receiving inadequate or inappropriate sensory stimulation. For example, orphaned infants exposed to the bleakest of conditions in eastern European institutions exhibited impaired growth and cognitive development, as well as an elevated incidence of serious infections and attachment disorders (1) Much evidence now points to the importance of touch in child development and suggests the possibility that these orphaned infants are not suffering from maternal deprivation, per se, but from sensory deprivation, and more specifically a deprivation of mechanosensory stimulation.

Read more about the central role touch plays in human communication in this amazing article in Psychology Today titled The Power of Touch.

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More by Mark Greene:

The Man Box: The Link Between Emotional Suppression and Male Violence

Touch Isolation: Insisting Boys Learn Independence Creates an Isolating Trap for Men

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men of Touch

Boys and Self-Loathing: The Conversations That Never Took Place

Our Society’s Brutal Economic Message to Straight Men About Expressing Gender Differently: You’d Better Not…

The Lego Rebellion, Vladimir Putin and the “You Might Be Gay” Dinner Conversation

The Dark Side of Women’s Requests of Progressive Men

The Last Late Show With My Father

 

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About Mark Greene

Executive Editor Mark Greene’s articles for the Good Men Project have received over 250,000 Facebook shares and 20 million page views.

Greene writes and speaks on culture, society, family and fatherhood. His work is a timely and balanced look at the life affirming changes emerging from the modern masculinity movement.

Greene writes and speaks on men’s issues for the Good Men Project, the Shriver Report, the New York Times, Salon, the BBC and the Huffington Post.

Comments

  1. This article describes my life so completely, I wonder if you’ve been secretly filming me for that last 47 years. Touch, in any way and with anyone other than my gf/wife has been off limits. I couldn’t walk in to a bar for a drink without everyone looking at me with the assumption, “Oh, he’s here to pick up.” I couldn’t go to a club to dance. Heaven forbid that I didn’t look cool while dancing with my date. Do you know how hard it is to dance with a drink in your hand? Because drinking is the only way to make such a non-masculine activity cool enough to be acceptable.

    There have been times of agonizing loneliness in my life because of what society has expected me to do (or in this case, to not do). You’ve captured it perfectly. Thanks for letting me know that I’m not the only one.

    D.

  2. i remember the night i had the worst panic attack of my life and ended up at the ER twice getting drugs to calm down after I’d puked (cause I’d thought I’d finally be strong and come off the others ones). The mental health worker was a young woman who called me a cab home. I remember wanting a hug so badly from this cold, irritated lady after pretty much thinking i was going to die of dread minutes before. I mean you’d think it’d be OK in that context but no, its easier to drug people so you don’t have to deal with them i guess. So much for mental health. I hate this world so much. Don’t be weak, don’t be needy even as we cut your legs out from under you. Good dog.

  3. Mike Carbonneau says:

    When I was teaching Gr5-8 orchestra (for 27 years) I did a “Country Dance Night” twice yearly, with student fiddle music and student dancing. The boys danced with boys very often, especially if they were under that magic 7th grade year. The adults didn’t quite know how to deal with that. Nobody ever really complained, but it was easy to see that it was a little awkward for the adults. I just made nothing of it, and appreciated that it was happening.
    I totally concur with this article. As a male K-8 teacher I quickly got the word that any hint of physical contact was potentially lethal for my professional future ……. and it was not that way with women.
    And in the regular straight guy to guy world, we men realize how physically paralyzed we are and joke about it – but we seem powerless to change it. It’s all so culturally ingrained.
    For a while in certain “liberated” circles there was a men’s movement going on to change this, but I really haven’ heard much about that in the last few decades. It is good to read an article like this. Hopefully it means that this old man is just out of touch.

  4. For as much human contact/touch I get, I may as well be on Mars. So terrified am I of being falsely accused or overtly needy or sexual, (not to mention being an unmarried male in my 40s) that an early grave is a very welcome thought. I have come to have a seething anger against this unloving PC world so completely distracted by screens and greed that it feels at times that my heart will burst and I just won’t wake up in the morning.

  5. “But here in America, generations of Puritanical sexual shaming have made it a central question.”

    It’s not Puritanical, at least, no, not directly. It’s Victorian. It was during that era that corn flake cereal was invented to curb sexual libido, and table legs were covered to avoid sexual thoughts. Many scholars and researchers have noted that our mores are still based on that era (including also the Edwardian period). Ironically, however, platonic touch between men was NOT seen as sexual during that time, and that included men sleeping in the same bed. This was especially noted observing the time of Abraham Lincoln; it was not seen as anything sexually untoward. We have actually twisted past Victorian sensibilities; there are articles online right now showing portraits of men together and commentary assuming that they are romantically involved, when such a conclusion cannot fairly be drawn.

    That said, I am a father, and my son has always DEMANDED some sort of platonic touch, and that profoundly changed my life. He is 7 now, and has autism, so some of what he does is challenging at times. But I realized early on that he was very happy just to have physical contact of some kind. Can he be rough? Absolutely. He does the rough-and-tumble bit plenty. But many days he pretends to be a dog, cat, or a pony, and asks repeatedly for a pat or some sort of touch as such.

  6. YES, YES AND MORE OF MY FUCKING YES.

    This deprivation is what I have been suffering through my mid-to-late adolescece and my entire young adulthood so far (I am 25) and I have seen very tangibly how my emotional state has been deteriorating in the absence of this touch you write of. You don’t know how gratifying it is for me to see this issue finally addressed, especially so succinctly! I hope all of my friends and community here in Wollongong, Australia read it and finally understand me. I would love to see a cultural shift that starts growing good young men the way they were meant to be grown by granting them this long forgotten art.

    • Hi Zeke and all,
      I found this article particularly interesting to me, so much so that I sent it to all of my male friends. I not only suffered from a lack of touch growing up; had absolutely no attention from my parents. I was free, from about the age of 5-6 to do what I wanted. My mother, stay at home type in 1940’s and 50″s, could have cared less if I was even around. I came and went as I pleased, spent nights at friends homes and ate at their tables and my mother never even asked where I was. It sounds like a good deal, right? It wasn’t, you see, it caused me to feel depressed, alone, uncared for and uncared about and created an Affective Deficit (professional diagnosis) and suicidal tendencies and thoughts, all of my life. I had no memories of parents even acknowledging I was even there, no “motherly” examples, no cookies and milk, no bed time reading, nothing. I have friends that I have described that scene to and they can’t believe it, thought that it would be a great way to grow up, independent and free, it was not and as a result I have my own set of affective disorders and behaviors. What a mess.

  7. Your article brings up a lot of very charged feelings for me, Mark. I can identify with some of your personal history, but not all. I am a gay man and up until the age of twelve my relationship with my mother was affectionate and cuddly almost to the point of being inappropriate. I would also get hugs from my father, whom I loved, but he had a very difficult and volatile personality, whereas my mother embodied ongoing unconditional warmth.

