A growing amount of heterosexual men are kissing each other on the lips and cheeks in order to bond, demonstrate friendship, and generally feel good, rather than for romantic and sexual reasons. European men have been at it for years; American men are just now catching up. Scientists suspect this is an encouraging sign of healthier forms of masculinity emerging. And the that’s very important for fathers who still feel uncomfortable showing their children—and especially their sons—affection.
“Our research has looked at how decreasing homophobia has led to a transformation in how young men interact with each other,” study author Mark McCormack, a professor of sociology at University of Roehampton, told Fatherly.
Homophobia polices how men express emotional and physical intimacy with other men, research shows, and behaviors that could be interpreted as sexual, including kissing, have been particularly shamed. But in recent years there has been an increase in heterosexual men kissing each other, platonically. As many as 89 percent of men in the UK now report having kissed another man on the lips. “The broader cultural decrease in homophobia — including changes in laws, social policies alongside people’s attitudes — meant that men were no longer afraid of being socially perceived as gay,” McCormack says.
To find out if the same trend held true for men in the U.S., McCormack and his team surveyed 442 college-aged men about how they show and receive affection, as well as their attitudes towards gay men. Researchers then conducted in-depth interviews with 75 of these men. Survey data indicated that 38 percent of men had kissed another man on the cheek, and 9 percent had done so on the lips. However, the longer interview sessions revealed that those numbers were in fact closer to 53 and 13 percent, respectively. Both types of kissing were described as a form of social bonding and displaying a close friendship, and were correlated with positive attitudes towards gay people. Participants did not report any shame from these displays of affection.
“Our research shows that younger men value demonstrations of emotion and love. Even those that weren’t kissing their friends didn’t stigmatize those that did,” McCormack says. For men who may have trouble wrapping their brains around kissing their buddies, it might be helpful to think of the benefits as similar to sports and roughhousing, that is lower risk. Men get to bond without the risk of getting hurt on the field, and boys get to feel a sense of closeness even if they’re not that into sports.
“Kissing is a demonstration of intimacy that doesn’t involve the physical risks of sport,” McCormack says, noting that European men often kiss during soccer to celebrate goals of wins. “Kissing is part of a broader friendship group which oftentimes occurred between men who were part of sporting teams.”