By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | November 16, 2010 |
By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | November 16, 2010 |
A couple of years ago my little brother got married. His four groomsmen were all college buddies of his. These groomsmen spent most of the rehearsal dinner making jokes about losing their chances of ever being with James (my brother) now that he was getting married (and to a woman, no less). At the reception, the DJ announced a game where guests paid a dollar to dance with either the bride or groom, and I’m pretty sure that every single person that paid to dance with my brother was male. I’ve seen similar behavior between my boyfriend and his male friends. They frequently hug each other for deliberately awkward periods of time, sit on each other’s laps, and just generally make jokes about being gay for each other. It seems that as homophobia fades, younger straight men feel more comfortable being physically affectionate with each other, though not quite comfortable enough to do it unironically. Playing up the homoeroticism in their interactions for humor allows them to display intimacy in a way that doesn’t call their sexuality into question. None of my personal acquaintances, however, have taken this idea quite as far as some British college men.
In a recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, sociologists at Bath University looked at the phenomenon of kissing between self-identified heterosexual men. The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 145 men enrolled at several British colleges and Universities and shorter interviews of another 53 students. This sample size isn’t huge, but it’s still pretty big for a study that uses personal interviews. The students ranged in age from 16 to 25. All of the men surveyed identified themselves as strictly heterosexual. Participants were asked whether they had ever kissed another man on the lips, and if they had for how long and under what circumstances. They were also asked about their response to said kisses, such as the emotional or erotic meaning behind the kiss. In Britain, as in North America, physical displays of affection between men have traditionally been looked at askance, and yet it turns out that guy-on-guy kissing is really common in British institutes of higher learning. A full 89% of the students interviewed reported having kissed another man on at least one occasion. Forty-eight reported kissing another man for an extended period of time. The researchers initially suspected that athletes would have higher rates of same-sex kissing, because their participation in sports effectively gives them enough “masculinity points” to get away with behavior that might otherwise lead to them being called out as “gay,” but in fact non-athletes kissed other men at roughly the same rate as athletes. Athletes were more likely, however, to engage in kissing of extended duration (i.e. not just a peck but full on making out).
The reasons the men gave for kissing often had to do with circumstances involving heightened emotion. Nearly always the other man they were kissing was a close friend or teammate. Athletes reported frequently kissing each other on the lips after scoring a goal. Men were also likely to kiss each other during nights of revelry in a local bar or club (in these instances, alcohol often acted as a lubricant, so to speak, but the men interviewed insisted alcohol consumption wasn’t the reason they kissed their friends). The interviewees all looked at this behavior as perfectly normal male bonding, at least within the context of their schools. (Several of the men noted that while they felt fine kissing other men at school, they’d never do it at home for fear of being thought of as gay.) Of the 25 men who reported not having kissed another man, none were opposed to the idea. In fact, one joked with the researcher that when his friends found out he’d never kissed another man, they would probably take action to remedy the situation. He texted the interviewer later to say, “I’m in the majority now.”
Most of the students interviewed indicated that when they kissed another man it wasn’t in any way sexual. Rather, they saw it as a way to demonstrate affection towards their good friends. The behavior seems to have started as an amusing public display of friendship, but it had also moved into the men’s private lives. Several respondents reported kissing their friends when just hanging out together, rather than while on the field or out at a club. One man even described taking comfort from kissing and hugging a male friend (in said friend’s bed) the night after a bad breakup (but in a totally not gay way, of course). Even when the kisses were for extended duration, the men didn’t see them as sexual. Sustained kisses were mostly restricted to bars and parties and seem to be done more for humor and shock value than shorter kisses (or in a few cases to encourage women to make out with each other too). The men didn’t really care if outside observers assumed the kisses were sexual, but to them they were just bros being affectionate with each other and playing around. In fact, they cared so little about how others perceived them, that the men often posted pictures of themselves kissing on social networking sites such as Facebook.
It may seem strange that straight men would behave this way with each other, but few people bat an eye when straight women do the same things. Plenty of straight women platonically hold hands, cuddle, and even kiss their close friends (women kissing each other to turn male watchers on is a whole other topic). It’s less taboo for women to be physically affectionate with each other, since physical affection is seen as an inherently female trait, but there’s no reason to think that men derive any less pleasure from physical intimacy with their friends. It’s encouraging that young men in Britain are beginning to feel comfortable bucking traditional norms of masculine behavior. Hopefully, as homophobia continues to decline in the US, men on this side of the Atlantic will feel similarly secure in the future.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she’s had a little whiskey.