    But when I was 13 my father died from alcohol abuse, and at the same time, my mother abruptly ended the intimacy we had (around the same time my dog died, which didn’t help much). Nothing took its place, and for a variety of reasons I was subjected to extreme bullying both at home (from my older brothers) and at school.

    37 years later I have never really recovered from the pain and craving for love this left me. I especially craved physical affection from other men, which is what prompted me to get into various men’s groups in my 20s and 30s. Unfortunately, a big mistake I made at the time was my presumption that other guys, especially straight guys, were invested in these groups because they shared this same pain and neediness.

    Much to my embarrassment, I found out that was not the case. They had issues, all right, but a need for physical affection from other men was rarely one of them. In this regard, the responses posted in this from from “Gordon” and “A Little Cynical Maybe” are notable in what they reveal to me about heterosexual men. It leads me to wonder if I will ever be free of the hurt that haunts me.

  8. Thanks for starting the discussion, Mark. This is a big problem for both men & women.

    It’s up to each of us to make it safe for those around us to be comfortable touching or being touched as they prefer. We can also give ourselves permission to be more loving.

    The experience of the Burning Man arts and culture festival was a revolutionary one for me. It introduced me to a culture of goalless non-sexual touch and the incredible benefit this has for human health. So much of our expensive and broken healthcare system could be dismantled if we could create communities of love & affection.

  9. This was beautifully written and took me down a hallway of thought that I had never been down before. What an amazing and informing point of view. I agree wholeheartedly that platonic touch is healing and transformative and integral to our health and wellbeing. This is one of those things that makes SO much sense and seems so undeniably obvious, but gets overlooked due to the archaic, and wholly outdated, values of decorum that are steeped in fear. I believe that platonic touch is based on kindness and to pull that out of the equation due to perception is not only heartbreaking but wrong on so many levels that I can’t even begin to count them all. Thank you for writing this.

  10. It does not help to lump (in the heterosexual community) MF touch with MM touch. The two are loaded with very different anxieties.

    To carry on an informed discussion on this it is essential to acknowledge the role of media and pornography that promotes the idea that men are entitled to female bodies for sexual pleasure. This is the context that makes all of this so difficult.

    Promoting the idea of platonic MF touch must come after the dictates of media culture have been addressed.

    MM platonic touch is a far safer and more radical (as in getting to the root) place to start.

  11. It does not help to lump (in the heterosexual community) MF touch with MM touch. The two are loaded with very different anxieties.

    To carry on and informed discussion on this it is essential to acknowledge the role of media and pornography that promotes the idea that men are entitled to female bodies for sexual pleasure. This is the context that makes all of this so difficult.

    Promoting the idea of platonic MF touch must come after the dictates of media culture have been addressed.

    MM platonic touch is a far safer and more radical (as in getting to the root) place to start.

  12. But not everyone wants to be touched. I hate being touched by non-family-members; I put up with the social groping that women are required to tolerate, but I hate it. I love it when my husband touches me, and my children, and that is absolutely it. I think I don’t understand what people, male or female, get out of casual touching? And why it’s a problem if absent? I wish, in my case, it WERE absent!

  13. This is an interesting article, but it seems to be narrowed in on a particular subset of the male populace. While this subset might be the majority, I can assure you that there’s plenty of camaraderie between men expressed via handshakes, fist bumps, greeting hugs.. that the need for additional rubbing is really a matter of personal preference — not some unforeseen need that is somehow hindering character development.

  14. Odd. I experience touch from adults as more often than not an attempt to manipulate or control. Children can be insecure; it’s natural that they cling. But then they grow up, and cling a lot less, if at all. If an adult, man or woman, gets touchy-feely, it’s usually because they have something in mind that’s not necessarily in your best interest — and I’m leaving sex entirely out of the equation there. Even handshakes strike me as a determined bit of phoniness, and I avoid them like the plague. I doubt if homophobia has anything to do with it, since I react the same way to women who are not very, very close. And from admittedly intermittent and partial observations, I haven’t noticed that people from “touchy” societies, such as Italians, are any less messed up than we are (though the mess is somewhat differently configured). The guy who gives you a big hug is no less likely to cheat you than the one who gives you a nod, and the latter is at least more sincere.

    “Starved for touch”? I have difficulty even comprehending what those words mean. Certainly I’ve never felt that way. The only time that I can conceive of an adult wanted to be touched in the ways you extol are when that adult has been driven back into a childlike state by severe injury or illness (mental or physical). I believe the only adult male that I ever felt it a good idea to touch was a rather feminine gay man who had been grossly insulted by someone (this was a number of years ago) and was crying. He needed a hug, because the insult had caused him to temporarily regress, but he didn’t need it after he got himself together again, which he did quite quickly. In such cases, touch is more like first aid. When the person gets back on their feet, the need to be touched is over. You don’t go chasing a perfectly healthy person around with a bottle of iodine and a Band-Aid, and I think you ought to be asking yourself why you feel the need to do that.

  15. Thank you for this Mark. I had not thought about the abrupt shift that boys experience in being expected to start getting touch from young women and the intense pressure this puts on both boys and girls. I feel sad about that.

    I am hugely grateful that over the past ten years I have experienced and become comfortable with platonic touch from men as part of participation in the ManKind Project (.org). I have a big group of male peers, some straight, some gay, from all kinds of backgrounds, who are rewriting this script. Facing the homophobia, confronting the internal dialog, and creating a peer culture where real, supportive, nonsexual touch is the norm. Real hugs. Real connection. Men who lean on one another and feel comfortable holding one another.

    This has made my ability to be fully present and physically intimate with my wife MORE powerful, because confusion about what I am needing is gone. I can melt into her arms when that is what I need. And I am free to offer myself (to give and receive) as a man rather than a boy looking for touch.

  16. It’s a good article and some of the comments are good too.
    I too have experienced the joy of parenting very young children.
    There are some differences between how males and females are treated
    (which the article goes far in describing)
    which I despise.
    I’ve met men who were accused of inappropriately touching their children
    and as a result were forced to remain separated.
    My sympathy is with falsely accused men.
    I hope I can be forgiven for the way I state that.
    It comes from my experiences in my own circumstances.
    In an attempt to be really fair I would say
    “My sympathy is with falsely accused people.”
    Please notice how the sentence is different when it says
    “people” instead of “men”.
    After reading the comments
    (and having my initial reaction to them
    which I will not even venture to describe here),
    I went back to study Julie’s original comment.
    And I also went back to study this sentence early in the article:
    “In part, because so many men have behaved poorly.”
    In Julie’s commment she wrote:
    “how do we apply this to men who cheat?”
    and:
    “How can a wife for example feel safe and understanding about her husband seeking “gentle platonic touch” from a female friend when that is almost an oxymoron between men and women?”
    My reaction, to all three of those excerpts, is this thought, the same as Mark Greene stated in the article:
    “There is no corresponding narrative about women.”
    As a man, who has tried to live a decent life, and has been falsely accused,
    by a woman, and distrusted and despised,
    not only by her but by people in court as a result,
    I am sensitive to statements which seem
    to connote, imply, or emphasize bad behavior by men,
    without similarly connoting, implying, or emphasizing bad behavior by women.

