Blogging on this site since its inception five years ago, I’ve felt the gamut of inspiration or lack thereof with my posts. Sometimes my writings here are a free-flowing fountain of personal experience, insight, and hope.
And then other times it’s more of a slow burn of anxiety with inescapable conviction. As a writer I feel the nagging itch from some spirit, Holy or otherwise, to write the thing, something, and I won’t be left alone until I force it out of me.
Physical touch — it’s a thing we write about quite a bit here at YOB. One of our most popular posts comes from Eugene who wrote about something called “bro cuddling,” a term I had never heard before he used it. We’ve gotten a ton of support for that post, but also some negative pushback (as I’m sure Eugene knows more firsthand than I do as our site editor).
Here at YOB, we’re a diverse group of guys. Singles and marrieds and young and old. Conservative and progressive and everything in between. There is no one “stance” here other than we all follow Jesus, feeling called to live out a traditional/biblical sexual ethic, however difficult or tension-filled that journey often is.
How everyone “lives out” that ethic, however, is a gray area — more of a gray chasm, actually. The particular realm of physical touch is a chasm all to itself.
We all have different vantage points in this community, different experiences and lessons learned over the years, and I’ve felt the nag, the itch, the conviction — whatever you want to call it — to talk more about my evolving stance on touch for the last decade. Particularly with what I’ve always called “lingering touch” — or call it “bro cuddling,” if you will.
I once was all for this sort of intimate touch. And to some degree, I think I still am. But I also know I’m definitely not to a larger degree, thanks to the last decade of processing and relationships gained and lost.
It will take a while to unspool all my thoughts on platonic same-sex cuddling: a new series of posts I’m calling “The Cuddle Chronicles.” Has a nice ring to it, eh?
I don’t know how many posts and months this new series will take me to flesh out — a reason I’ve been putting off this project for so long — but I’m determined to christen these chronicles today.
Starting with the story of the first guy I ever cuddled with ten years ago . . .
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Back when I first discovered an online community for Jesus-followers also attracted to the same sex, I made a friend (Cody) who often talked about cuddling with one of his college friends. His college friend was also gay, also raised in a religious environment, but definitely not living out a traditional sexual ethic like me and my friend.
Whenever Cody told me about cuddling with his gay friend, I always recoiled. I was 23 at the time, and keep in mind I’d hardly hugged a male friend, let alone cuddle with one, whatever that word even meant.
I actually asked Cody to define the word one night, because I’d never heard cuddling used in a platonic context with same-sex friendships. Only ever as a romantic gesture between a boyfriend and girlfriend or a husband and a wife.
“I don’t know,” he told me. “We just sit close together on the couch and hold hands and lean on each other’s shoulders while watching a movie and stuff.”
It sounded innocent enough. But it also sounded really weird. Again, I’d gone practically untouched for over two decades. My friend’s definition felt like something from the start of a porn sketch.
Cody had shared his friend’s name with me, and after stalking him on Facebook I found him quite attractive. Add another layer to my tension as Cody’s friend: was it wise to cuddle with a hot guy who didn’t hold to the same sexual ethic as you? Wouldn’t that just be inviting temptation, maybe devastation?
I did genuinely care for Cody’s spiritual health and journey. But at my core, I was jealous. Deeply jealous.
Why didn’t I have a friend like that to fulfill over two decades of touch-deprivation? Or was I even right to long for touch like that? Did that sort of touch between two men cross a line? Could two men cuddle without sinning or pushing boundaries?
Tension. So much tension.
But tension is what happens when you step out of a safe world of isolation. Inevitably, interacting with other people and building relationships invites buckets of new tension previously unfelt in your life.
I have to believe that this new tension is worth the new connection, though.
Somewhere down the road, Cody would be the first guy I ever cuddled with. It wasn’t anything crazy. We just sat close on a couch, our knees, legs, and feet touching for thirty, forty minutes. Essentially, we started playing footsie. We never talked about it happening; it just did.
