Why Men Need Platonic Touch

By Mark Greene on Sunday December 1st, 2019

The Importance of 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 revert to 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.

Touch Isolation

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.

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

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.

Men have a lack of platonic touch in their livesMen need gentle platonic touch in their lives just as much as women do.

The Comfort of Contact

How often do men actually get the opportunity to express affection through lasting platonic touch? How often does it happen between men? Or between men and women? Not a handshake 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 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.

The Transformative Effect of Fatherhood

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 previously 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.

Fatherhood transforms touch for menFatherhood has the potential to transform the way men think about touch.

A Lack of Physical Connection

As a young child and as a teenager, contact between myself and others simply didn’t happen unless it came in the form of roughhousing 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 parent’s 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 parent’s 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?

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.

Lack of physical contact from a young ageMen often experience a lack of gentle touch from others from a young age.

The Sexualising of Touch

Not only do we men distrust others in this muddled realm of physical touch, but 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 it’s 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.

The sexualising of touchThe sexualising of touch means that physical contact can be uncomfortable for men.

Giving up Human Contact

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 girls, who are suddenly expected to act as gatekeepers to touch, and 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. 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.

Gentle touch is not manlyThe message is that gentle touch is not part of being a man in our society.

Craving Real Connection

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.

This makes sexual relations a vastly more high stakes experience than it already should be. We encourage aggressive physical contact as an 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.

Platonic relationship modelingThere needs to be more modeling for men of a range of platonic relationships.

The Value of Touch

We have seniors in retirement homes who are visited by dogs they can hold and pet. This helps to improve 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.

We know the value of touch, even as we do everything we can to shield ourselves from it.

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 giving 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.

Fear of Judgement

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.
Animals help to alleviate loneliness for old peopleOlder people are brought therapy animals to alleviate the lack of touch in their lives.

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 a 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.

The Prohibition against Platonic Touch

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 are arguably 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 groundbreaking 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 through touch. And are just as damaging in that realm.

The Awakening of Touch

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 fluency and confidence in touch that you will never lose. It is a gift to us men from our children that literally has the capacity to transform American culture.

The awakening of touch is possibleThe awakening of touch is possible for men who let go of their fear and reach out.

How to Reach Out

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 until 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 and full life.

Touch is life.

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How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

Words By Mark Greene

Originally posted on , Good Men Project



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149 Responses to Why Men Need Platonic Touch

  1. This was an idea opening article for me.Mainly because I am a rape survivor and to me there is no such thing as platonic touch from a man but now I understand it’s because I’m projecting my negative feelings on everyone. There is so much fear when anyone reaches to touch me that I flinch I’d hate to think I ever made someone feel bad because it wasn’t their fault.i just have a lot more work to do on myself before that trust can be rebuilt, not just my trust In them but myself as well.

  2. I was reading this and i realy found what i was looking for your article is really informative and i’ll be grɑteful if ʏou keep writing in the future.

  3. Over the past few months, I’ve had to have physical therapy on my ankle which includes plutonic touch by both men and women in a caring way. I decided to research the topic after realizing it was helping me feel more connected to people and I came across this article.

    As a child, I remember we would kiss our aunts and uncles goodbye and I kissed my uncle on the cheek. He stopped me and said “guys don’t do that to other guys.” Obviously at the age of 5, my intentions were innocent but it always resonated and I remember feeling really stupid for not knowing the rules. Times have changed but we really are doing a disservice to boys by shaming them for being affectionate.

    Now in my 20s, I do feel like my friends are more affectionate to each other and have been able to hug each other and even cry in front of each other when we go through hardships but it took years to break down the walls. Many men never develop that closeness and I’d have to assume they feel alienated at vulnerable times.

    Either way, great article. Thanks!

  4. Enjoyed the article and agree with pretty much all of it. I especially applaud your laundry list. However, this all begs the question (not within the scope of your article) of what a man is supposed to DO about it. The first problem as I see it is that the environments in which men frequently operate are not acknowledged. First I would re-word the laundry list. For example, I’d re-write #4 to be. “If I am physically gentle at work I place my status as authoritative at risk” For many men I know this is not open to debate. It is no more subjective than the freezing point of water. This applies across the board. If a man says “If I do ‘A’ at work, ‘B’ will occur.” Invariably someone who knows exactly nothing about said work environment interrupts and says, “No, it won’t”. This shuts down any possibility of productive discussion.

    To be fair, I must point out that when gender is not a factor in the topic, I see women get shut down like this just as frequently as men.

    My point is that for a man to make any meaningful changes, he needs to have tools to deal appropriately with both a toxic/hostile environment and with individuals who deny the reality of said environment.

    Again, I agree with almost all your points and acknowledge that the points I’ve raised are beyond the scope of your article.

  5. This great article gave me a lot to think and a lot of hope. My whole life I reflected about how images of masculinity affect my life and relationships and how stupidly we set boundaries for our own happiness.

    However as a gay man I feel like I am in an especially delicate position in all this. Most of my best friends are straight men. I love my friends deeply. And often I felt the impulse to express those feelings through physical affection. I would often like to be close to them on a physical level and enjoy their presence. This feels completely natural to me and not sexual at all. But I sense that this is a difficult issue for some of them. And for me too. I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m terrified by the thought of damaging those wonderful long lasting friendships by doing or saying something that makes the other feel uncomfortable.
    We can express our friendship through so many wonderful means, talk about the most private and intimate things, but we cannot hold each other in our arms for a while or hold another man’s hand as a gesture of trust and appreciation.

    Funny thing is, similar to Mark’s story, apart from my husband the only male in my life who does exactly that is my little nephew of 6 years. He doesn’t care about convention and perception of others. When he feels like snuggling he just grabs me, holds me for a while and then goes off to play again. Life can be so easy, can’t it?

    I wish that we all liberate ourselves from all those stupid self damaging conventions and boundaries and find a way to just be, to just love, no matter if gay, straight, bi, man or woman. We need to reconnect with our humanity.

    • Yeah I agree with your point of view. And as a straight guy, open mindedness is a good quality.I like physical touch, and it does reflect trust and appreciation. Though I wish societies perspective and barriers on masculinity and affection should definitely change.
      It’s wonderful to express your feelings with someone else through touch, without feeling off and seem suspicious. But this is a really good article. Well written UPLIFT TEAM!

  6. Wow I could write so much on this topic.

    Such a beautifully written and NECESSARY article. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    The power of shame in our collective cultures is violently strong. It prevents the most natural expressions of our bodies and feeling which make us human animals. I would argue that the majority of people walk around this world with a subtle and almost unconscious sense of lack without pinpointing what it is. Something so subtle, yet so intimate and meaningful is missing from their and our lives. We can see countless fellow species groom each other as part of a daily ritual, yet days can pass without many of us having any meaningful interaction with another human being.
    While hanging out with a group of friends recently, I(male)asked two of my male friends who say they feel lonely at times if they would ever hold my hand walking in to town, in a completely platonic way. They couldn’t do it. They were too embarrassed to be seen showing any close contact with another male body. Two hands coming together carries so much shameful weight, even at the cost of something which physically and emotional induces the exact healing we need.
    That said, the more we talk about it, the more aware we all become. It all starts there.
    Emotional intelligence and intimacy will heal us all.

  7. People don’t NEED human touch, I’m sure it’s nice but it isn’t required & going without doesn’t make one go insane. I know because I have old fashioned parents who literally never embraced their children & I’ve spent the vast majority of my early adult life single & the entirety of my late adult life single. Sure I may not be the happiest person in the world but I’m sure as hell more content with life than many of the so called ‘normal’ people I know of who’ve had numerous relationships & are clearly miserable & depressed.

