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How a Lack of Touch is Destroying Men

Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives

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.

Men have a lack of platonic touch in their lives

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 crave touch but are cut off from it and experience touch isolation.

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 hand shake 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.

How often do men experience physical contact without it being sexual?

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 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 rough housing 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.

Men 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 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.

The 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.

There 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.

Older people are brought therapy animals to alleviate the lack of touch in their lives.

Fear of Judgement

We North 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.

But at the root of all these flawed rationalizations is the fact that most North 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 fear that surrounds physical connection results in men becoming isolated.

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 ground breaking 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 though touch. And are just as damaging in that realm.

Men are limited in their attempts to express their vulnerability.

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 a 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 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.

By Mark Greene      Saturday January 28th, 2017


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Many Manly Men Avoid Needed Health Care

April 28, 2016     By Alan Mozes     HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, April 28, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Macho men are less likely than women to visit a doctor, and more likely to request male physicians when they do make an appointment, researchers say.

But these “tough guys” tend to downplay their symptoms in front of male doctors because of a perceived need to keep up a strong front when interacting with men, according to three recent studies.

The results can be dangerous.

“These studies highlight one theory about why masculinity is, generally, linked to poor health outcomes for men,” said Mary Himmelstein. She is co-author of three recent studies on gender and medicine and a doctoral candidate in the department of psychology at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J.

“Men who really buy into this cultural script that they need to be tough and brave — that if they don’t act in a certain way they could lose their masculinity (or) ‘man-card’ (or) status — are less likely to seek preventative care, and delay care in the face of illness and injury,” Himmelstein added.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men born in 2009 will live five years less than women born the same year, a spread not fully explained by physical differences, the researchers noted.

To see whether the male psyche drives some men to undermine their own health, Himmelstein and co-author Diana Sanchez asked roughly 250 men to complete an online survey on gender perceptions and doctor preferences. The answers revealed that those with more masculine leanings were more likely to choose a male doctor.

Another 250 men — all undergraduate students — participated in a staged medical exam conducted by male and female pre-med and nursing students. The upshot: The more macho the patients, the less honest they were with their male caregiver.

overly-manly-man-cancer-meme

Those two trials were reported recently in the journal Preventive Medicine.

A prior study conducted by Himmelstein and Sanchez — published in the Journal of Health Psychology — involved gender-role interviews with nearly 500 males and females. It found that guys with traditional masculine ideals were less likely to seek health care, more likely to downplay symptoms, and had worse overall health compared with women and less masculine men.

The research team also found that women who viewed themselves as “brave” or “self-reliant” were also less likely to seek care or be honest about their health status with doctors than women who didn’t strongly embrace such characteristics.

But Himmelstein said she wouldn’t expect women to behave exactly the same as tough men across the board because “women don’t lose status or respect by displaying vulnerability or weakness.”

Timothy Smith, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said these findings reflect long-standing social forces.

“Cultural beliefs, such as toughness, develop for a reason,” he said. “Decades ago, when our economy depended predominantly on manual labor, the ability to continue working despite (problematic) physical conditions benefited families dependent on that labor.”

Today, however, with effective health care much more accessible, equating toughness with denial of health conditions has dangerous consequences, he noted.

“The belief that disclosing physical illness indicates emotional weakness is absolutely false,” added Smith.
If you suspect a loved one or family member is avoiding medical treatment for fear of appearing weak, Smith suggested sharing these findings with him. “It is better to confront denial than delay treatment. When people fear to share their illness with a physician, they deny themselves and their family and friends the benefits of recovery,” Smith said.

Himmelstein added, “Just encouraging a tough guy to have a regular physical or see the doctor when sick would help.”
Also, she added, finding a doctor and an office setting in which patients feel at ease is “incredibly important.”

More information
There’s more on men’s health at the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.


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Stress Is 50% More Likely to Cause Depression In One Gender, Study Finds

Stress contributes to depression but it all depends on how you cope with it.

Men are 50% more vulnerable to depression from stress than women, a new study finds.

The research followed up men over 25 years to reach the surprising conclusion.

Women are usually thought of as the gender who are more vulnerable to depression.

Women, though, may be better able to cope with stress because of the way they are exposed to it, said Dr. Shervin Assari, the study’s first author:

“Differential exposure to stress may help women better mobilize their psychological resources, which protect them when needed.”

One explanation for why men are more vulnerable to stress is that they are less likely to talk about their emotions.

Young man in the dark

 

Dr. Assari said:

“In our society, as men, we learn to see this as a weakness, as suggested by gender role identity theorists.
Hegemonic masculinity is a barrier to seek care and talk about emotions. This at least in part explains why men less frequently seek help, either professional or inside of their social networks.
Our research suggests this may come with a price for men.”

Men under stress would do well to remember that being a man is not about keeping it all inside, said Dr. Assari:

“Men should improve the way they cope and the way they mobilize their resources when they face stressful events.
They should learn from women on how to talk about emotions and use resources.
Men exposed to a lot of stress should take it seriously.
They should know being a man is not all about power.
It also comes with vulnerabilities.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health (Assari et al., 2016).

source: PsyBlog


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Pass The Ice Cream, Bridget Jones: Men Take Breakups Harder Than We Think

By Yanan Wang    August 20, 2015

You know the scene: A forlorn young woman walks to the fridge, grabs a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and eats straight from the container, dripping spoon in hand. The audience gets the message loud and clear: This girl’s been dumped.

Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend is probably shrugging off the split and hitting the nearest bar, looking for an immediate rebound.

