I’m a hugger. I love hugs. They are one of my favorite things in the world. Personally, I think a good hug is something of great value, especially in abundance.
But I was not always like this. I remember back in my early high school years, I wasn’t very physically affectionate at all. I wasn’t affectionate with women or girls due to being afraid of “coming across wrong” and making them uncomfortable or creeping them out, and I wasn’t affectionate with men or boys because… well, it made me uncomfortable.
But then I got a girlfriend. And then she broke up with me. And suddenly I felt a huge gaping hole in my life. A physical-affection shaped hole that I never realized I had before. So I started hugging my friends as a greeting. And slowly it caught on, and together we became a physically affectionate bunch. And the rest is history, as they say. My life is now filled with hugs and affection.
When I was a kid, I also remember watching Home Improvement with my family. One episode I remember in particular involved Tim trying to prove that he was “man enough” to hug another man, and doing so extremely awkwardly and uncomfortably. The clear message: men are uncomfortable hugging each other, or, really, being physically affectionate with each other in any way other than back-patting and shoulder-punching.
This, of course, is a common meme in our culture. And it is one with some real truth to it, I think. Though it is certainly not universal.
What is bothersome, however, is how frequently this is framed as “stupid men, being afraid to touch each other” or similar. And even in the gendersphere, you generally see it framed as a matter of homophobia. Basically, it is always framed as something that is purely driven either by male stupidity or by prejudice or by some combination thereof. And while I think there certainly can be very real homophobic components to it in some cases, I wonder about other possible factors. Factors that are perhaps more influential.
One such potential factor that occurs to me is our culture’s overblown fear of male pedophilia. If men in our culture live in fear of being viewed as pedophiles, then they’re rarely going to be physically affectionate with children. Those children might then in turn grow up feeling that physical affection from men is not normal. They may not be able to explain it, they might just feel an internalized discomfort with male affection. But it might be there nevertheless.
And our minds have a strange way of trying to figure out why we feel the way we feel, so in a culture of homophobia I can certainly understand if a lot of boys and men start explaining their discomfort in terms of “Blech! Gay!” Even when that is, perhaps, not really what’s going on.
Anyway, I would be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on this. At the moment this is mostly just pondering on my part. I would be particularly interested if anyone could point to relevant studies, though certainly any discussion is welcome, citations or no.
 It actually took me a lot longer to get over my fear of making women uncomfortable with my hugs. Even several years down the line, I still tended to avoid hugging women. One incident I remember in particular: I was working on a team made up of mostly men and only one woman. Several months into working with this team, this woman expressed dismay and genuine hurt that I never initiated hugs with her despite often doing so with the male team members. I never intended to exclude here, but rather I was trying to keep the environment safe and comfortable for her. Looking back on that, the irony is palpable.
 By “our culture” I’m referring to culture in the USA in particular, since that’s where I’m from. Though of course the USA itself is hardly a cultural monolith.
 Moreover, I think there are plenty of examples of women being loath to be genuinely physically affectionate with each other as well, which would also be interesting to discuss.