According to a new study out of Durham University on the changing social habits of heterosexual males. Published in the journal of Men and Masculinities in March, the study revealed that 98 percent of the study’s participants — all white, college-age male athletes — have shared a bed with another guy. In addition, 93 percent also reported having spooned or cuddled with another man. Study co-author and sociologist Mark McCormack, of Durham University, says the study’s results exemplify changing conceptions of masculinity in contemporary culture. As homophobia decreases, McCormack says, straight men are acting “much softer” than those from older generations — something he and Eric Anderson, of the University of Winchester, set out to examine. The two sociologists conducted in-depth interviews with 40 young male athletes — a sample they chose because of the group’s likelihood to be in closer physical contact with one another and because of the notion that athletes embody what it means to be traditionally masculine. McCormack told HuffPost he was surprised by how uneventful and mundane participants viewed their behaviours. “They don’t realize this is something that older men would find shocking,” he said. “It’s older generations that think men cuddling is taboo.” Matt, one of the men interviewed for the study, explained his viewpoint on cuddling with his male friend Connor. The researchers noted the response in their study: I feel comfortable with Connor and we spend a lot of time together. I happily rest my head on Connor’s shoulder when lying on the couch or hold him in bed. But he’s not the only one. The way I see it, is that we are all very good and close mates. We have a bromance where we are very comfortable around each other. The history of homosocial relationships, or heterosexual male friendships, is deeply complex and steeped in social stigmas, myth, rejection and aggression, the authors explain in their research. But stigmas and traditional roles are going out the window as younger generations are becoming more open and accepting.
“The social taboo against cuddling has been because for two men to get close was traditionally seen as ‘gay’. Men wanted to avoid being the target of homophobic abuse, so they would be macho to distance themselves from any perception of homosexuality,” McCormack told HuffPost. “But there is a generational effect here: Older men who grew up in the 1980s may still feel the need to present a very straight version of themselves, but more positive attitudes toward homosexuality in contemporary culture mean that younger men are simply less concerned about how other people view their behaviors.” McCormack says Anderson, who expanded on the study, found similar behaviors across country lines, though American men were found to engage in those behaviors less frequently. “British men are more advanced than American men in doing this, but these behaviors are still occurring, and we predict that increasing numbers of American men will engage in them as they realize the benefits of doing so,” McCormack said. McCormack acknowledges that anti-gay sentiment is still around but that many guys don’t seem to mind expressing themselves however they want. “Homophobia hasn’t disappeared, but straight men today are not expected to be homophobic like they were in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said. “This enables them to be [engaged] in softer gendered behaviors — they can cuddle and hug, wear fashionable clothes, care about looking good, and openly declare love for their friends.”