    • I don’t know if this will make you feel better, but I completely trust my boyfriend and think he’s an amazing person and would never cheat on me, but I’ve had to give up some friends who would hug him and be too affectionate towards him and stuff. Not because I thought he might cheat, I’ve never got mad at him about this, but because it became obvious that they were trying to get a sexual response out of him and failing. It would make me furious with THEM. And the fact that they would do those things right in front of my face means they are no friend to me.

      So I have the same problem with my boyfriend hugging women sometimes, but not because I’m afraid he’ll do something, but because I might lose a friend again. I actually keep my boyfriend away from most of my female friends because, this is terrible to say, most of them have a great need to try to make every man they know feel sexual attraction towards them. I’m fine with that as long as they aren’t doing it with the man that I love. As soon as they start doing that, I have to drop them as friends.

      So I have issues with this, but it’s because I don’t trust the women I know. In fact, I distrust women so much right now that it makes me feel sexist because I tend to assume that all of them are pretty sleazy. But that might be because I’m in my 20’s. I hope these women mature when they are older.

  17. I’m a married female. I have a divorced male friend 30 years older than me with whom we hug and hold each other platonically. We love hanging out with each other and I suspect I play an unspoken role in providing that affection for him because he lives alone and his children are all grown up and out of the house. It’s not something we talk about with each other and I haven’t talked about it to anyone else either. It’s a different feeling from if we were in our 20s and doing this, it seems it would be a much more loaded situation. And this is where I’m going to get a lot of backlash and comments. I’m the one that feels aroused and excited by the contact. That’s my body’s response and I don’t pursue it, but it’s there and that’s just me. It can’t be denied that there isn’t a little bit of charge of energy between us. Part of being a human animal. I find a lot of joy in our friendship that is enriched by the touch between us. I am just describing our situation. Now let the judgements and tomato slinging begin…

  18. there is a programme being taught in schools globally and growing in America, which teaches children peer massage and the incredible benefits of touch physically, mentally,emotionally. I have been working with this in schools in Liverpool UK for over 5 years and now boys aged 11 are comfortable taking part and sharing this gentle platonic caring and vital touch of which you so eloquently speak. there is hope to redress this imbalance. Please help spread the word and promote MISP (massage in schools programme). It is simple yet incredibly powerful and will certainly contribute to the social change we very much need. Thank you for your insightful article.

  19. Regarding the cheating issue, I have always thought that we put way too much value on “owning” another person’s sexuality. Me, my wife, and many of our friends are all simply polyamorous. Being in a poly community does wonderful things to the men in them and they touch each other much more freely and happily than most. I’m not saying everyone wants polyamoury, but the simple elimination of cheating-based jealousy solves so many problems, and shines a bright light on the times a different problem comes up which might otherwise just be chalked up to stray eyes or stray beddings.

    • I understand there is a portion of the population that is ok with that kind of arrangement. Personally, it’s not for me. But more importantly, I believe all relationships are based on trust and mutually defined parameters and boundaries. Clearly, polyamorous or consensually open relationships are different than a husband secretly lying and cheating, claiming one set of values or agreements and privately doing another. It’s not about ownership, it’s about creating safety and having a right to decide what kind of relationship you want to have for your own life. Lying or cheating deprives a partner of that choice.

  20. I think a good part of this issue is the fact that society doesn’t allow men to be nonsexual. Men are praised for their conquests, shamed for not having sex, accused of being queer (obviously not really an insult, but still regarded as one by those who are not comfortable with homosexuality or confident in their own sexuality) or weak. This is so ingrained both in the minds of men and women that all touch does become suspect.
    This, coupled with the fact that women start really engaging with men when men are at their sexual peak (high school and just after), really enforces that idea.

    I would argue that we need to start teaching our boys and young men different ideas about sex and sexuality from day one. Less pressure = more comfort.

  21. Brad Grammer says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I’ve been running support groups for men battling sexual addictions for 15 years. One of my contentions is that men battle sexuality more because they are touch depraved. They are more likely to be sexual because most of their touch is reserved exclusively for sexual behavior so why wouldn’t they struggle with it? They automatically equate touch with sex instead of seeing touch as normal as taking care of your nutritional needs by eating healthy. Healthy touch is imperative to be a healthy person and teaching this men about healthy, non-sexual touch is one of the tasks of the support groups. Thank you once again.

  22. Speaking of dogs, Harry Truman famously said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog”.

  23. Thank you for posting this. It’s one of the first things that has made me want to raise male children so I can be part of working against this trend in the culture I live in–and a good reminder that there are things I can do about it now.

  24. As a 25 year old man with a widening social circle, I have noticed that I respond to touch from almost everyone with a fear response. I have noticed I am more comfortable alone than in a roomful of people, even thought when I am alone I long for others and yearn for contact. It’s a relief to know that I am not alone in these feelings (and not completely crazy). Articles like this one give me the courage to “fake it until I make it” ie pretend I am comfortable with touch and contact until the time comes that I am truly comfortable with it.

    And to Julie, the woman who is concerned about “her” man cheating, I think you need to grow up. If you are constantly paranoid and suspicous of every little touch and move “your” man is making, then it is time for the relationship to be over. You are experiencing some sort of control issue that many women display that continues to boggle my mind. Find a different man that makes you happy. Stop trying to force the universe to pair you with a person who is obviously not making you happy.

    • Actually, my man and I are personally recovering from his cheating behaviors, so to me this is a very relevant question… Not a matter of paranoia or control. He still has several female friends and I understand the value of physical touch. But sadly in his case, he’s a self-identified sex addict… And even less conflicted men could easily make a horrible mistake…

    • And just for the record, Jon, I find your assumptions insulting. This beautiful man makes me extremely happy and vice-versa. Sometimes life does throw you curves and we’re taking steps… Together… But that does NOT mean the relationship has to be terminated. Love and relationships sometimes mean sticking it out and loving each other through problems. And we are. But nonetheless, for us it does change the perspective on this topic somewhat. I was looking for an educated opinion responding to my original question…
      And furthermore… I do not assume that i possess this man I love. I referred to him as “my husband,” but in no way is my attitude one of a nagging, possessive, paranoid wife. I’m a very fair, educated and loving partner and he’d be the first one to say so.
      Not everyone’s experiences are the same as yours. Please consider that before you open your mouth and spew ignorance and unnecessary rudeness…

      • Lolabunny says:

        “Please consider that before you open your mouth and spew ignorance and unnecessary rudeness.”
        Jon is a man. Just another man. Another man like most, with no compassion, rude and sexist, always expecting women to be the “evil” in this world. Don’t expect that much from men.