  8. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I believed this publish was great.
    I do not recognise who you’re however definitely you’re going to a
    famous blogger should you aren’t already. Cheers!

  9. After reading this, I am so grateful that the business I have become a part of means everyone gets a hug when they show up for a business briefing or an outside event that members are attending. This is through the whole company from the Atlantic to the Pacific and across the borders into Canada.

  10. I gave up being touched years ago and although the yearning for human contact can be powerful, avoiding the potential loss from connecting with preditory people is worth it.

    • Predators have been around as long as people have and still the need for human contact has evolved with our species. It’s there for a reason. People who needed human contact pasted on more genes than those who did not need or want it. That alone is proof the benefits outweigh the risk. The only thing that has changed is perception

  11. Beautiful article and words. I began to study massage because I felt this need to give others the nurturing gift of touch. I was however originally not going to massage men because of my perception of them similar to those in this article. The universe put me in a class with 4 men and no women to teach me that men also if not more so need nurturing physical touch. I realise and am grateful for my change in perception. The world is changing one perception at a time.

  12. Brilliant! I’m not American but this is a problem which I suspect affects the whole Anglophone world. I’m convinced it contributes to crimes like murder, rape, child abuse and war. So serious? You bet! I would never normally comment but you hit a raw nerve in someone who’s activities has involved trying to coach teenagers through some of the most confusing and distressing years of their lives, all because of the sense of grief and isolation this creates. So many boys, especially those deserted by their fathers show ample signs of emotional starvation once you have learned to read the signs, which makes them vulnerable to abuse and is a absolute minefield across which to deliver aid without misinterpretation. A serious personal risk many men are not willing to take.
    I’m also a dad and know where you’re coming from. My son was born disabled and had to face many operations. While the surgeons worked to fix his body I had the task of keeping his mind unharmed. There was a lot of touch and sometimes bed sharing. Today he seems pretty well balanced and a great councillor at need for other young people in difficulties. I dread to think where he would have been without access to physical affection 24/7.
    More recently in Europe Ive noted a different kind of reality although we have big problems right now. German boys seem far more relaxed about greeting each other with affection in public and I think you can tell the difference it makes. They also seem to have less gender issues or even generational issues. I’ve been learning and I think there’s some sign of it spreading even at home. When you’ve had a little known teenage boy who is in depression from emotional bullying, shaking in your arms from sheer relief and gratitude and know exactly how that feels yourself, there is no doubt left in your mind of the value of your essay here and the urgent need of voices like yours being heard.
    Weirdly the timing is significant for me and I found it quite by accident.Time you wrote the book.

  13. I see this more so in my being a woman and girl than most male peers. I see men hug,g hi five, in the Midwest moreover women esp. Since there is a lack of extra curricular activities here. Girls dislike another more than ever before. Each time I’ve asked someone female I’ve met if they’d want to go jog, or anything it is a straight forward, no. Especially women now. Men and women in the past might have been more willing to participate in eachothers lives. They had to.

  14. I am woman, I touched a woman on the shoulder to ask her a question as she shunned me from doing so with expressions of anger. The woman and I worked together for 5 months with other crew members on the farm. Meant no harm to her. I am married with four children. Similar experiences from other girls in my youth. I am a nurses assistant since I turned 17 years old. This is our societies. Fears of connection.

  15. The ones who miss the feeling of touch are the ones that are diagnosed with a terminal illness or suffer from some form of affliction. You have no idea what it’s like to crave the touch of another human, a hug, just to hold another person’s hand. The feeling of isolation is almost too much to bear.

  16. Sad but true Men are perceived as weak for hugging or touching another man unless deemed as some sports celebration.

  17. Learning as a child that you are an annoying burden and that your needs and feelings don’t matter because your mother learned the same thing from her parents, sets out a life path that the securely attached can’t imagine or relate to. I think that path is probably easier for those of us who never had love or affection as compared to those who may have had it and lost it. I learned from my earliest experience not to expect it. Kids learn like puppies. What behavior is rewarded by her? What behavior is punished? I learned early on that my life worked best by being as independent and as invisible as possible. But somewhere deep in my amygdala is likely the long dormant desire for connection. I’ve become aware that I actually like going to the dentist every 6 months. Is that because a woman is actually paying attention to me for the 10 minutes or so that it takes to clean my teeth? 61 Avoidant Schizoid. Never married, never dated.

  18. As counterintuitive and outrageous as this may seem, I believe that fist-fighting actually is done to meet the need for platonic touch. This notion first occurred to me when watching a UFC match. These two men (who happened to be close friends outside the octagon, actually), spent rounds brutally abusing each other, inflicting pain and damage. Right after the fight, the two fighters, bruised, bloody, sweaty, and exhausted, engaged in a full-bodied, platonically-loving embrace. In that moment, they didn’t care how badly their bodies hurt from taking the punches, kicks, and contortions; the satisfaction of bodily touch superseded all that. Keep in mind that this is fighting in a controlled environment; if they were legitimately enemies of war, the goal would be incapacitation and/or death. But I’m not talking about that. My son and I like to slap-fight. We knock the crap out of each other, smiling and giggling the entire time.

  19. I finally feel like I’m not crazy. All I’ve wanted was touch.

    A single millennial, highly educated, lived in Asia for several years. I have been stuck navigating dating hell and the impersonality of swipe culture and dating apps, and dealt with navigating the aftereffects of many rotten men. Women in America seem utterly hostile to men for various well deserved reasons (#metoo is real, look at POTUS- he doesn’t understand the meaning of consentual boundries), but it leaves men like me struggling to connect platonically. In the hell of navigating modern dating as a self prescribed nerd, as well as the opposite image you have of a nerd as a biker, I find my personality well grounded- but unable to connect. After a total of 2 relationships in 19 years, and long periods of isolation due to my work, I feel like the only way to get touch without judgement is finding a straight relationship with a woman. I actually found this article googling “is it possible to die from lack of human touch?”, thinking I might have something in common with multi year solitary confinement prisoners, and detrimental physiological effects. I am becoming an alcoholic (despite having a recovering alcoholic father) drinking a liter of whiskey a week and chainsmoking just to feel something, because I spend so little time in contact with people. I really don’t even need sex that much- I just want to go to bed holding someone, but there is no way to do that as a straight man in America unless I force myself into a relationship. Thank you for writing this- why I love dogs, and animals to pet, why some women intentionaly seek out gay men as friends (male touch with no sexual complications, platonic), why I feel better when my own mom and dad, both long divorced, hug me- everything makes sense now. I think I will look at getting a sidecar for my motorcycle, and adopt a dog from a shelter to join me. To any other man that wonders- yes, lack of touch can lead to serious mental and eventual physical pain, at least it took me years to figure that out, but I finally realized my grief is directly coming from this.

    • You are certainly not the only one. Even though I am female, I have almost exactly the same feeling as you. In my case, this lack of touch comes from being very shy and awkward, with sensory issues to boot. Therefore it is very difficult for me to find and make friends, with a true and sincere emotional connection.

      And somehow I think it would be a strange thing for me to spend hours just pressed up against someone. I would feel far to shy to do such a thing unless they started it. And it would seem very weird to do so unless there was something sexual involved. But, like you said, I have little to no interest in that. If I had a simple yet strong physical and emotional connection with someone, then I would feel complete already, without the need to take it any further.

  20. This is a very well thought out, well-written article. Worth the time to read. Sadly, most men will never read this article, and most men will never come to realize how the lack of touch has impacted them. The USA is one of the worst, in terms of physical touch among men. I’m so grateful I live in China where touching is joyously second nature.