When it comes to breakups, we tend to think that women are devastated while men quickly move on. But a new study from researchers at Binghamton University and University College London reveals that breakups actually hit men harder than women.

The study, which surveyed 5,705 people in 96 countries, found that women may feel more immediate heartbreak at the end of a relationship, but men experience greater emotional trauma over time.

Many male respondents seemed to have never gotten over certain breakups, even decades later.

“When you move from the numbers to the actual stories, you can see that women are clearly talking about something in the past,” said Craig Morris, the anthropologist who led the study. “But when you read men’s responses, you never get that sense of closure — the breakup is always something that they’re just dealing with. It’s a constant wound, even if they’re now married with grandkids.”

This was also true for the respondents (nearly a third of the total) who identified as not exclusively heterosexual.

Morris attributes men’s lingering pain with the expectation in Western culture that they should be “tough.” (The majority of responses came from the United States, Britain and Germany.) Whereas women usually have strong support systems to get them through difficult times, it’s rarer that men will express vulnerability with their friends.

“If a guy shows up for Call of Duty night while his friends are all on the Xbox and he says, ‘Guys, I’m kind of sad, I really can’t play tonight,’” Morris said, “then the guys just say, ‘Oh okay, see you later.’ ”

“They’re probably thinking, ‘What do we say? What do we do?’ ” Morris said.

So give it up to your girlfriends, girls. They’re saving you from the miserable fate of not being able to talk about your feelings.

sad man

Meanwhile, many of the men surveyed described still being upset years later.

One respondent from Britain wrote: “Although I’m 63 and have not seen this person for 40 years, I still think of her regularly and imagine myself in conversation and love situations with her.”

Even though he is now married to someone else, he hasn’t been able to stop loving her. When he feels close to truly getting over it, something will once again trigger a sense of loss and the pain returns.

“I have never stopped thinking of her as my girlfriend although the only way I can express my love is in silent acceptance of the situation because she is happily married to someone else,” he wrote.

A respondent in Turkey feels his pain: “She cheat and after I breakup with her suddenly I will wake up [in the middle of the night]. I feel like [sic] I paralyzed in the whole body.”

Compare this to an American woman’s description of her breakup with her first boyfriend of 15 years. She summed up being dumped in one sentence: “It had a lasting impression on me, mostly negative.”

But she moved past it long ago. “I’ve seen him since, but even his mannerisms kind of make me sick now, and make me realize that some bad things happen for a reason,” she wrote. “My husband and I are very happy and very devoted to each other. Yay for me!”

The difference between how male and female respondents coped with their breakups runs counter to what evolutionary biology teaches us.

Since men can have as many children as they want with as many partners as they want, there’s no need to for them to be choosy like women, who only get a few chances to reproduce with the right person. So it makes sense if men move on quickly — they have less to lose from picking the wrong mate.

But this study reveals that men’s hearts can supersede their biology, Morris said.

“They do fall in love,” he said, “and when that person is gone, men can get very, very sad.”


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75 Years In The Making: Harvard Just Released Its Epic Study On What Men Need To Live A Happy Life

BY FEELGUIDE    APRIL 29, 2013

In 1938 Harvard University began following 268 male undergraduate students and kicked off the longest-running longitudinal studies of human development in history.  The study’s goal was to determine as best as possible what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.  The astonishing range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits — ranging from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships to “hanging length of his scrotum” — indicates just how exhaustive and quantifiable the research data has become.  Recently, George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than three decades, published the study’s findings in the 2012 book Triumphs of Experience (Amazon) and the following is the book’s synopsis:

“At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.  Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days.  The now-classic ‘Adaptation to Life’ reported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation.  Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.  Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects), ‘Triumphs of Experience’ shares a number of surprising findings.  For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa.  While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength.  Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50.  The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.”

As you can imagine, the study’s discoveries are bountiful, but the most significant finding of all is that “Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.”  In fact, alcoholism is the single strongest cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives.  Alcoholism was also found to be strongly coupled with neurosis and depression (which most often follows alcohol abuse, rather than preceding it).  Together with cigarette smoking, alcoholism proves to be the #1 greatest cause of morbidity and death.  And above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t prevent the damage.

With regards to income, there was no noticeable difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110-115 range vs. men with IQs above 150.  With regards to sex lives, one of the most fascinating discoveries is that aging liberals have way more sex.  Political ideology had no bearing on overall life satisfaction, but the most conservative men on average shut down their sex lives around age 68, while the most liberal men had healthy sex lives well into their 80s.  Vaillant writes, “I have consulted urologists about this, they have no idea why it might be so.”

In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant raises a number of factors more often than others, but the one he refers to most often is the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in your later years.  In 2009, Vaillant’s insistance on the importance of this part of the data was challenged, so Vaillant returned to the data to be sure the finding merited such important focus.  Not only did Vaillant discover that his focus on warm relationships was warranted, he placed even more importance on this factor than he had previously.  Vallant notes that the 58 men who scored highest on the measurements of “warm relationships” (WR) earned an average of $141,000 a year more during their peak salaries (between ages 55-60) than the 31 men who scored the lowest in WR.  The high WR scorers were also 3-times more likely to have professional success worthy of inclusion in Who’s Who.

One of the most intriguing discoveries of the Grant Study was how significant men’s relationships with their mothers are in determining their well-being in life.  For instance, Business Insider writes: “Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers took home $87,000 more per year than men whose mothers were uncaring.  Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.  Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers — but not their fathers — were associated with effectiveness at work.  On the other hand, warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased ‘life satisfaction’ at age 75 — whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.”

In Vallant’s own words, the #1 most important finding from the Grant Study is this: “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love.  Full stop.