    • Jon,

      Your response to Julie is unkind and hostile. Please take this as being said gently, I know typed words can’t convey that. I too have social anxiety.

      It will help your social anxiety a lot to consider your seemingly automatic response to be snarky to people you don’t know just because you disagree with them. That kind of negativity lives within and can poison you and any chance you have of being comfortable in a room full of strangers.

      A wise person (and I’m not saying I’m wise – I screw this up too, especially if the topic is passionate) can allow others to have an opinion that conflicts with their own without seeing it as a personal threat. We are all the product of our environment and experiences, and our perspectives are always going to be a little different.

      I totally understand your aversion to the possessive form of calling a partner “my man/my woman”. For some people, it is very offensive. For others, it’s just natural. In North American society, it is becoming taboo among a subset of the more liberal culture, but not everyone feels that way yet and based on their intent they may not mean it in the way that you think.

      You’re not wrong for feeling that it’s wrong to assert possession of another human being, or to assume control of their lives based on a relationship. It’s just the tone of your response that was equally offensive, because you made an assumption and responded harshly and with sarcasm.

      Please don’t take that as an attack. I’m not trying to attack you.

      I’m just saying that, as someone who also has social anxiety, that outlook and automatic response is not going to help you in faking it till you make it. You’ll find it exceptionally harder to actually make it if you are so quick to assume the negative about other people.

      I hope I haven’t come off as a jerk. If I have, please excuse me. I mean no harm.

      Ps. I can also identify with Julie because my husband cheated too, and I tried to make it work for three years after, then I left. Depending on your history with someone in a serious relationship, it’s not always so easy as just dumping them the first time they display a lack of 100% compatibility. You do that all the time, you’re going to find yourself in a series of very short relationships with a lot of time wasted, and several people with great personalities but a few glaring flaws tossed aside despite their potential to make you happy.

  25. barry hendricks says:

    being a man i have wondered why i cant feel those feeling of beiing with someone nonsexually being able to comfort or be comforted by another iether man or women. I have felt that in the past and at times it was magical at other times and most often just a touch or a hug has left one or the other feeling uncomfortable.
    I have had both feelings in my interactions and like i said id prefer the touch being able to hold each other and if it is magical enough enjoy the love that comes out of it whether that be sexual in nature or not with iether males or females

  26. I like aspects of this, but how do we apply this to men who cheat? How can a wife for example feel safe and understanding about her husband seeking “gentle platonic touch” from a female friend when that is almost an oxymoron between men and women? As if latent sexual energy and the risk of going too far isn’t constantly present. There’s nothing wrong with sex and attraction unless more important relationships (like marriage and parenting) are on the line.

    • swoosh.

  27. A Little Cynical Maybe says:

    A few questions/reflections to complicate this matter:

    1. Why do we “need” gentle platonic touch? I am not so quick to accept that as a need?

    2. Similarly, how can you generalize that “we” all want it, that it is not, in fact, something that you or I have been conditioned to think we don’t want, but something that we, in fact, do NOT want?

    3. The article goes to lengths in its wording to uphold a clear distinction between this and “sexual” touch. But what is so wrong with sex? That seems to me as natural as hunger, as natural as thinking a pleasant smell is pleasant. Why is it sad that a man is conditioned not to want a stranger’s platonic touch, but it is “natural” that he is conditioned to think that getting any kind of pleasure out of human contact is somehow wrong? Talk about Puritan…

    4. If hugs are given in an unnatural manner (crotches this way or that), maybe it is because the whole practice itself is a “ballet of the awkward.” I know so-called huggers will not even want to entertain this notion, but really, some of us do not want casual hugs. I remember a time when you were not expected to hug all acquaintances at the end of the night or else face being considered a douche. The time was not so long ago, and I’ve had fond waves or exchange of words that were infinitely more intimate and endearing than these rather forced hugs.

    5. Some people will not know where to draw the line. Some people will not know where the line needs to be drawn. For example, a rub of the shoulders is, to some, a casual exchange, to others, it is a potential trigger and very creepy.

    6. I’m a man, to throw that out there. But I question myself whether this is our struggle alone. I’m not so quick to say so–touch is creepy to me as a casual exchange. I don’t think that this is because I have a fear of touch (that I am uptight, I’ll go ahead and say it for you), but rather because I don’t want to exchange casual touch. Is that so wrong? If so, then why? I think I am no more “naturally” compelled to let you brush up against me than you are to talk about your trauma or politics with me. Than you are to let me show you some boil on my foot.

    We are too quick in our culture to conflate a particular preference with a “phobia.” I don’t have a “phobia” of touching (and it is not a cause of any other preferences), and I frankly don’t see why I should even have to defend that assertion. That’s not “macho and authoritative”; it’s an assertion of one’s personal freedom.

    • A Little Cynical Maybe says:

      I actually want to clarify/qualify my “so-called hugger” statement. It is the kind of person that says, “Come on, come on, I know you want a hug. Why won’t you just let yourself go?” and then you either give them their awkward hug to get out of the more awkward conversation, or you say no, and they force a hug on you anyway.

      That sort of thing, you know. It is REALLY aggressive. Sometimes I actually do want a hug, just not from you. And that is okay. It will kill neither of us, haha. I see nothing but the most tenuous of connections to “stress, self-esteem, and community” in this article to disprove that notion. Perhaps we are not “alone in a desert of disconnection,” but rather we are merely selective in who we invite over to the desert house for dinner.

  28. Thank you so much for posting this Mark. I would love to start a dialogue with you as some of us who are involved in the work with boys and men of color are asking these same questions and looking to present some of these same answers. We are looking to all kinds of sources from our many cultures to find authentic ways to celebrate and embrace masculinity as something that includes touch. I’m exploring this in a series of posts on my own blog where I also hope to touch on some of the aspects of how social location (race, ethnicity, religion and even poverty) change this dynamic. Thanks! – Adam

  29. I am 23 years old and I have the same thoughts everyday. Thank you for this article. Barring handshakes which I have on the day to day basis, I can count the number of times I have actually had platonic physical contact.

    Its unfortunate that touch has become so sexualised.