  21. Great article! As for me I have give up on men friendships. Too much crap! It take all that I have not to hate my gender and ethnicity for all of the damage done to women and minority’s. I will spend my remaining days on the earth keeping others at a distance both men and women save my partner and a couple of Buddhist monk friends.

  22. Im always down to hug. I hug other men sometimes, but mostly its women who are more open to hugging. I dont really get why men have to be all macho and stupid about this. The idea that you have to actually teach this to anyone is absolutely ridiculous to me! Just hug, who cares!

  23. Excellent article Mark! 100% agree with you. This, and what males are taught to think about what it is to be male, is why so many of us become suppressed. We grow up with subconscious beliefs which are incredibly limiting. Suppression leads to all kinds of ridiculous behaviours in men (and women), and so sexual outlet is one of the few things we feel we have left. I know that it’s not the truth about us, but in societies that practice this simply create the suppressed masculine. What I do know is what I can do for myself: question my own subconscious beliefs and release or replace them. Really, the goal here is to get back to being our true selves, society be damned. That is how we change things. Individuals much be courageous enough to be the change we want to see. Old school, there’s the door. We have much to offer, and it is us, and our children etc who must bring it and change our societies as individuals end ever-growing collectives. The mass consciousness can be changed, but from within. As a snake must shed its skin, this is the way we must approach it. Please note that I also understand female conditioning and know many want to be who they really are too, so let’s do this together and create a greater, more loving, and understanding world. Through these valuable efforts, we’ll find the idea of ‘toleration’ and things like the #MeToo movement diminishing. We are all psychology in motion. Much love, Robbie

  24. Interesting topic, and one that I do agree with. It seems like today men FEAR the act of touching, and there are many factors at play, the primary one that I feel that many men think it is “less than manly”, “feminine” or “gay” to touch, and heaven forbid there are some men that fear even being seen to be touched or touching another man. To me this is sad, because when you are comfortable ion your own skin, to be touched or to be touching will not bother you or affect your psyche, and you will certainly not care what others think. P.S. I myself have NEVER cared for the “fist-bump” that has replaced the handshake among many men…to me that is yet another avoidance to touch.. it is simply a friendly gesture…

  25. Thank you for this wonderful article that captures, exactly, my own thoughts, feelings and experience. As an American woman brought up in a kissy-face family, innocent touch between the sexes had never been a problem. However, as an adult Peace Corps volunteer in Africa I had to learn that even eye contact was an invitation to sex. Back in Europe, with several serious long-term male partners over the years – American, French and German – I learned that non-sexual touching was possible only with my German partner; touch was always interpreted by my American and French partners as invitation to sex, which eventually wound up depriving both of us of the pleasures of non-sexual cuddling. As a single retiree, I rely on the wonderful hugs from my daughter, a few girlfriends and, of course, my male gay friends.

  26. I really enjoyed reading this article .
    I found it very interesting .
    I had a friend who was intimated by human touch..
    This article describe him quite well.
    I had a strong feeling that it had to do with not being loved enough as a child.

  27. This is not just a men’s problem but with women too at least with me and I’m a woman but I probably have more masculine energy than the average woman.

  28. God I was just discussing this the other day, I live on my own but feel lucky as a woman as I still have so much connection physically platonically, I have 4 neighbours who are men who are older & live alone and make a point to hug them as I’m really aware of the isolation. One of them has had a heart attack, and I believe proper hugs really help people, it really makes me sad to think how men over a certain age are viewed if they reach out for affection, hopefully more awareness will be put to this well done for such a great article

  29. I really get this. But the awkwardness and physical avoidance even extends to sharing or liking this article in case someone groups me into some class of weirdo’s who want to touch people inappropriately. I’ll probably stick to greeting a man with a handshake and then waving at the woman next to him. Maybe throw in a high five for her so she doesn’t think I’m entirely socially awkward, or being strangely formal. Which is in turn awkward. Cue missed high five and face palm.. But hey, at least I don’t look like a predator, right?

  30. We had boys, three of them, they are men now. We are ‘huggers’, who always meet and part with a big hug. It is our way of connecting in a tangible way that let’s them know how grateful we are to be together, how very loved they are. I have often given complete strangers a big hug when meeting them for the first time and have felt them uncomfortably pull back, which i think is a little sad, but it is not culturally acceptable (as you point out). I have personally had to temper my enthusiasm and remind myself that not everyone is as comfortable with spontaneous human contact for whatever reasons, germaphobes, autistic tendencies, ‘conditioning’ as described in your article…i make it a rule now to ask simply “May i give you a hug?” and if they prefer not to, then i say, “it’s very nice meeting you” and extend my hand in friendship instead. Most people are surprisingly receptive to a big hug which means a lot to me. We are all connected, and hugs or platonic gentle touch are important ways to communicate trust and understanding of that reality. My motto is “This world needs a group hug” ~peace <3

  31. Huh, now that you mention it the last time i touched a person (not counting handshakes) was 8 years ago. Honestly havent noticed it up until now.

  32. i’m sorry i’m just now finding and reading this. this is such a problem that we as men need to address this is a necessary revolution

  33. So, so true. Observing my sons I could see that the pressure from general society was forcing them more and more to limit even contact with me, even some friends were telling me don’t you think at 12 years old he should not have cuddles sitting on the sofa when watching tv! I also noticed how eventually lack of physical contact was transferred into having sexual relationships much too quickly.
    more people need to read the article! Especially NOW! I feel even more worried about my sons now when every action, every word can be turned against them. When shall we realise that we are all people and do not need to perpetuate battle of sexes.

  34. What an utterly vital and sentient missive. I read tens of articles full of drivel every day which makes your article all the more refreshing.

  35. We are bombarded with sexualized messaging 24/7 because sex sells, but then we are simultaneously shamed by church, (republican) state and various other agencies and cultures within our society. Damned (literally) if you do, damned if you don’t. Our society is sick, sick in so many ways. In part because many so called Christians no longer know what the word CHRIST means in the word CHRISTian. Sick because we can afford to give corporations and the 1% tax cuts but we can’t fund schools or tuition or health care for all. What we’re missing is love, true love, not sexualized love, but just love. And cognitive dissonance is one of its chief obstacles. Cognitive dissonance needs to be overcome in order for love to reign more absolutely and freely.

  36. I remember living for a time in the Middle East and noticed men walking very closely, arm in arm. Not holding hands, but arms. Talking very close and walking down the street. Not sexual. My friend,Jeff, and I started to do the same. Seemed very natural and made sense. I liked it and felt connected to my buddy.

  37. i can say my whole life’ struggle is here nicely written,with girls,womens,and my friends, yes i fear the touch and it feels guilt inside,and have bad relationships.

  38. Yes, this needs to be addressed. Thanks Mark Greene! In pondering the deeper roots, why and how this unfortunate arrangement came about, a few thoughts come to mind. The connectedness, or lack there-of of community in the modern western world, particularly U.S., seems to tell this story of the need to be independent as a household. Of course buy everything and pay your taxes, make sure your relationships with commerce and government are good and strong, and make sure you work your tail off to keep these relationships healthy, lest you be a failure as an individual and citizen. And this all comes at the cost of sacrificing the relationships with your neighbor, etc. There simply isn’t enough time. If we spend what little free time we have, going “out of our way” to emotionally and physically intertwine with our neighbors, it just seems a little contrived. However, if our lives were arranged to naturally spend more time in community and find ourselves sharing in more activities where physical touch were more convenient and happenstance, I imagine there would be a much different scenario playing out.