I was aroused the whole time. I kept gulping back saliva. My heart pounded the same way it did upon watching pornography for the first time. It was the thrill of something new, something novel. Something questionable and mildly erotic.
I went to bed that night — honestly — feeling like I’d lost my virginity. I felt so much guilt for that heart-pounding touch. Nothing “sexual” had happened, but something had happened.
“I feel weird about last night,” I told Cody the next morning, and he assured me we were fine. That nothing was wrong. That I was making a big deal out of a little thing.
It took me a few days of processing, but eventually I came around. No definitive physical lines had been crossed. No touching of private parts or anything like that.
Yes, there was raging arousal. But is it a sin to be aroused? Certainly not.
But still. Why did the lingering touch of my friend cause me such a sexual reaction? And was this a problem for our friendship and shared faith journeys since we were both attracted to men?
I’d never felt such a tumultuous emotional/sexual vortex in all my twenty-some years as I did that night of footsie with Cody. I didn’t want to be aroused by my friend who was also attracted to men.
Further, I didn’t want to be attracted to him, and vice versa. I loved him as my friend, my brother. I didn’t want that ever ruined.
Things were so “safe” in our friendship prior to our first cuddle; they didn’t feel safe anymore.
On the one hand, I felt closer to my friend than ever before. Definitely closer once I — we — finished processing things.
On the other hand, though, I’d just gotten a taste of something I’d gone well over two decades without. Something most folks experience as lovey-dovey teenagers with their girlfriends or boyfriends or, heck, maybe even their friend-friends.
It took until my early twenties for my first bite of some forbidden fruit, and my universe was opened in unforeseen ways.
No longer was I a “cuddle virgin.” Right or not, the ensuing years would take me further along this new journey with touch.
One filled with high highs. And low lows.
Have you cuddled with someone of the same sex? Did your first time cuddling make you feel as if you were pushing limits or boundaries, or did it feel healthy and appropriate?
this is one of the areas where I feel like guys and girls stories differ. Many times (depending on culture to a certain extent) no one bats an eye at women being openly affectionate with each other. when we are ssa it tends to make us more acutely aware of everything going on in that moment, but most times we’re just overthinking it. gendered expectations not only affect how other people perceive us and our actions, but many times also affects how we feel about it ourselves and we tend to be far more self conscious about it
Ever grateful for your perspective, Ashley. Your last couple lines really hit me. From the beginning, I’ve always been so paranoid about who’s watching me when it comes to lingering touch with other men. Maybe as someone heading up YOB now I feel more of the heat from a spotlight? I’ve always wanted to be perceived well and will do everything in my power to be perceived well. I know I’l have at least one or two stories to share about feeling incredibly self-conscious about touch. At times I’m sure I’ve delved too deeply into overthinking, as you put it, but I’ve also taken what I’ve deemed to be proper measures. But I feel the tension of both.
Tom, I understand being concerned about who is watching when expressing affection to a male friend.
Earlier this year, before COVID restrictions, I was in a restaurant having a deep conversation with my friend Robert. Robert has never openly talked about his sexuality, but I am pretty sure he is not straight. For the first time ever in public he reached out in affection to hold my hand. At that very moment, my former girlfriend walked into the restaurant with several mutual friends! Because I did not feel like explaining to all her friends from our church, I whispered “Not in public!” and did not take Robert’s hand.
Sometimes it is just not helpful to physically express affection in public.
I’ve learned over COVID quarantine/social distancing that I’m very much one who wants physical touch. Honestly, the lack of hugs and touch from friends has probably made me yearn more for the idea of cuddling than before. Of course, there are fears with that as you expressed, Tom. I think back though to one friend (straight) who in college I cuddled with years ago. He was in his room and I went in to talk to him. Something must have weighing me down because I must have broken down a bit. He invited me to his bed and hugged me and just held me. There was no arousal that I can recall. I just laid next to him in his arm while we talked. It was just comfort and security that I was so happy to accept. It only happened one time with that friend, but I think I’m still looking for that sense of comfort and security today.