  30. Mike from MA says:

    Maybe American men should just go ahead and have a gay experience. I love Mark’s post, but if I’m reading it right, fear of gay is still the big psychic stumbling block. I don’t think you’re ever going to reach that promised land of free, open and unsexual physical contact with another man until you acknowledge that touching another man, no matter how friendly you want it to be, is packed with sexual potential, with eros. As it should be. It’s stirring, and it’s alluring, and it’s sexually expanding the way that physical contact and affection between any two human beings is designed to be. You don’t think a man’s gentle hand on your male body is hot as well as soothing? Try not flinching the next time (or first time) you touch or are touched by another man. You want not to be afraid of touch, especially same-sex touch, then stop being afraid of the latent sexuality of that touch. You don’t have to blow the next guy who shakes your hand, but you don’t have to act like it’s your personal apocalypse if the thought crosses your mind.

    As moving as Mark’s piece is, in my opinion it is miles from the starting line of where American men need to go to become better at Human 101.

  31. I offer the following link at a look at the past of male affection in photographs: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/07/29/bosom-buddies-a-photo-history-of-male-affection/

  32. It’s interesting to read a man’s point of view on growing up. I have mixed emotions about this. Well I completely see the writer’s point, but as a female I grew up fearful of males having been physically assaulted three times in grade school by male classmates. In adulthood being single (because I am lesbian) it has been constant assaults, harassment and stalkings from men I did not even know just because they think I “owed” them my body because I am female. Going to the gym every day is like living hell. I don’t think men understand what women go through and we don’t even have to be attractive or skinny just having a female body is enough to cause one to be harassed. I also learned it is risky to even be polite and speak to or make eye contact with a male as to some that is the only provocation they need to start pursuing you. I once spoke to a man in store who asked me about my martial arts school shirt, stupid me handed him my business card and then he stalked me for 4 years till I finally had to leave the state. I have taken off running when approached by a group of young males who it turned out were just wanting to ask me for help. I feel sorry for men, but I think they need to understand how rampant rape and physical abuse towards women is and how terrifying it is to be a woman, especially a single woman. If young men would stick up for females instead of saying nasty things to them when in a group of other young men it might help defuse this bad image they have. Like another poster commented being a woman in relationship gives you “protection” from harassment that single women or women out in town alone have to endure. I was involved in martial arts training when I was younger and would suggest judo classes would probably be of benefit to young boys and even grown men needing a safe touch outlet. I noticed guys really seem to take to judo in a way female students do not. I think it’s because in class it is ok to touch and roughhouse with another person.

    • EmceeLucas says:

      I’m sorry for your horrible experiences with men, and I agree that we need to be taking a more proactive approach to how we all treat each other. While I recognize why women might be fearful of men touching them even in a platonic sense when sexual assault is a real danger, I don’t think discouraging men from having platonic physical contact is the answer. Perhaps the way in which we go about that contact is what needs to be examined, but that still doesn’t do much about the stigma surrounding men as potential perps. I don’t know, I don’t have the answers.

      That is a cool bit about Judo, I never would have thought about it like that.

    • Bryan Kelly says:

      Notsure,
      Re: I also learned it is risky to even be polite and speak to or make eye contact with a male as to some that is the only provocation they need to start pursuing you.
      As I, male, walk through stores and public places, even work places, it is almost impossible to notice that behavior in women. And I do think women are forced into that mode by the truly bad behavior of so many men. A woman smiles at a guy and he expects her to disrobe on the spot.
      It is way past time to for men to realize that this behavior is causing them tremendous grief in their lives, and in so many ways that we cannot begin to enumerate or elaborate.
      I wish I could have some kind of authenticated sign I could pin to my shirt that meant something like: If you smile and are friendly, I will take it as a smile and being friendly. There would have to be a lot of men prohibited from wearing that sign.
      And that is sad, for women, and for men.

  33. Mark, I wanted to give you feedback on this part:

    “Many parents step back from physical contact with boys when their sons approach puberty. The contact these boys seek is often deemed confusing or even sexually suspect. And, most unbelievable of all, all opportunity for potential physical touch is abruptly handed over to young boys’ female peers, who are suddenly expected to act as gatekeepers to touch; young girls who are no more prepared to take on this responsibility than boys are to hand it over.”

    The one thing that really bothers me when people discuss sexuality is that they either refuse to acknowledge, or are ignorant of the evolutionary forces that drive such behaviors.

    It makes sense, from a strictly evolutionary sense, that parents would push their boys away from them, and into the arms of fertile women, due to procreative drive. Up until about 150 years ago, it was very common, even normal, for teenagers to be married and have kids, especially in older days when life expectancy was in the 40-50 year range.

    I’m quite okay with all of the suggestions posited in this article, I think it would be better in the future to not just blindly blame society or parents though for something that has been the norm for our species for hundreds of thousands of years.

    • For hundreds of thousands of years, rape and murder have been the norm for our species. It is society’s responsibility, and that of parents, to rise above what you refer to as the norm, both in terms of our species and our culture. My issue is not with boys going to girls for gentle touch. My issue is a culture where it is the ONLY place they can go for it.
      There’s nothing blind about where I place responsibility for the things our children are forced to endure.

  34. ” Historians have written that it was the prosecution and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde that led to the decades of terror in English-speaking societies and the inhibition of any physical expression of affection between men.”
    Commenter: tfferg March 14, 2013, 8:26PM
    http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/when-did-it-stop-being-ok-for-men-to-hold-hands-20130313-2g098.html

    i have read the same on a mens blog. if i remember correct, it also had a contemporary newspaper report. however i didnt save the link, and ive found no corroboration online.
    would anyone know any more, on whether the claim is true?

  35. Helps explain why dogs are men’s best friends.

  36. I was thinking about this very thing this morning.
    I personally believe it stems from a profound lack of caring about the inner lives of young boys by most adults. If adults were moved to ask a young boy about his feelings, even once a week, I think it would set the stage for boys to be more expressive as caring, feeling individuals. Instead, they are mocked for crying, mocked for liking nature, animals, people, showing empathy.
    I saw this when I was a kindergarten teacher and see it now as a father. It is heart-breaking that we reinforce such destructive attitudes about boys.
    I was bullied my whole life because people thought I was gay (I am not) simply because I was free with my physical self, toughing people, gesticulating with my hands, asking people how they feel. Those are all things that are shunned from an early age in boys. Simply asking a boy about his feelings could make a world of difference.

  37. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. This is a powerful article that puts to words something I’ve experienced on a visceral level. You see, for 32 years, I lived as a woman (as I was born in a female body). I’ve spent the past 6 years living as a man and the lack of acceptable touch in my life is staggeringly painful for someone who, for most of my life, enjoyed the freedom to touch and be touched in return.

    Thank you for writing this.

  38. Well-said! This is something I’ve always kind of noticed, and regretted. I’m 22 and have been with my current boyfriend since we graduated high school, so basically all of my adult life has been spent in a serious relationship. I never have really had, unlike most women, the feeling of being single and therefore being expected to be “available” sexually; the feeling of being single and thus having no “excuse” that would save me the awkwardness of (physically) rejecting a guy. “I’m in a relationship” has truly saved me a lot of awkwardness with men I have platonic relationships with.