  39. in the netherlands its the same kind of culture,and since age 3 or 4 no more touch from my parents,i wasnt even comfortableanymore hugging my mom,i had a big need for animals as u could caress them and allready very young very interested in girl,fur sure for the same reason,at 20 i tarted living in italy,it was such a big difference for me because there ,especially in the south its still normal that people touch each other often,also men,and men7woman,think that was an important reason of going to live there,my own country felt so coooold,am convinced its very important,and yes all u told was the same,they’re very homofobic allready when small,though it slowly starts changing.sadly i still dont feel comfortable hugging my mom,even while i love hugging others

  40. Hi Mark. Thank you so much for writing this article. It falls closely into a discussion I am involved with among a number of male friends of mine. We are discussing the changing role of men in society and how there seems to be s growing disconnect between men and society.

    As a father of 4 boys, I can remember poignantly, with one son in particular who at 14 wanted to hug and be close to me, that I would push him away and tell him that he was becoming a grown man and that men didn’t do this. I’m not sure if this was out of some homophobic fear or what, but I have always regretted that. He is now a grown man with a beautiful daughter whom he cherishes and is planning to stay at home with. I have shared this article with him and shared my regrets for pushing him away especially now that he lives at a distance and contact is periodic at best.

  41. THIS ARTICLE IS THE BEST THING I HAVE SEEN IN A LONG TIME. Thanks a lot for writing it up and expressing it in such a beautiful yet a simple manner. I could not agree more. The ideas of love, sex, physical touch have become so messed up in our mind and in our society, that it’s really unsettling and sad. Physical touch is really very much underrated. This post helped me to identify certain answers to certain questions which i had been wondering since a long time now but couldn’t really find a proper answer. This did it. Thanks a lot for writing this up, for having the courage to do so in this stereotyped macho-man world. 🙂

  42. The issues which surround the process of adult men touching other adult men are many and include identity, security, boundaries, desire, vulnerability, shame, fear, self-esteem, sexual orientation, social conditioning, and gender identification. This is to list only a few of the issues which affects the discussion on male touching in non-sexual context. I want men to hear that they are not alone, Of course physical touch is tied to emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions of expression and experience. What I want to share is the importance of developing a balanced sense of yin/yang energies within harmonizing the masculine/feminine dimensions of our being through touch, meditation, tantric exercises, regular touching in moderation.

  43. This post touched me so deeply. I cried hard because of the immense pain that so many continue to suffer, and I cried because I am so very grateful that there are men who are finding the strength and courage to take on, first their own self-discovery work, and then sharing their healing experience with the world.

    It seems to me that there are more men and women today who are suffering from a severe deficit of genuine human connection, one that must include physical touch. Seven or eight years ago, I spoke with a woman who was distraught over a
    notice that her daughter brought home from elementary school that
    informed parents of a new policy banning the students from holding hands
    and hugging each other. I was in disbelief… I mean, how could that be
    acceptable to anyone?

    Our culture of fear and separatism, us and them, cannot survive if we are truly connected with one another. Thank you Mark for this post and your Remaking Manhood facebook page. Charles Eisenstein offers what he calls “self-guided learning journeys,” one of which is called “Masculinity: A New Story” – https://charleseisenstein.net/courses/. Also, there is a TED Talk by a man named Jackson Katz that is also phenomenal.

    Thank you again, for being a Brave Edge-Walker!

  44. Very well written, and well said. I think another side affects of this is that it has made it easier to disassociate choices and actions from the impact – or harm – such decisions make on others. We as a whole have left aside ‘caring’ for those outside our circle, because we are no longer socialized by common, comforting interaction as human beings.

  45. Wow, thank you for such a much needed conversation about this topic…I will definitely share this article with as many people as I can.

  46. I have custody of my kids every other week. We have physical contact a lot, they sit right next to me on the couch, I give them a hug to wake them up in the morning, etc. They’re the only people I ever come into physical contact with.
    I’m single, I work from home, I rarely meet with friends and when I do, we might shake hands, that’s about it. But it’s not much different now as opposed to when I worked around others. I was married for a long time and we literally grew apart because we had no common interests. So I never come into contact with anyone. It’s probably affecting my outlook on life, but there’s nothing I can do about that. American men get the impression, or are outright told, that if they touch anyone for any reason, that can be considered harassment. It can get you fired or thrown in jail, unless you’re rich, apparently… So we just don’t touch anyone. Is that an overreaction? Could be, but the consequences are so severe that we don’t risk it.

  47. Teens in Europe touch each other a lot more. Lots of arms round the shoulders and huddling together. Male and female. They are also a lot less cliquey. There are no ‘popular’ groups and ‘losers’ in Euro schools. Just a lot of kids running about together.

    American teens touch each other about 60% less, and the touch THEMSELVES 60% more. And no, I mean nervous touching: self-hugging, rocking, rubbing and scratching. It’s an animal deprivation. Plus in US schools, there are ‘losers’: kids who are outcast or forced into isolated groups based on privilege or looks or popularity.

    This is a sick society.

  48. Beaut article Mark Greene, one of the reasons I currently live in Tanzania is to observe/participate in a culture where non-sexualised touch between males is ‘the norm’. I also observed this in Bali where the physical connection between males is lovely to see. One of the common denominators between these two cultures is, they are family/village/tribal cultures where historically the child is raised by the whole village and are fairly constantly being touched, caressed, fondled from birth. There is a lot of evidence emerging that this type of child raising develops neural pathways strong in socialisation and physicality. There are of course many other ‘problems’ occurring in the societies but I have found the non-sexual physical connections between males heartening.

  49. Thankfully I live in a community (Byron Shire) filled with loving caring touchy feely people of both sexes where open hugging and warm physical touch is welcomed in many situations. It is not perfect but it is way better than the average community where nearly all touch by males is viewed with suspicion. It has been scientifically demonstrated that being part of a warm affectionate community is a valuable indicator of good health and longevity – way more important than another blood pressure drug. Our bubble should grow to become the norm – it is such a blessing to be here.

  50. Like it or not, we are in a post-Freudian society and touch is inherently considered sexual. I think touch between men is increasing, but it’s almost always done with the intent of making fun of or mocking gay people or female/female friendships. If a guy sits down on the couch next to another guy and puts his arm around him as a sign of platonic affection, that isn’t going to end well most of the time. Ideally it shouldn’t be this way, but this is how it is. Most guys who are touchy-feely with each other do it for laughs and to draw attention to themselves, not to show platonic love to each other. As for homophobia, I don’t think acceptance of homosexuality is a factor as much as internalized homophobia; guys are afraid to be close with each other because it might look gay, unless of course that is what they are trying to do for a laugh.

  51. Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece… a heartfelt clarion call for us to reawaken to the innate need to be touched, held, supported and comforted. As a teacher of Biodanza I have the deep privilege to witness groups rediscovering the simple joy of human contact, to see the long held barriers and armours dissolving under the gentlest of caresses, often releasing pent up torrents of emotion which serve to bring us closer and closer… when I take these sessions into nursing homes, especially dementia care settings, the yearning for touch is almost heart breaking but the beauty to be found in these simple platonic moments of reconnection is stunning… stay in touch! X

  52. Mark, great article. I think you’re correct in drawing a connection between this unfortunate phenomenon (of men not getting enough Platonic touch) and homosexuality, but I think you miss the mark when you narrow the scope to homophobia specifically. Even setting aside homophobia and assuming everyone in a society were completely accepting of homosexual behavior, a prominence of homosexuality would still tend to contribute to this phenomenon.

    It makes sense when you think about it. When homosexuality is not open and prevalent in a society, there is far less confusion about what man-to-man touch is intended to convey. On the Platonic-sexual continuum, most degrees of touching are pretty much assumed to be Platonic. But as homosexuality becomes more mainstream and prevalent, previously clear physical expressions can now have more meanings, and so people will tend toward those that are less ambiguous, decreasing the kinds of touch that people use.