Oh man, I can’t wait to get to my own COVID era in this Cuddle Chronicles series (at this rate, I’m sure we’ll still be in that era by the time I reach that point in my story several months down the road). I have a lot to say about my feelings on touch during 2020. Thanks for sharing that story with your college friend! Having a straight guy to share such touch with is a complete game-changer dynamic for me…as I’ll elaborate more on throughout this series.
This is great! Very much looking forward to this series. This is one that I think a lot of us have questions about, and it will be helpful to get a chance to follow you through your journey with physical touch.
Thanks, Aaron. I’m looking forward to it as well. I think I’ve been putting off this series for well over a year, so it was such a relief to finally get this thing going. I hope it will be helpful for me to process this topic, certainly, and maybe just one other person reading too.
Tom, thanks for your vulnerability and openness to talk about and explore this subject. This is something new to me that I have heard of only in the last six months. Do I understand the desire for men to have physical touch? Absolutely. It is probably my second love language and I need physical touch to survive and to thrive. But being married, as you can imagine, I get all the cuddling, hugging, and body closeness that I want. Having SSA, would I like to experience cuddling with a man? Yes, I would. I have always wanted to hold and be held from a masculine being. Could I ever go there? No. First it would hurt my wife and I could not do that. Second, just as you experienced arousal I know I would too. No doubt about that. And, frankly, I don’t trust myself to keep my hands off the merchandise. So, cuddling is completely out of the question for me.
But, what if a man has been led to be celibate? That one is really tough for me because I know how much I need physical touch and it also may be one of his priorities or a very strong need for him. What does he do? Frankly, hugging the guys in my men’s group doesn’t really fill the bill. I think that man would clearly have to hear from God on this one. Because I know I would be aroused in that situation, I have a hard time thinking any man who struggles with SSA would be able to handle that type of close touch and think clear thoughts. So, I guess I would have to say no man should go there. This is difficult and I really feel for men who just want someone to hold them.
Thanks for sharing your perspective on cuddling as a married guy, Michael. The married perspective will certainly make its way into my Cuddle Chronicles somewhere down the road. Stay tuned.
I look forward to the day after this life when I’ll be able to look God in the eye and find out the why; why do I/we NEED affirmation and affection from other men in order to feel “whole”? What is broken inside of me or makes me different that touch and affection becomes a need rather than a want and why does it fulfill me so? Touch from another man is a vitamin for me and recharges my battery. Other straight men don’t necessarily need touch by other guys to have their needs met. They do so by having interaction and touch w/ their wives and girlfriends. And while I get certain needs met by my wife, it’s most definitely not the same as the fulfillment I get from being close w/ another man. And I’m lucky that I am married to a woman who knows that and is ok with it. But I ask, what’s up w/ that? Why am I so starved and needy for physical interaction w/ another man? To not have it I think I would dry up and die; or just be supremely miserable. So I allow myself to have it, and enjoy it! I have no shame or embarrassment. For me personally I do not believe there is anything sinful w/ being physically close w/ another man and enjoying some of that physical touch (sans lust). But if it goes too far and starts tipping into the lust arena, then that changes everything and I feel icky afterward. It’s most definitely a fine balance. But it’s one I’ll have to manage for the rest of my life.
I can resonate with your metaphor of male touch as a battery charge. Such a great way to put it, Christopher. Especially during my touch-starved twenties, I felt the blinking red icon over and over. Thanks for sharing your perspective as a married guy, along with Michael. I really appreciate hearing from y’all on this topic. Hoping to explore that “icky” feeling you described with certain touch at the end of your comment (well, not “hoping” to…but feeling inescapably called to do so).
Thank you for the shout out! I can say this is an area that I know quite a bit about. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to write on the subject! I seem to recall you being a little bit cuddly with some of the guys at the bloggers retreats.
Sorry if I’m stepping on your turf here with this new series, Eugene. Haha. As I said in the post I’ve evolved quite a bit on this subject over the years, so it’ll be good for my own soul to finally flesh this out. And hopefully others can glean something out of my stories to aid their own journeys with touch.
