Lessons from National Hugging Day

Today is national hugging day! We wanted to write a blog post about hugging, because it can be a really great opportunity to practice consent.  

Lydia Bowers, an awesome sex educator in the area often says that there are two types of people: huggers and people who are NOT huggers. She says that you always know when people are huggers because they loudly proclaim “I’m a hugger!” and come at you with arms stretched wide. Meanwhile, the non-huggers shrink back.  

There are some really important aspects of consent here: 

Body language. Paying attention to body language is really important when it comes to consent. Unfortunately, most people are socialized to feel bad about setting boundaries and speaking up for what they do or don’t want, especially with physical affection. Additionally, people may feel like they can’t speak up in certain situations. They may feel threatened, intimidated, pressured, coerced, or many other things. We can then look for nonverbal no’s and check in. When we notice someone projecting that they are so not a hugger in their shrinking back and the fear in their eyes as we declare “I’m a hugger!” we can listen to those nonverbal cues and say whatever our version is of “Hey, you seem like you might not want a hug right now…am I getting that right? That’s totally okay!” 

Verbal. In addition to body language it is also really important to have a verbal component to check in. Saying “I’m a hugger” is a good verbal statement to let folks know that that’s how you like to give and receive affection, but we can go even a step further. Instead of saying, I’m a hugger, maybe we can ask “Can I give you a hug?” This takes pressure off of the hug-ee and empowers them in their choice. Or maybe if you are the one needing a hug, you ask “Can I have a hug?”, again, empowering all parties to agree on the action. Now if you are NOT a hugger, verbal communication can help set your boundaries and be empowered. Those of us who are non-huggers can say, “I’m not a hugger, but I do give a stellar high five,” or “I’m not a hugger, but I have a really soft blanket that feels like a hug if you want to borrow it,” or even “yeah, no, I’m not a hugger. Bye!” 

Mutuality. I don’t know about you, but when I have given folks a hug who don’t really want a hug, it doesn’t feel good to either person. It’s like hugging a plank of wood. But, if we talk about how we’d rather high five, air hug, or fist bump then we both enjoy a really awesome high five, air hug, or fist bump and both feel great about the interaction! 

On this Hugging Day, we hope you enjoy your hugs, high fives, or however you choose to celebrate. We encourage you to practice looking for body language, checking-in, and deciding what mutually feels best for everyone. We also want to remind you that setting boundaries is not only okay, but also wonderful and if you choose to enforce boundaries this hugging day, we are proud of you! We also want those who are supporting survivors to know that asking before any touch or physical affection is so important in helping survivors heal. Lastly, if you ever need a hug, really great high five, or an encouraging word (or whatever form of comfort and community you prefer!), we are here for you.  

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