    Likewise, in your article you point out the understandable fear men have that a physical expression toward a woman will be misinterpreted as sexual. That’s not because they’re heterophobic, or hate heterosexual women; it’s because they don’t want to be misunderstood. Well, it’s the same phenomenon when they’re touching men. It’s not necessarily homophobia. You can be fine with homosexual lifestyles and still not want to communicate that you’re interested in having one.

    Whether one favors the increasing acceptance of homosexuality or doesn’t, this general contraction-to-the-unambiguous in physical communication seems to be an inherent byproduct of this new direction in society. We can’t just chalk it up to homophobia.

  53. If boys were taught to be more affectionate with each other, they might not be so eager to bash each others brains out when they are adults. Less violence and wars.

  54. Absolutely fabulous article, thank you very much for addressing this. One thing that did leave me dismayed a bit was the only solution you posited was men having children. I’m 47 years old single and childless. I am very well aware of the fact that I suffer from touch deprivation but at my age I’m not sure if having a child would be the smartest thing to do especially since it would be basically financially impossible to do so. What is a man and my position to do?

  55. This is fascinating! How can we women respond and help? I know it gets tricky because many women don’t want to lead a man on, but we also don’t know how much platonic physical touch men are ok with.

    It also doesn’t help that we are taught by the media and culture that attention from a man usually equates with ‘more than friends’ interest, so then there is confusion. So then some of us (ahem, myself included) are more apt to back right off rather than send the wrong signals. In reality, we want platonic touch too, but, as you noted, we go to our female friends for it – but the need for platonic contact with men is there too. How should we help men address that?

    • Hi Shelly…it is kind for you to reach out in this discussion. As a man in a community which does promote non-sexual touch between men, I would say that we men need to deal with this ourselves before asking women to come in and help. As men we spend far too much time looking for women to give us “permission” to do things which we should be dealing with on our own. I think the most beneficial thing a woman ally could do is to not become part of the narrative of shaming which so many women partake in with regard to male/male touching. If you have sons, encourage non-violent touching between them and their friends. If you have men in your life and they open up to you in vulnerable way, encourage that and don’t judge. At the end of the day, however, this is an issue which we men need to address on our own. Thanks for caring. xoxox

  56. Thank you for writing this! It’s an eye-opener to me, to say the least. I’m an Indian woman aged 46, went to an all-girls school and college, met my husband and married him at 24. I now have four children aged 16,13,11, & 7. My 13 year old is a boy named Aaron, and even though he’s taller than me, he enjoys cuddling up with me. Since he has three sisters, and a dad who hugs anyone and everyone who happens to be in front of him, Aaron is truly blessed. I pray he would never have to experience this painful reality.

    I’m grateful, too, for my Indian culture, as my in-laws live with us, and have their grandchildren around then everyday.

    I’m gonna pray for men, especially in America, to be set free from this unspoken pain that you have so eloquently described in the above article.

    Once again, thank you and God bless you.

  57. Your essay reminds me of a classic book from the late seventies called “The Hazards of Being Male” https://www.amazon.com/Hazards-Being-Male-Surviving-Masculine/dp/0965762874

    I was in my early twenties when that book came out and left me very angry. Men were being denied their right to be human! Your article is an excellent 21st century follow up! Sadly your article shows how little progress has been made in allowing men in our culture the opportunity to be fully human. So sad.

    My husband and I still have a copy of “The Hazards of Being Male” on our bookshelf after all these years.

    I think it, along with your essay should be required reading for everyone, male or female.

  58. An excellent article, thank you Mark Greene! I have two teenage sons and you have given me pause for thought, saying that I try to hug each of my children at least once a day, whether they wriggle out of it or not. Recently, I was also intrigued to see two French business partners kiss and hug each other in greeting every morning on going to the office or when meeting off site (both in the 40 – 50 year age group) – we are not used to seeing it happen in society and certainly not in business here in South Africa.

  59. This is a surprising and much needed opening of discussion. It is refreshing to read an article that speaks to the experiences of men and boys as sociable human beings, as opposed to presuming innate flaws and wrongness (toxic masculinity etc) that has to be educated out of men.

    I especially appreciate how you mentioned Italian culture, in which touch is more naturally and freely enjoyed by, and between, men. I’ve noticed this myself and it reflects how culture is flexible, not that men (in this case) are biologically predisposed to avoid physical closeness and touch.

    Along similar lines people often say men are naturally more competitive than women, which I experience as more competition with the problem, not my peers! And I see this every time I pass a gang of linesmen, road workers, sewerage or construction workers shoulder to shoulder co-operatively overcoming a task at hand – for the most part not trying to push past and over each other to be the ‘winner’ – unless in playful jest.

    Where I disagree is the second sentence here: “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.”

    I believe men try to prove they can be trusted largely because the stereotype that ‘so many men have behaved poorly’ has become a core part of our culture. And this narrative is a big part of why many men no longer become primary teachers or youth workers or scout leaders or sit near children on airplanes and so on. The risk of false accusation is significant in a culture that already suspects you to be likely to ‘behave poorly’. And those men who do brave the risks and enter these professions now tend to avoid touching children (healthy touch, sitting close, hugs, comforting etc) which in turn furthers the touch deficit.

    Female teachers also – in a culture of fear toward anything that could be perceived in the slightest way as sexual – are becoming less physically close to the children, perhaps especially boys for risk of physical contact being deemed inappropriate.

    And all this means less touch, less holding, less contact, less relaxed ease of physical affection and warmth between grown ups and children.

    Countering these narratives (any way we can) seems a good start to a solution to me. Thanks for writing this article.

    • Your response is well-expressed. I have been around long enough to have observed American culture come out of it’s backwoods traditions with regard to the interactions of men and women. It was not long ago that women were blamed for everything with regard to male touch. It was embedded in our culture. This is the key. Cultural edicts have made females operate in a defensive manner in their life spans with regard to interactions with males. As you can imagine, bad males would take advantage of this. Today violators are considered criminals. Because of various freedom social movements in the sixties and seventies, we no longer embed bad “that’s the way men are” behaviors into our modern culture. Unfortunately, we have many new Americans that now live here who bring their embedded oppressive cultures with them. And while we may like the way that the males touch and bond in groups, the women are segregated and touch means something totally different. We can look to these traditional cultures to understand ourselves from the past and our problems with touch with regard to men and women. TY

  60. Wonderful article that pried my brain wide open. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in being a bit confused about something that should be so natural but, as you point out, simply isn’t for many people, and for many reasons.

  61. This article is AMAZING! It said everything I felt, but couldn’t quite explain. We are a huggy, touchy family. My sons hug me and each other every time we greet each other. Growing up, I hugged them and their friends because a lot of them didn’t get that at home. When I run into any of their friends now, they still hug me – without hesitation. I hug men all the time and it is amazing that they seem to appreciate so much, knowing that I don’t view it in any sexual way, but just to add that missing part of their lives. It is terrible that the “judgmental eye” is always there to determine what your intentions are. I see them all the time. I don’t care because I know how important touch is and how sad it is to see that people are afraid to show friendly affection by hugging, touching, holding hands, etc. I feel like I’m gushing over this article, but it is so accurate and so well written that I just want to share it with the world. It’s like a big hug! Well done!

  62. In addition, I feel that a guy going to cuddle parties can easily evoke the reaction that he is a loser who can’t get laid.

  63. if this is so factual, how come in the ancient empires the most brutal and violent armies were men who not just openly engaged in tough but also were bisexual were so prevalent. Specifically, Rome, Greece and Japan?? IDK, I’m a bisexual male (just in case your read this and want to scream “HOMOPHOBIAAAAA!!!”) and 36 so I am secure about that and gay and straight men are the right and left arm of misogyny and homophobia. This is a recent cultural phenomenon.