    This has actually made it so that I’m more open with contact. It makes me really happy to have this just as much with my male friends as my female. I’m thankful that I have male friends with whom I can do this without causing awkwardness, confusion or unwanted feelings. But I guess I never stopped to think that it could be something they’re not getting elsewhere until I read this. Maybe I’ll ask them about it… see if it was a thing for them too.

    However, I must say that this seems to be far more prevalent in some male American cultures more than others. I think it’s becoming increasingly true for Black dudes as well as WASP dudes (white anglo-saxon Protestants, if you don’t know the acronym), maybe even more so than it has in the past; it’s always been taboo for black males to have physical contact with whites (particularly women, obviously), and that hasn’t gone away nor gotten worse, but on the other hand I see platonic touching between guys becoming more taboo.

    • FlyingKal says:

      Hi Bri,

      I’m thankful that I have male friends with whom I can do this without causing awkwardness, confusion or unwanted feelings. But I guess I never stopped to think that it could be something they’re not getting elsewhere until I read this. Maybe I’ll ask them about it… see if it was a thing for them too.

      If I may offer an opinion?
      I think, that maybe you shouldn’t ask them about it… The way I see it, if they actually aren’t getting physical Contact elsewhere, I Think the chances are pretty high that they will interpret your question as if you are confused or uncomfortable with them touching you, which probably will create awkwardness in future contact.
      I may be wrong, but that’s just my feeling about it.

      Best regards,
      /K

  39. Thank you for this thoughtful article which is, sadly, so true.

    I am a touch educator and I promote a practice called Peer Massage. While it can be done between peers of any ages or any group, I focus on school age children. Nurturing touch stimulates the secretion of oxytocin, also known as the bonding hormone. Oxytocin makes one feel Calm, Focused and Friendly so that is what I named my documentary film which you will find, along with articles and you tube videos, on the website http://www.peacefulhands.org
    But peer massage also does something incredible and magnificent. Through the simple and modest process of asking permission every time and having the receiver dictate how the massage is done, the participants learn empowerment and discernment, respect and self-regulation about touching and being touched.

  40. My son went to a typical public middle school and came out a bit on the homophobic side. Lack of touch and and all the boy-to-boy cultural expectations were definitely contributing factors.

    But now we live in India, and here everything is different. Boys walk together, their arms around each other. They walk holding hands. It is wonderful to see. It is a vision of pure friendship and devotion that does not indicate sexual desire.

    There are many Western cultural influences that are taking over Indian culture, and I am afraid for this one. With the West coming in, this thousands-year-old practice may not be here much longer.

    • But now we live in India, and here everything is different. Boys walk together, their arms around each other. They walk holding hands. It is wonderful to see. It is a vision of pure friendship and devotion that does not indicate sexual desire.

      i didnt agree with much that h.w bush did, however i did love how he bossed-the-mike
      and held King Abdullah’s hand, as they strolled along.
      completely at ease. loved his pluck.
      http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/04/27/eveningnews/main691413.shtml

  41. Thank you for writing this incredibly moving, relevant, validating, and empowering article. I was never a very “touchy” person growing up, and certainly never a “hugger”, despite the fact that many of the older males in my Jewish family were quite physically affectionate with men of all ages. Then, for reasons I can’t explain, during my first year or two of college, I suddenly developed a need for platonic, non-sexual contact. When female friends touched me that way, it still felt sexual and somewhat arousing, and so it was confusing and awkward. I realized that the occasional affection from male friends satisfied my need without being sexual, awkward or stressful. The problem was, it was VERY occasional, and there was a definite sense that it would be “weird” if I tried to make it more frequent. So, I basically suffered in silence until I graduated last year. Now, I’m still somewhat cautious about initiating it, because I don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable, and I’m just in the early stages of making a few new friends in my post-college life. I wish I knew more people like the author of this article and a few of the previous commenters!

  42. John R. Konkin says:

    Very good reading – I have had the same experience, and have risen above this “touch phobia”. Years ago I saw a documentary about touch, and it changed my life. I no longer fear touch, and I feel free to touch and be touched, to hug, and be hugged. A touch of sensitivity goes a long way to healing mind, body, and spirit (soul). It is an integral part of our being – it builds trust – it reduces violence – it enhances our humanity. Touch is part of us, for without it, we diminish our humanity. Here’s a big hug for you – pass it on.

  43. Hi Mark,
    What a deeply moving, well-written article.
    I remember how sweet it was when my father-in-law would hug and kiss my father–a man whom no one would ever touch, let alone hug and kiss. My father absolutely blossomed from all the physical attention and loved being in Clyde’s company. That physical touch was so rare that my eyes would actually well up whenever I saw those two hugging and kissing. How sad that such gentle moments couldn’t be more common among men and boys of all ages.
    Thank you for writing this.
    ((Hugs!)) Lol,
    Carol

  44. Pieter Smal says:

    Good article – but HOW can we change society?

  45. KelkyGram says:

    As a massage therapist I am keenly aware of what I call “skin hunger” in others. You would not believe how people lean into my touch in nonprofessional situations. The sighs they aren’t aware they are releasing when I give their shoulders a gentle squeeze and glide in passing. The way people relax into my arms when I embrace them and lightly hold on. For years I have been aware of the lack of opportunity for touch that men experience and set about remedying it: I held snuggle parties, pajama movie nights, and touch-positive orientations so people who attended would all be on the same page as far as what sort of touch and energy was welcome in the space we were creating. To facilitate complete strangers giving each other foot rubs, shoulder rubs, and authentic hugs was/is the most rewarding work I’ve done outside of parenting. We need to be more aware as a society about the withholding of touch and how detrimental to our well-being this withholding of gentle, loving touch really is. Thank you for taking the risk of being vulnerable and sharing the insights resulting from your experiences.

  46. Deeply moving article, Mark. I agree with Deidra above that this problem affects women’s relationships with men too. People do not comprehend the language of touch; most come from families where the various taboos against affectionate, platonic touch have existed across generations. Friends, colleagues, even my clients know that I’m a hugger. I can see that they crave touching. And yet that same touch has been misinterpreted and taken advantage of as an invitation to shift from platonic to sexual, in a heartbeat.
    When I worked as a dance therapist, mostly with hospitalized men, I was always dumbfounded by the power of touch to calm, soothe and open the gateway to a rush of barricaded human emotions. The groundbreaking work of Dr. Tiffany Field reminds us that newborns live, or die, based in part on the presence/absence of touch. Kudos on your ongoing work in this area.

