Use Of Touch In Male Friendships

Posted by on Feb 26, 2018 in ComLead, Organizational Leadership

Haptics is the form of communication interaction that involves the use of touch. This can be in the form of holding hands, touching another’s shoulder as a symbol of comfort, or a hug. Both stereotypically and statistically, women engage more in haptics within their relationships than men do.

In light of recent social issues, one might advise straying away from being too touchy to avoid reports of sexual harassment, but why else do people, men specifically, tend to avoid touch when it is proven to benefit the body both mentally and physically?

Touch has been proven to reduce stress, heart rate, and blood pressure, and it is also related to increasing a person’s level of comfort and safety. In addition, the relational satisfaction between couples – whether romantic or platonic – is generally higher in a “touch-friendly” relationship.

Both society and the media push men to refrain from making too much physical contact with others – specifically other men. Psychologist Ofer Zur once noted that physical contact between men is restricted to one of two outcomes: violence or sex. And young men who are raised with an avoidant attachment style (little to no physical or emotional affection) from their primary caregivers are reported to have significantly higher rates of adult violence than those raised with more physical affection. Consider as well that men are often encouraged to suppress their emotions when battling with stress which makes them more susceptible to stress-related disorders as well as feelings of anxiety and depression.

Why are men told to only shake each other’s hands once they reach a certain age? Why are they encouraged not to hug their uncles the way that nieces hug their aunts? And why is sharing a bed with a platonic same-sex friend a cautious subject when you are just friends anyway?

Much of it has to do with the fact that we live in a very “no-touch” culture as opposed to say European cultures who are known to be much more physically affectionate. In addition, media and society reinforce the notion that men are meant to be independent and more withdrawn in their relationships.

If you browse through some of the comments on Reiner’s NY Times article (below), you will find many people reporting that some of their most fulfilling friendships arose when they lived or stayed in other countries with different cultures than ours. Men in other cultures such as India may be seen holding hands while they walk or sitting close together. But often times when this is done in America, men are mocked as having a “bromance” when it should just be considered an everyday friendship (unless there is romantic feeling of course).

But if studies show that touch improves the quality of relationships and reduces levels of stress, then why are men conditioned so strongly to avoid it amongst themselves? Consider this the next time that you are watching your favorite TV show, how often do the male friends act affectionate to one another in a non-sexual way? Is it ever? Do you think that the female friends who hug and interact more physically with each other appear to have a better friendship?
And do you think that the lack of touch and affection in America may be linked to higher rates of mental health disorders?

Food for thought.

Resources: The Power of Touch, Especially for Men

Devon Bradley, M.S. Communication & Leadership ’19

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