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Hugs and Masculinity: How physical intimacy among men can improve mental health

hugging is a way to show affection

Humans are wired to be touched, from birth until the day we die our need for physical intimacy remains, in fact physical intimacy has been intricately linked with stable mental health and general well being.


Yet millions of men around the world never experience fulfilling intimacy due to stigmas and presentiments surrounding male friendships.

Physical expressions of love such as hugging, kissing, cuddling, play, touching between men are met with disapproval, they’re seen as out of place, weird and uncommon.

There are several barriers and stigmas attached to physical intimacy between two male friends, I’m not talking about the intimacy between male lovers but the kind of physical expression of affection between male friends.

I’ve had friends who got me through difficult times and I owe them everything, with eye filled with gratitude, I really wanted to pull them in and squeeze them in a tight hug.

But the best I could bring myself to was a strong clasp on the shoulder and something about owing them one even that made them a bit uncomfortable.

A lot of times I’ve had to goodbyes to friends I’ve made over the years, good mates from work, school former neighborhoods, I’ve had the desire to gather them in a bear hug and tell them how much I was going to miss, how much they meant to me.

I really wanted to hold them and tell them how much they impacted my life and how I will never forget them but I just grasped their hands in firm handshake.

How do I console a grieving friend? How do I comfort a depressed brother? How do I cheer up a sulking mate if can’t pull them into the softest, biggest, supportive and soothing hug.

I have so much love to give, there so much friendship dynamics to explore, so much camaraderie to share but I’m blocked out by this wall of societal norms coated with thick paints of homophobia.

It’s frustrating, it’s limiting, it’s like there is this solid brick fence wedging us apart, im on the outside and he is on the inside and we can only communicate by shouting over each other , We’re so close but we cannot reach out and touch each other.

 How did get to where we are?

In the recent past, it wasn’t unusual for male platonic friends ot write affectionate letters to each other. Hug, kiss and touch each other dotingly.

 I know this for sure from past experiences and personal observation. I’ve studied the generational gap between us, our parents and their parents.

When I was younger around  eight years, visitors troop in to see my father during the holidays, he was an important titled chief, it was common to see them greet each other with a series of handshakes and draw each other into a bear hug.

Physical closeness wasn’t viewed with so much suspicion and aversion then, they would grapple with each other in a play wrestling and roll around in sand all evening.

There are several photos and portraits littering the internet and old albums depicting our great grandparent in  close positions that would be considered scandalous in today’s standards.

 (Check out Brett and Kate McKay’s article ‘Bosom buddies: A photo History of Male affection at

What changed?

I have looked around and I haven’t seen any scientific studies espousing the decline of physical intimacy amongst men.

But certainly our society is so much hyper sexualized to the point that every human interaction is sexual or has sexual connotations, coupled with the rise of homophobia that runs deep in the hearts of Africans.

Homosexual men and men suspected to be one are continually subjected to threats of violence and because of this; straight men have long exiled physical intimacy to the wilderness.

The result is a generation of men who cannot hold hands, who cannot love platonically, who cannot hug, who cannot show physical affection that are emotionally stunted, men who are touch starved, lonely, riddled with anxiety and depressed.

What can Physical intimacy do for Us?

The strains from lack of intimacy have long terms effects and it is completely observable in the life of millions of young men who are suffering touch deprivation and solititude.

 Prevent Emotional and Physical Isolation:  a lot of men have reported feelings of loneliness even among the company of friends, there is this feeling of seclusion, of not belonging to a group because we cannot properly form a bond with them.

Like we’re there not really with them, like we’re outside looking in, that connection, that friendship bond is lost on us because we simply cannot reach out and touch each other. Feelings of exclusion like this can force us to withdraw further into our shells.

Without these emotional bonds and friend groups, we lose the support system that helps cope with work, family and school related stress.

Slow down Anxiety:  Anxiety is simply described as the intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating and tiredness may occur. Anything could cause anxiety such as Public speaking, changing work environment or taking a test.

Words of encouragement can go a long way to soothe your anxiety but nothing is a good substitute for a long and calming hug from your best friend. In fact physical intimacy has been to reduce high blood pressure by releasing chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin into the bloodstream.

Lack of Physical intimacy can deprive us of this calming effect and further put a strain on our mental health.

Cope with Insecurities: feelings of insecurities can be linked to lack of intimacy, we sometimes feel abandoned, never enough, unloved, depressed and useless. These feelings can weigh us down for a long time and affect our abilities to function as an adult,

Because most our insecurities stem from our performance related issues,  we never to seem to be able to hold a job, pass a class, hold conversations and make friends.

Physical display of affection and intimacy can restore our self-esteem issues, confidence and help us feel wanted and loved again.

Stave off Anger and Aggression:  men are born with higher levels of tester ones, this enables physical strength and competiveness but unfortunately this makes us prone to aggression. All that pent up frustration heats up the repressed rage and it bubbles like steaming lava in an active volcano.

Physical intimacy and emotional vulnerability and helps us deal with our bouts of anger and aggression in a healthy way.

What should we differently?

If you have read to the end of this article and agree with me on the need for closer physical intimacy amongst male friends, then here is something you can do differently.

Obviously the stigma and barriers won’t go away immediately. But here are baby steps;

Be Open Minded:  keep an open mind out, be non-judgmental and never quick to jump into conclusions. This will really help destigimitize male relationships and encourage more men into intimacy.

Communication is Key: Always communicate your feelings, expectations and next actions to your friends. Seek their consent before trying to initiate any form of physical contact or it might come off as creepy.

Give Huggies: Remember hugs are important, hug your kids, hug your dad, hug your mates.