  47. Excellent article! It brilliantly touches on how this issue impacts not only individuals but groups (families) on through to our society as a whole. I was very fortunate to grow up in an affectionate family. And I have seen the very negative consequence – via my ex – of a family that is physically & audibly unable to express gentleness and affection. I have raised my son and daughter with all the affection I received and that flows so comfortably for me and I am so glad to see their on-going acceptance and desire for it. My 18 yo son hugs & kisses me, still sits on my lap occassionally…and I cherish it even while I jokingly groan that he – taller than me, now – is squishing me!

    Touch is essential to all people. Our culture of shame and suspicion around it is something that must change – for both men and women. And I would disagree that this issue doesn’t correspond to women in the same way. I am someone who touches, platonically, others when in conversation. Very often, men take it as flirting regardless of the neutrality of the topic or circumstances. Women interacting with men have also learned not to reach out for fear of being misunderstood.

  48. Affectionate, platonic touch helped me survive suicidal depression. I am more “touchy-feely” than almost anyone else I know. I touch friends’ arms, hands, shoulders, knees, anything that feels safe and still expresses affection. And I am a champion giver of hugs.

    My mother (born 1931) told me that her father’s generation was very physical. Her father and his male relatives had no compunction about hugging each other or holding their children in dear embrace. It was the two World Wars that changed things.

    Psychology was still young at the time of the great wars, and it generally advised getting “cold” with people in order to survive the harshness of the world. My mother grew up believing that affection made you weak. Dr. Spock swam against this stream, advising people to be gentle with their children rather than stern. Mom thought Dr. Spock was a quack.

    Some three generations have been born since WWII. We’re beginning to reclaim our emotional balance. 🙂

  49. In New York City there is a woman running a business providing the service of snugging, or cuddling called <The Snuggery. Although the service they provide is non-sexual and they have a no-nudity policy the initial reaction fo people is that this is some form of sex work: http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/03/visiting-the-snuggery-get-cuddled-for-cash.html and also this feminist who initial impression that it is sex-work was based on the clients mostly being heterosexual men: http://amptoons.com/blog/2013/03/18/the-snuggery-cuddles-as-sex-work/

    • Cuddling services or even cuddle parties/puddles sound awesome.

      • I don’t know if this has been mentioned, but Cuddle Party is an important part of this conversation. It is teaching men and women the skills to engage confidently in non-sexual nurturing touch. It also gives an experience of what this feels like and access to the benefits on a regular basis. I have been facilitating these events regularly in Chicago for 5 years and the demand keeps increasing. I have about 4 times as many men wanting to come as women for each event. We all need to learn these skills to model them for our children and create a culture that meets our needs for healthy human contact. Someday I will adapt these events for all ages so families can come and especially adolescents will learn these skills.

        Check out Cuddleparty.com if you are interested and read the rules of cuddling. It gives us the rules of engagement that we can practice to feel comfortable rather than creepy in connecting this way. We become a culture of consent-and thereby safe healthy connection-by practicing and modeling this way of communicating.

  50. Mark Green says: There is no corresponding narrative about women.

    The corresponding narrative about women is that they can’t be trusted in the realm of emotions.

  51. I have a 16 year old son. We are extremely close.

    I still hug him, though not as often as when he was much younger. Every morning, when I drop him at the bus stop, I tell him “I love you son. Have a productive and great day at school!” He always responds back by saying, “I love you too Dad.”

    I grew up in a terrific family. I had 4 sibling and my parents (Mom and Dad) always showed love and affection towards us and one another.

  52. Very true. Men are just not socialized to be accustomed to non sexual touch for fear of being called gay. There are men in some cultures like the Iranians who hug and kiss when they see each other but if more men were taught that touch is important, they wouldn’t feel like people will judge them if they do want non sexual physical contact. Plus, animal therapy is one of the best you can get. After not having a pet for some time, I want to pet every dog and cat I see because I am missing stroking the simple fur of a pet

  53. Theorema Egregium says:

    Let me just say that it is articles like this which are the reason I am not giving up on GMP website. Thank you.

  54. “My mother backed off on contact with me very early on…”

    So heart-breaking to read this…and, yet, I remember hearing this same thing from my ex a long time ago….

    Thanks for writing this….it helps me see that a lot of stuff was going (or maybe NOT going on) in the mental, emotional, and physical life of someone I once knew (or thought I knew)….and I was not to blame for it….nor could I be the one to fix it….

    • “My mother backed off on contact with me very early on…”

      This gave me a lump in my throat, as a mother of a young son, who asks for ( and receives) so much physical contact and reassurance I could not imagine denying him that. I am sorry to hear that you had it denied to you

      It must have made you as a little boy so sad…….

  55. Great article! Probably one of the best I’ve read here! I don’t think my Mom hugged me after 7 or 8 years old, and the first time I hugged my Dad, I was probably about 25 or so. I remember this awkward pause and I decided ‘aw, fuck it’ and I just went for it. All my life though, I’d been adverse to any physical contact with anyone other than my kids or now grandkids(you are SO right about how a Man feels when holding a baby or toddler) The weird thing is, when greeting my grown daughters, now it’s a quick hug and peck, but with my 22year old son, it’s always been a big hug and kiss on the cheek as it’s been his whole life!

  56. Bill Reed says:

    I came from a family where contact was discouraged regardless of gender. In fact in my family showing any emotion other than anger was bad form. As I’ve had no children of my own, I was lucky to have discovered the calming effect holding a baby through friends who, thankfully, trusted me with their children and I’ve made a career of being an ersatz uncle. Though I have learned as an adult to accept, and occasionally offer, hugs, it remains a very uncomfortable experience for me. Last year, as I walked down the business distract of the town in which I reside, I was startled to see two twenty something women sitting in an outdoor dining area of a restaurant intently focused on their cell phones and I wondered how it was that they seemed so disconnected from the person sitting right in front of them, in the flesh. Then I began to worry that perhaps they were texting each other. Are we, as society, and regardless of gender, slowly replacing physical contact with a virtual world of texts, tweets and status upgrades?

  57. Henry Halff says:

    True this. And these days it’s even worse. Even gaze is suspect. Admiring a handsome woman (or man) in a purely Platonic way can get you in trouble for ogling. Gaze in wonder at the beauty of a child, and you risk being suspected of pederasty. Even a glance is often taken as an unwelcome approach. People walking alone on city streets typically keep their eyes downcast, as if there were something terribly interesting about the sidewalk. Perhaps, before we start touching each other, we should try looking at each other.

  58. This is a terrific article. Touch is so necessary and so good for all humans.

    For anyone who feels they need more human contact in their life, I have a suggestion: take up social dancing, particularly Argentine tango, but any partner dance will do (ballroom, salsa, swing, blues…). Most cities and larger towns have readily available classes, you generally don’t need a partner to take a class, and it will change your life for the better.

    And even if you think you can’t dance, try it. Most partner dances are taught in such a way that if you can walk, you can dance. It isn’t like going to a club and shaking it freestyle. You learn to move one step at a time and you really can learn to do it. If you like the music, you can learn to dance to it.

