The health benefits of physical contact

Illustration by Cara Seccafien

Illustration by Cara Seccafien

Men, hug your friends

By Katie Czenczek, Staff Writer

 

Physical contact, at its core, is a large part of the human experience.

It turns out it’s also healthy for you. Studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine reveal that massage therapy can “facilitate weight gain in preterm infants, enhance attentiveness, alleviate depressive symptoms, reduce pain and stress hormones, and improve immune function.” Moreover, the same research institute also found that when couples hold hands, their stress levels decrease. Similar results were also found when strangers held hands; their stress levels also decreased but not to the same extent that people in intimate relationships did.

I’m not saying that people should run out and hug random strangers, or that they should even get up in their friends and loved ones’ personal spaces, but I do think that platonic relationships in our society lack physical contact, especially for heterosexual men.

In Saudi Arabia and many other countries around the world, it isn’t unheard of for men to hang out and hold hands while they walk around. Does anyone remember that photo of George Bush holding hands with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Although hand-holding may be acceptable due to a variety of other social constructs—as many countries where men openly hold hands also happen to be not particularly friendly towards those of the LGBTQ+ community—I think that aspect of physical contact is missing from Canadian society.

The main reason for this disconnect between men and other men has to do with the perception of masculinity.

When I speak about masculinity, I am referring to a set of traits, roles, and attributes that even to this day are still associated with men. This association with men and masculinity and women and femininity only paints half of a picture, and fails to leave out those who do not fit the binary.

Look at it this way: From an early age, boys are given toys related to fighting or aggression while girls are given toys related to nurturing or appearance. Yes, there are always outliers who do not fit the script but for the most part this is how it works. I can even see it with my niece and nephew. My niece has the stroller, baby dolls, and necklaces, while my nephew gets the excavator, toy soldiers, and superheroes. As both kids get older, girls learn to nurture while boys learn to fight.

This difference in how girls and boys are raised relates to the amount and quality of physical contact they receive from their peers and even parents. Boys are told to buck up and grow a pair while girls can show emotions and be physically comforted. This leads to a divide between boys and girls, and how they experience and express emotional turmoil.

Femininity, the domain where physical affection lives, is often cut off from men because masculinity is seen as the ideal while femininity is seen as weak, in part due to that need for physical reassurance. The lack of positive physical contact men receive could help to explain how men are more likely than women to commit violent crimes, commit suicide, and tend to die at an earlier age. It should go without saying that physical contact isn’t the only thing affecting these statistics, but I think that it is important to discuss physical contact in the realm of masculinity.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to how aspects of what is considered “feminine”—nurture, emotional intelligence, relationships—are considered lesser than ideas of constructed masculinity, and this perception really helps no one.

 

The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

More Posts - Website