    I wouldn’t say this is going to “make men so sappy and peaceful” as I demonstrated above with the ancient world showing more brutality and dominance from more intimate male contact. I think there is a passive aggressive homophobic undertone to this article that will push men away because gay and straight men both are conforming to homophobic norms.

  64. The biggest problem I see concerning men is that the ideological sociopolitical movements generating demands that men be allowed to express themselves without shame, are quite frequently the very same groups doing most of the shaming.

    Nothing will cause men to retreat and/or lash out in confusion faster than to tell them it’s okay to open up, to be vulnerable, to express their needs, then when they do inform them that they are part of a privileged demographic, and therefore their needs are irrelevant. I have lost count of the times I have seen a group advocating for men to engage in activity X, and then demonize men because they did not engage in activity X in accordance with that group’s ideology.

    If we as a society want to help men, we need to address those groups that are most egregiously guilty of this, and then address society in general, because this has become integral to western cultures. It’s almost universal at this point that the moment men speak up or reach out they will be told that group X matters more, or that they is doing it wrong, or even that they are bad people because they spoke up or reached out at the wrong time or to the wrong people.

    If we continue to tell men that they matter, but show them that they do not, then men will continue to retreat, to the detriment of society as a whole.

  65. Really interesting, though I don’t agree with this: “Is the pleasure of human contact inherently sexual to some degree? I doubt it’s a question the average Italian man would ever ask himself”. Yes, we didn’t have puritanism and some quick hugs are allowed in friendship, as greetings. But long-lasting touch with anyone, men or women, is not considered sexually neutral, as much here as in the USA, and would bring along the same suspects and distrust.

  66. (It is sad that) this is profound.
    (It is a sign that this culture is broken and should be abandoned and) this needs to be read by all.

  67. This is a feeling I’ve known, all too well, for far too long.

    And sure, homophobia plays a role- but why? That only makes sense if male touch is presumed to be sexual in nature.

    And I think that’s the problem. We assume male touch is aggressive or sexual… and unless that’s specifically what you want from a man, either of those taints his touch… makes it possessive, presumptive, oppressive… turns it into an assault of one kind or another.

    The isolation becomes self-abuse as a sign of respect.
    At least… that’s what it’s always been for me.

  68. This is a cause I could get behind, especially for men who are single and in need of positive, affirmative, non-sexual touch, like myself. I’m open to this, but what about the other 8,000 men in my lonely North Dakota town, who are most likely not interested in seeking out the companionship of early twenty-something men, and would prefer the intimacy of family? Also, as a new teacher, where do I draw the line between those people who have or are family members of students in the school system? Am I encouraged to remain touchless for security? Do I abandon my convictions to pursue a same-sex relationship (which might not happen for the same reasons other bachelors do not marry), or adopt an unharmonious heterosexual marriage (also, not certain, and length of commitment pending on pressure), and, thus, abandon this cause all together? I have been thinking about this article the last few days, and I think I want to push forward as a bachelor, as I think on the necessity for platonic touch, not just for gay men, but also for common straight dudes too. Why should we always push for relationships for all people? There doesn’t have to be “someone for everyone”. I certainly think that I will most likely not have a someone. And honestly, I would rather commit to several special, platonic relationships with dear friends in this place, than have to commit to one. Dear author, I accept your challenge.

  69. “Cut off from the deeply human physical contact that is proven to reduce stress, encourage self esteem and create community.” Evidence for this proof? Sure would be useful to have a citation.

  70. At one point the article mentions homophobia within men’s friendship groups as a reason men are “deprived of touch”, but then later it claims women are “the exclusive gatekeepers of platonic touch”. That’s contradictory. Before men even begin to think about violating social norms and touching women in ways that make them feel threatened and uncomfortable, they need to learn to touch each other without feeling “gay”.

    • Hi Jeffrey,
      I am in complete agreement with you that women should be free from unwelcome and unwanted touch, as, for that matter, should men. Our culture has a long list of bad reasons why men do not embrace each other, homophobia being one of the most poisonous. Accordingly, women have the responsibility for men’s need for touch dumped on them. Its is neither advisable nor healthy for either. The challenge is many boys and men are growing up devoid and touch and so, fail to understand how to touch, or when.

  71. Interesting article!

    I don’t know about the narrative described as being promoted in our culture about men (that many or most people hold the perspective that men cannot be trusted because men turn everything sexual). That hasn’t been my experience, it doesn’t sound right to me, and it certainly doesn’t resonate with me. Also, I’m absolutely certain ‎that the women I know struggle at least as much with intrasexual physical touch as most of the men I know. Not five minutes before reading this article my wife and I were talking about how she’s working to get over feeling her own discomfort when other women hug her or touch her. This is a story echoed by most women I know.

    I struggle trusting men, but for me this has nothing to do with anything sexual. It has to do with what I judge as most men being fake or unintentional caricatures of‎ what they perceive men “should be like”. I look at the “culture” adopted by most contemporary western men I know and I find nothing rewarding or appealing in any of it. The vigor with which most of my fellow men throw themselves into this culture belies what I judge as a sort of profound desperation behind which, I’m guessing, is a desire for acceptance. For instance:

    * What, to me, is an enigmatic desire in other men to know all about sportsball, watch it, obsess over it, etc.,
    * A desire to do “manly”, visceral things,‎ seemingly to prove manliness,
    * Grab-assing‎ and other posturing through ostentatiousness,
    * Other forms behaviour I judge as compensating for insecurities or compensating for a fear of authentic self-expression (driving a big ol’ smoky/loud truck or street racer with annoying muffler, booming bass stereo, driving aggressively, ‎etc.).

    Seeing these things makes me feel sad for these men. I judge them as lost, hurt, and in need of support in being themselves. :'(

    The men who I trust most typically don’t even know the rules to most sporting games (clearly there are exceptions), but would rather talk for hours about deeper issues: fears about business and finance, questions surrounding death and what’s valuable in life. We also discuss other, more superficial matters: whether or not Thomas Hobbes neglected to properly establish his premises prior to setting forth his argument in Leviathan, or whether Oscar Wilde was a genius or a pervert. In my estimation, “men” value wrestling with profound issues and deep questions over engaging in meaningless distractions or building elaborate façades of “manliness”: this is what truly being a man means to me. On the other hand, what this culture values as “manly”, and what I see reflected as “manliness” by many of the men I know, is just a sort of sad window dressing; a hiding behind what’s safe.

    As a man, I fully honor my sexuality, but I also don’t want to cuddle in another man’s arms. It’s not that I judge it as taboo or unacceptable, and I certainly don’t judge others for getting what they need in this way: there’s just nothing in it for me. I have children and a wonderful wife, and I value the physical touch in our relationships, but that’s not what I need from the men in my life.

    Also, the physical touch I value with my family is no compromise meant to replace physical touch I’m missing in my relationships with the men around me, nor does not having that touch by a man “raise the stakes” in my other relationships: if I had neither a wife nor children, I’m confident that no man could replace that form of non-sexual intimacy for me. I feel joy when I see a man I love, and I enjoy a warm embrace for that reason (I have never considered where my genitals were in relationship to those of the man I’m hugging), but that’s a fundamentally different relationship from the one I have with my family: for that reason the physical touch is necessarily different, and having it different is what it looks like for me to get what I need.

    So, in summary, I think the article missed the mark in getting to the root of the problem (a lack of physical touch and fear of perceptions around sexuality vs. a lack of authenticity), at least from my perspective, given my experiences.

