Let’s Talk: Touch and Toxic Masculinity

When was the last time someone touched you in an affectionate way?

If you’re a man, the answer could be days or even weeks ago. And it probably wasn’t a friend who touched you, but a lover or romantic partner.

This wasn’t always the case – photographs from the 19th century show men being very intimate with one another.


Take a photo like this today, and the first reaction of most people would be that the participants were gay.

What caused this change? The usual explanation is that it was a casualty of the century-long (and ongoing) battle for sexual liberation. As an LGBTQ identity began to develop, reactionaries in state and church tried to suppress it. This led to all physical intimacy coming under suspicion. Men stopped holding one another to avoid defending or discussing their own sexuality.

Today, men’s reluctance to touch each other or to allow themselves to be touched is a public health issue. Lack of physical contact has been linked to poor mental health, weakened immune systems and even early death.

So, I’ve created a post to discuss what I think is an overlooked component of Toxic Masculinity. This can be a space for men to share their own experiences of non-sexual physical intimacy, but everyone is welcome to contribute.

Disclaimer: The author is a cis hetero male who would like to be touched more regularly. He is also dissatisfied with the suggestion that individual men should just express themselves more physically, because:

1) Anglo-American culture does not really accept platonic male intimacy – consider how often people joke that Sam/Frodo or Steve/Bucky must be gay. A man asking to be hugged is unlikely to be obliged.
2) When I have raised this issue before, women have shared their experiences of men “mistaking” touch for sexual initiation – any new culture of intimacy would have to acknowledge rape culture and MeToo.

Further Reading