    • Theorema Egregium says:

      A good idea, but it does not address the underlying problem. Traditional dancing, and CERTAINLY Argentine tango is understood as an implicitely erotic activity between mixed-sex couples. Touching a woman in a quasi-erotic way will do nothing to break the taboo against non-erotic touching of people of the same gender.

      • Eric Bagai says:

        Contact can be erotic without being sexual or predatory. It’s simply that we are told we cannot touch without consummation, and if the touch is resisted, without rape. We cannot control ourselves, and so we must be restrained by society and by law. There cannot be affection between men without back-slapping or shoulder punching.

        Is it possible for two men to dance the tango together without being gay, without arousing suspicions in the audience or in their partner that they aren’t actually gay? Why not? Is this possible for two women? Why not?

        We live in, and we comprise, a very sick society.

        • Theorema Egregium says:

          As a man living in the world’s capital of classical balls and having visited lots of balls I noticed that two women dancing together generally is permissible, but two men together is not. Women sometimes dance together when their male company refuse to.

      • Some types of dance are intentionally erotic from the getgo. But even so, if you attend a dance of that kind, then it can be reasonably assumed that women are there for that kind of activity in theory. The framework of both the dance and traditionally mixed-gender couples IME will make it much easier for guys who might feel adrift in a more freeform setting like a club to approach women and dance with them enjoyably. Importantly the framework allows for both dancing AND approaching women to take place.

        I pretty much despise clubbing – too sexualised and freeform, too much alcohol, and even if I’m there with my friends and not on the prowl, I’m usually treated as a threat or competition by the other guys there if they take in interest in my female friends. On a personal level, I don’t feel like I really know what I’m doing with anything when it comes to dancing in a club and feel very self-conscious.

        Put me in a céilidh though, and it’s the mirror opposite. I went to university in Scotland so I’ve had tons of practice, and it’s nice and stompy and frenetic. It’s not sexualised though, which means everyone is a bit more relaxed and a bit less defensive – which I think makes it much likelier that chemistry will happen (and it certainly has for me!).

    • Theorema Egregium says:

      As a matter of fact, only this morning did I think that maybe contact-rich sports activities might be a useful tool. I remember that I often wondered how e.g. professional wrestlers feel about basically hugging other semi-naked sweaty men in front of an audience. I wonder if there is any element of embarassment or taboo involved when starting this kind of career.

      • “Maybe contact-rich sports activities might be a useful tool…”

        I took karate for a few years because I was afraid of my stalker and strange men in general….sometimes just standing up close arm’s length away face to face with a 6′ guy would make me tremble…but I forced myself to get over my fears no matter how uncomfortable it made me…

        Sensei and I practiced the 3rd Kata (Kanshu) where you do double eye strikes with your fists into both eye sockets…Sensei is this huge brawny guy (a mix of Marlon Brando and Raging Bull!) and he can be real scary….he corrected my technique…I was being too fey with my eye strikes….so he took both of my petite sized fists and directed them right into his eye sockets….I could feel his eyelashes blinking on my knuckles….it was a memorable moment…one minute I was exhausted and stressed out because I was worrying about seeing a certain blue Volvo station wagon around at work…and the next minute I was learning a nasty self-defense maneuver with my instructor….in that moment of practicing violence, he was teaching me something to save my life in case of an emergency and it was oddly a very tender moment….somehow I had found the soft spot on this massive black belt martial artist….it was a profound moment ….somehow he understood my fear more than anyone else and he understood what I needed to learn…and yet words were inadequate for that moment….

  59. Article is true. Single male here.. I get a bit of touch on my head when I get my hair cut. I feel more relaxed afterwards. Not much else apart from that.

    • Agreed. The lady that cuts my hair always starts out with a little back and neck massage. Human touch IS where it’s at and I think we’re starved for it.

  60. This is an amazing article. I can’t help but agree with it on almost every point. As men, we’re conditioned to not even accidentally bump into each other for fear that we’ll be perceived as being homosexual. I think we’d all be a lot better off it we just realized that not all human touch – in fact, the vast majority of human touch – is not sexual, but something that is essential to our health and well being.

  61. PursuitAce says:

    Pretty brilliant article. Can’t agree with everything, but the thesis is stellar. Thanks.

  62. I never forced my now-teenager daughter to be physically or verbally affectionate but even when she ducked from my kisses and responded with silence to my constant “I love you”s, I continued to hug, kiss and say. She has grown into saying “I l ove you” back. I hope she feels loved, appreciated, and knows how much I value her presence in my life.

  63. Annie Phenix says:

    Is THE Mark Greene? The formerly of Austin Mark Greene? The same guy who made my very first website way, way, way back in the day around 1996? If yes, nice to find you again. If no, this is a great article in any event and I agree with everything you have said here, so thanks for saying it.

  64. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    Really nice piece, Mark. I probably tout the 1960s-1970s a bit too much, but there was for a brief time a culture of hugging that didn’t necessarily lead to sex. It went away in the 1980s, probably due to women coming forward with victimization, a more grudging, economy, AIDS, and conservatism.

    • I think you’re right, or at least on to something–why is it that in modern times where men and women should be sexually free and enlightened do we find straight men seeing other straight men naked–and certainly not the kind of naked locker room fraternization so frequently featured as awkward scenarios in comedy movies? Why should this happen in a time when homosexuality is being ever increasingly accepted, and many young men find no shame in being falsely (or correctly) thought of as gay?

  65. Beautiful (and heartbreaking) article.

    My husband’s family is not very touchy at all, while mine was. I am guiding my husband, letting him know it’s always ok to be affectionate with our son, as long as he wants it. In my house, physical affection was offered until I no longer wanted it (it happens to all teens!), but I knew where I could go if I needed it. I remember my father lamenting the day I didn’t want to hold his hand anymore. But I was there holding his hand when he died. Just remember they all go through a phase where you are not cool anymore. Enjoy all you get from little ones while they give it and hope they don’t take too long to come back.

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  24. […] by our emotion-phobic American culture, seek to satisfy a lifetime of need for connection through their romantic partners, a burden which few women (or men), no matter how loving, could realistically be expected to […]

  25. […] In American culture, we believe that men can never be entirely trusted in the realm of the physical. We collectively suspect that, given the opportunity, men will collapse into the sexual at a moment’s notice…And where does this leave men? Physically and emotionally isolated. Cut off from the deeply human physical contact that is proven to reduce stress, encourage self-esteem and create community. ~ Mark Greene, The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer […]

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  29. […] article via the Good Men Project beautifully argues that it is these blurred lines (i really didn’t […]

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  33. […] In American culture, we believe that men can never be entirely trusted in the realm of the physical.  […]

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