Haha well I am curious to see what your fleshed out thoughts on it are.
The longing for male touch seems to something that we all desire, but it can be dangerous. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go that direction, but I would like to give a word of warning. For many years, my SSA acting out was confined to pornography and masturbation. However, several years ago, I got the idea into my head that male touch would somehow heal me, but I didn’t know where to get it. There was no friend that I felt comfortable asking for it. Therefore, I thought that I would try to get male touch from receiving massages from male massage therapists. I was so naive. Not all male massage therapists are sex workers, but in my experience, the majority are. Even ones that are in legitimate settings. This has lead me down the road of full-blown sexual addiction and hookups. I wish that I have never gotten that first massage. So if anyone out there is thinking that they should try to fulfill this touch deficit by getting a massage from a guy, I would say don’t do it. It’s just too dangerous. If you truly have a friend that you can cuddle with, perhaps it would be ok. But I think that you both need to keep your clothes on.
Thanks for sharing, Malcolm. I’m certain you’re not alone in seeking out touch via the massage parlor. I’ve never taken that route personally, but I resonate with that same feeling of desperation for male contact – to the point of thinking it would “heal” me. It didn’t. It never has. I hope to flesh out that concept more in these cuddling chronicles to come.
Tom, I can relate to most of your posts, so I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic. I cuddled with a friend for the first time a couple of months ago. He was just like me – early 30s, SSA and side B. His love language is physical touch, so the lack of physical touch his whole life was weighing on him. I, on the other hand, had never felt any need or desire for physical touch from anyone. After reading all of the bro cuddling blogs here and thoroughly discussing it with my friend, I decided that it would be okay to give it a try. The first time was definitely nerve racking for me, not because I thought anything bad or inappropriate would happen, but because it was just so totally new and different. After the fact, it felt healthy and appropriate. I did worry that it might create an emotional attachment to him, but its been a couple of months, we’ve cuddled a few more times since then, and that hasn’t happened. I still don’t feel the need for physical touch, but it’s nice when I do get to experience it. I don’t think I would want to bro cuddle with someone unless we knew each other very well and had a good friendship going into it because I can definitely see how it could turn inappropriate or towards lust.
Thanks for the support and for sharing some of your own cuddling journey, BW. Really looking forward to fleshing this whole thing out from my vantage point, at long last. That’s great that you’ve been able to have an open conversation with your friend on this topic. I don’t think it’s discussed nearly enough, again from my vantage point.
This is a very important discussion. I have read testimonies of how that such platonic man to man fellowship actually over time greatly reduced the temptation for inordinate affection.
The biggest question that I have is: how can a man find another man who understands and respects such boundaries? How can a person find like minded cuddlers who refuse to cross the line, yet understand the temptation aspect?
I have on more than one occasion cuddled with another man. As for the first time, it was awkward on more than one aspect. Firstly, it was awkward because we couldn’t quite get positioned correctly in bed for a mutually comfort. I would get comfortable for a while then we’d shift our positions some and then I’d be uncomfortable. Again we’d shift and I’d be comfortable, but worry if my “cuddle buddy” was also comfortably positioned. We didn’t spend the night together, but rather hold each other for an extended period. I almost wish Eugene was in the room to give us some pointers on how to cuddle correctly like “big spoon” and “little spoon” do’s and don’t.
The second issue I had was the fact that my “cuddle buddy” was married. I harbored reservations about cuddling with a married man as this might be construed as violating his marriage vow DESPITE it not turning into a sexual encounter. As it turned out the wife was fully aware and fully understood our intentions. I don’t think in all honesty I could cuddle with a married guy again if I wasn’t be completely transparent about it with his wife. My action could be that of some marginal home wrecker with adulterous motives. I don’t seem to have these moral reservations when it comes to single guys.
Thanks for sharing this personal story with us, Mack. This topic of boundaries in one-on-one situations has really been on my heart for a while now. I’m certain we’ll be sharing more posts or even a podcast about it before long. I’m glad to hear you kept firm on your boundary with this particular story. Proud of you!