    Anyway, thanks again for posting it! I enjoy considering these things, even when I disagree. 🙂

    • So, you suffer from the same problem, and in the end show the same facade of strength.
      “I’m not like these weak fake men” I’m, not in the same way, but just as weak and insecure.
      I’m not afraid of being branded gay, or as I’d say “not completely and utterly dependent on women” but I’m afraid of the responsibility that comes with being more loving with a guy than his 8year long boyfriend/girlfriend.
      But for some reason I do take this kind of responsibilities with female friends, gosh, I even overlook abuse, but that’s how I was raised, blame mom, blame sis, blame grandma for it.
      But it’s not my responsibility.

      • I can understand how you’d come to your judgment of me, Gush Gosh, but that’s not an accurate description of how I feel. I’m happy to hear that you’re able to stand in your own power despite hearing what I perceive as your judgement that you’re differently “branded”. 🙂

    • You started off nicely, but completely undid any positive in your comment when you began bashing traditionally male interests.

      I like sports (especially football) and I like cars.

      I don’t obssess over stats or to know the name of every single player on a given team. I enjoy the competition and watching athletes be driven to their best by equally impressive athletes on the other team. They’re all pushing each other to be better. And sure, there’s a dominance element to it, but most atheletes have a deep respect for each other because they know what it takes to compete.

      Same with cars. There’s something about the male brain that is attracted to goal-oriented, problem-solving, and working on cars is ripe ground on which these drives can be out to use. Obviously there are exceptions, but most men like these kinds of things.

      You seem to have a lot of preconceived notions about what these interest say about men, and they all seem to be informed by stereotypical female assumptions about why men are interested in these things.

      I’m sorry that you view these activities with the condescension that you do.

  72. I think there is something quite ahistorical about this article. I remember seeing pre- and post-Civil War photos of men in close proximity to one another–on sports teams, comradely embraces, slouching into each other–touching one another. There’s even talk about Abraham Lincoln sharing a bed with a friend in a non-sexual relationship and how that friend (his name escapes me) helped Lincoln deal with depression re a lost loved one. I would argues this the lack of touch a recent development, post-WWI. The article doesn’t make any attempt to put this issue re contact into any historical context.

  73. Thank you for writing this! Really great read. I work with young women, but whenever I’m around young men, they seem to be searching for more answers than I can provide about what it means to be a man in this day in age. Your article brings up a necessary conversation and points to some solutions on how we can begin to help young men find their footing.

    • Thanks for the kind words Reagan. And yes, the solution to all of this is in the conversations we can intentionally choose to have about emotions and the ways we express them. Its a conversation few boys are invited to even begin, much less take a deep dive into over a period of years. We should be offering boys a lifetime of ongoing conversations that evolve as they grow, learn and change.

  74. Thank you for writing this! So needed and so well written, wow. I’d never considered that young girls become the gatekeepers of touch for boy entering into puberty. Very good point.

    I was left wanting more solutions to touch isolation for men than having a child. Other commenters have suggested dancing, and group awareness/touch encounters. I would also suggest massage and cuddle parties. As people recognize the power and value of touch, it has given rise to facilitated cuddle gatherings as well as individual cuddle sessions.

    As a ‘Cuddlist’ in training, I can’t begin to thank you enough for sharing this with such clarity and eloquence.

    • Dancing, for sure. I’m part of the swing dance community, and one of the best things about it is that any gender can follow or lead. So you have women dancing with women, and men dancing with men, and no one’s masculinity or motivations are called into question. It’s a wonderful, positive atmosphere.

      • I have been an insider in the dance community for years. What you say is true. It is not true of new students who take lessons at studios, however. Some have so many man-woman hang-ups. And social dance teachers exacerbate the problem with their “followers just follow” mantra. This causes some males who lead to become controllers instead of partners. “What do you know, you just follow”? “What! Are you leading now”? Dance is full of kind touch. But if I taught social dance, I would teach it as a partnership. I have taken lessons with some great performers over the years and when I dance with less accomplished social dance males, they ruin the fun we could have when they need to be “in control”. Their touch suddenly becomes the lousy lead that it really is!

  75. This was really darn good.

    I saw “Moonlight” last year (it’s phenomenal–go see it), and the thing that got me in this movie was how much the lack of touch led to so much pain. Almost nothing in that movie matches my life–and yet that lack of touch is what touched me the most (no pun intended, I think).

    We’re taught as men, for some reason, that we need to be untouched to be manly. Maybe.

    Maybe being manly is really being in touch with our own needs, untroubled by that need, and able to be touched and to touch.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Although “Moonlight” displays sexual contact (or something so unique that doesn’t fit this characterization), I think pain and most of prejudices are formed as described by Mark Greene. We are certainly with a field to be explored. It seems to me that touch requires self-knowledge and sensitivity, faculties that may be unveiled so that the old shell can be replaced by a softer one. I see “Moonlight” as being sensible to this cause.

  76. This article is a refection of what I have seen my whole life with men. Having raised 3 boys, They hug each other all the time. If not that, there is always the little smack on the face just to get a wrestling match going. I think the stigma of society stating men should be tough, not have feelings carries over as to not let outsiders believe you have feelings. Amazing article.

  77. Thanks!
    This is such a needed discussion.
    I believe that men are more likely to become violent simply because they suffer more while having less opportunity to say so and get help.
    This is not to take away the light that’s being shed on the many issues women face, quite the opposite; whatever is a problem for us is also a problem for them, and vice-versa. We all live together after all, don’t we…

  78. This is a brilliant article. Thank you so much for having the courage to write it. After my father died when I was 11 years old. I went into such a deep isolation of human contact that really didn’t end until I met my wife when I was 26 years old. Even now as a 45 yo man, I feel anxiety if I go more than a day without non-sexual human touch. Touch is so much more important than I could possibly describe. For me, it calms my fearful and anxious soul.

    I too am a stay-at-home father, sometimes I wonder if I touch my children too much. Sometimes, its a pat on the head, a stroke of the hair, or simply holding hands while watching tv. Its never inappropriate. While waiting in line at the pharmacist the other day, I put my hands on my sons shoulders and began to massage his neck. Under his breath, I heard him say. “I love you too daddy.” Touch is love.

  79. This article is very confusing. Talking about physical contact between a father and son, about adult men and men and women. Any contact between human beings could involve sexual arrousement. We men can avoid them or go for it and just deal with being sexually arroused, a perfectly natural reaction of the body as well as the mind. To me it seem to prove that American men are without a doubt scared about their own natural inclanations. Trying to have platonic physical contact is a contradiction in itself. Hugging or touching a man or any human being for that matter means you are being vulnerable and there is no saying what feeling might come up as a result. We either accept to be vulnerable beings and start seeing this as being part of a whole human being. Platonic physical contact means you are avoiding experiencing emotions which in itself is proving the existinging prejudice of society right! I would rather be adventurous and start exploring my whole being. We might learn something about ourselves. There is a whole world to be gained behind these scary sexual and emotional stuff which we will never find hugging or touching our male friends with our butts stuck way out. That is not a real hug, it is deceiving yourself and the other man saying he can only feel half of our touch…and that we don’t for the life trust him….

    • If vulnerability or fear makes you aroused, then the first time you hug a friend might make you aroused, yes. But if you get used to it, it will no longer cause sexual excitement, and become a normal part of everyday life. It’s worth overcoming the first hurdle.

    • Hi Robert, being a parent puts one on notice in regard to touch and teaches how to discern between truly platonic touch (which kids absolutely need) and sensual touch (which relationships need). After recently leaving a 21yr relationship where in the latter years, any form of physical contact was ‘off the menu’ and I felt starved. I found nurture from deep, relaxing massage from a professional person where I knew the boundaries.

