Guest Post: By Adrian Boyd
Hugs, there’s nothing quite like them. They can be used to communicate hello/goodbye, acceptance into a group, a desire to establish a friendship or a romantic interest. Hugs can also have meaning on all sorts of other levels, depending on the precise way the hug is delivered and accepted. Within an established relationship, hugs are can be a very effective way of communicating support, comfort, or desire.
The level of intimacy/good feels/acceptance communicated by a hug is connected to the timing of the hug, the intensity of the hug, and how relaxed the participants are during the hug. However, there needs to be a least some trust before both parties will enjoy a successful hug. This is because the very action of hugging requires a certain amount of vulnerability. How comfortable you are with a person hugging you would seem to be directly related to your relationship with them. Are they a friend, a lover or part of your family/group? If so you’re probably open to some sort of hugging.
Personally, I love hugs. To me hugs say so much in an instant that thousands of words would never come close to. I can remember once on a field trip, one of my fellow companions came up to a group of us and gave the girl next to me a hug. It went on for a good 20 seconds or so. I remember being jealous both of them; I wanted to be the one hugging someone. It was such an overwhelming urge. Even now, if I haven’t been hugged for a while I miss it.
Hugs have been around for as long as physical contact has been used to communicate, probably as long as we’ve been wondering around in groups. Physical connection is important in all societies but hugging is not always the primary form. Humans as a general rule seem to do it instinctively. However, it wasn’t until the last fifty years or so that we’ve have discovered what actually happens when people embrace.
In 1958, after noticing the attachment of baby monkeys towards the cloth covering the floor of their cages, a experiment was set up to determine the importance of physical affection. The baby monkeys were separated from their mothers soon after birth and were looked after by two artificial mothers. One mother provided food and the other provide touch. The baby monkeys overwhelming attached themselves to the ‘mum’ that provided touch. This indicates just how important emotional connection is for health.
Subsequent, research has shown that hugging reduces blood pressure, decreases heart rate, reduces cortisol (stress hormone), and increase oxytocin. Oxytocin is sometimes called the ‘bonding hormone’ due to the important part it has to play in promoting a sense of intimacy (Light 2005). Physical touch including hugging has been shown to activate parts of the brain associated with increasing attentiveness, decreasing depression and enhancing immune function (Field 2010). Hugging has even been linked with pain alleviation!
Types of hugs
Pound Hug or Bro Hug
This type of hug is typically used to show a sense of pride between two males. Often seen after various sporting achievements or when two blokes want to share a victory while still maintaining their manliness. If the hug is perceived to be too caring, the participants usually try to kill something soon after in order to protect their image. It’s predominately seen in western culture, as the rest of the world has a different perspective generally when it comes to masculinity.
The Man Hug
Following on from the pound hug is the man hug. The man hug is a normal hug, where genitals remain as far as possible away from each of the huggers, and the hug overall is pervaded by a sense of stiffness. This is because men, even friends, in Western culture do not relax around equals. If you are a straight white man, try it sometime; hug a bro and both of you consciously relax into it. Feels uncomfortable and weird right?!
The Standard Hug
The hugger and huggee embrace as enthusiastically as their comfort levels allow. May last for a good 20 or 30 seconds depending on level of intimacy and length of time the parties have gone without contact. Also, used to signal the beginnings of a friendship, acceptance into a group, or a greeting/goodbye.
The Side Hug
Promoted by religious groups in the 2009, a rap song performed by Ryan Pann talked all about this non-hug hug. A side hug is a hug where the hugger throws their arm around the shoulders of the huggee and pulls them into their side. A side hug happens when both parties are too awkward to risk anything below the waist getting entangled. Ryan Pann said later that his song was satire. Yeah. Right.