      I also visited a tantric teacher for a session on tantric touch, where one’s awareness moves between being the ‘toucher’ to being the ‘touchee’, and learning how to ask for and receive what I needed. It was very confronting, and profound, especially after years of constantly being told ‘no’.

      I would suggest that if touch mostly arouses you and it seems as you say you ‘cannot control’ your response, then engaging in platonic touch with someone will moderate your arousal, help you become mindful and allow you to save your arousal for a suitable time.

      • Hello dear man unplugged, I am sorry to have been the source of this confusion, I should have added I was talking about physical touch between adult men and the consequence of it, not of a man touching a child!
        I have been visiting tantric teachers for many session and I still do. The emotions emurging lead to new ones and their was clearly a developement in this. More than 2 years have seriously changed my life after being able to let go of what I thought I needed. In fact my body and inner self showed me the way! Not the other way around. Indeed very confronting as almost all men are educated in the west to be on top of things and we tend to think that is what it means to be a man. Not controling your arousal does not lead to ’emotional anarchy’, which I feared would happen, but instead to being real and authentic, a very liberating experience. This change in perception(inner self) and perspective(outer circumstances) had a huge impact and indeed still has as I am still aboard this adventure. A very enriched life because of it and people, both men and women notice the change in me, without knowing what caused it. It takes considerable courage for a man to let go of the controle and trust what will show up next. But boy, it is worth it!

        • HI Robert, thank you for your very clear response! Yes, it takes courage to unravel the patterning of our past, which as you say, despite the pain it can cause as we let go, is worth every step. I go under the name of Man Unplugged because that’s the name of the book I published, about the inner world of men. It is a combination of my own journey, coupled with the supporting work of various men who’ve trodden the path before me, such as Robert Bly, Steven Biddulph, Carl Jung, Robert A Johnson .. without which I would not have had a framework to share it within. I’m happy to hear that your tantric journey has opened you up to new possibilities and journeys! Safe travels …

    • I understand Robert’s point to be that we shouldn’t be afraid that touch may very well be accompanied by some degree of sexual feeling. That doesn’t mean we need to follow through or proceed along that line. It just means to be accepting, natural, and not fearful. It’s a call for honesty while maintaining whatever boundaries are appropriate for the situation. I agree with you, Robert.

    • Robert, platonic physical touch between adult men is not inappropriate, sexual arousal is a possible consequence of this activity however when this happens it is more a sign that your sexual release is not happening frequently enough, either through self-gratification or with a sexual partner.
      As a massage therapist I have physical touch with adult men and women and am not aroused sexually. The focus of the mind directs the physical response. Intent will often direct the outcome. I’m not making reference here to spontaneous arousal which sometimes accompanies initial touch without there being any conscious sexual intent. This physical sexual arousal can be diminished by mental focus and redirection of thought.
      With regards to arousal and touch I also belong to a men’s group where we meet monthly and exchange greetings before and after group with hugs, long hugs, with bellies touching. I do not experience sexual arousal, nor fear, nor shame. You can feel the other’s heartbeat and breath, without fear or shame. The connection removes the isolation which adult men experience from lack of physical touch. The aspect of vulnerability you talk about speaks to your possible fear and uncertainty around your sexual functioning. Security, identity, and self-esteem are aspects which perhaps are involved. I recommend “Championing your inner child” by John Bradshaw, dealing with archetypes, championing our lover, magician, king, and warrior energies.

  80. Very well written Mark and I completely agree that my approach to ‘touch’ has profoundly changed since becoming a father to two sons. My youngest is 8yo and so we still have the physical contact you mention, and your writing has put me on notice to not back off from my 14yo son, even though he may find it a bit awkward. Thanks for a very insightful view.

    • Thank you. Wow. Its that committment to not “back off.” That’s the fierce committment our kids need and want from us.

    • Mark did you ask me if I had any kids of my own? The answer is no. And to make sure: I was not talking about physical contact between father and son. Sorry for being not totally clear on that score…

  81. This is such an important discussion. As a preschool teacher I was dismayed by adult efforts to make boys “tough” while they were still little more than babies. A cuddly nap time animal was replaced by a hard plastic action figure when a boy was 20 months old, because his parents were afraid that he was too soft. This fear came from the fact that he loved putting lotion on his cheeks. The stories go on and on. I have often wondered (like the author it seems) to what degree adolescent and adult males were motivated to have sex simply because it was the only way they could have physical contact with another human being.

    As a kindergarten teacher, I noticed that when a little girl was lonely or upset she would sidle up against me, lean into my hip, put her arms around my waist, while boys who were upset would frequently end up throwing punches. It was difficult for them to find solace.

    There was a lovely man who ran an after school program at one of the schools I worked at. He played with the boys physically – rolling them over his shoulders etc. The boys loved him and couldn’t get enough of it, they were always crawling all over him. Many of these boys didn’t have fathers at home, so it was even more important for them to have that contact. But parents starting getting nervous -so strange – who was this man and why was he playing with their boys that way? The after school teacher was told he couldn’t touch the boys. I think that human beings can become mentally and physically ill from being deprived of touch.

    • Sex has ruined alot of people’s connections. Love has nothing to do with sex. What a sad time for humanity were in. Love will set us free!

      • mostly in the USA…..US Americans are being hit on every front from food, water, air, education, media, religion and politics: everything has become toxic.

        • Margarita: Go touch him, then. Be the initiator. He’s not a mind-reader, and won’t know that touch is important to you (or necessarily to him). He’ll also appreciate you taking the initiative towards getting what you want & need. Compliment him when he does give you the touch you desire. Repeatedly Encourage the behaviours you want, and you’ll get more of them.

    • Hi Prudence, a couple in Adelaide (Australia) have conducted a program for women for over 25 years. At the end, the women are blindfolded under the guise that someone is to feed them various delicacies, in a sensual way, and they have to work out what the food is.

      What the women don’t know is that specific men, some their husbands or partners, have been secretly invited and briefed that they’re to feed the woman in front of them, and not make any sound or indication that they’re men.

      So the blindfolded women think they’re being fed strawberries, chocolate, grapes etc by other women. When the blindfolds are finally removed and the women see the men, the response is off the charts!

      I’m sharing this because afterward, the female Elder facilitator asks the men a simple question: how many men in the room have had sex when all they wanted was a hug?

      Every single hand goes up … followed by a shocked intake of breath from the women.

      When the men are invited to explain, without fail the responses are that when ‘sex’ is on offer from our spouses or partners, we believe we’re not entitled to say ‘no’ and simply ask for a hug.

      Sad times indeed …

      • Or perhaps the assumption of wolves in sheeps clothing… not that they aren’t out there but it seems everyone is so afraid of “what if” that ppl are too afraid to live their lives to full potential… we live under a cloud of fear-mongering…

        • I guess it must be hard for men to balance not having a lot of platonic touching + not being allowed to be emotionally vulnerable with people, and I really feel for that.

        • Fear is the most powerful motivator. Sad, indeed. Online needs to design a course for everyone on platonic touch. Remove the fear.

    • There isn’t much of a cure for this, save one: within the family. Fathers, certainly, can be affectionate with their children and do their best to raise them with a good blend of steadfastness, respect, adaptability and discipline. I’ve seen this work with some families and have seen friendliness and respect between the fathers and their male children last well into adulthood.

      However, in general, both men and women are increasingly self conscious about anything physical outside of family or lover relationships. Given the current atmosphere of suspicion and scrutiny, which is likely to increase and then level out, men in general are more likely rather than less likely to deprive themselves, in our culure, of platonic touch. What will, therefore, be required of men is more stoicism and pursuit of inner calm.

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