The sexualization of love and intimacy has had profound effects on our culture and on men's ability to interact with each other in healthy, community building ways.
Few things bother me more than an oft-repeated statement that Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, or, for that matter, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Pippin Took, characters in The Lord of the Rings, were gay. I used to think it was something only some far-left LGBTQ activists claimed, but I've heard it recently from people from other walks of life.
Far from being gay, these characters all portray the beautiful tapestry of the the range of male friendships. Unfortunately, we live in a hyper-sexualized society where love and sex are interchangeable words, and where nearly all touch has come to be, at least in the collective subconscious, sexualized. So, naturally, many assume that such deep friendships enjoyed by Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are impossible without being sexual in nature.
One need look no further for an example of the sexualization of love than society's euphemistic phrasing to describe sex: "making love" or "intimacy".
Love is not sex. Sex by itself does not bring love. Love does not require sex, nor does it necessarily lead to sex.
There are many forms of intimacy, the vast majority of which do not involve sex at all.
When talking about sex, many either glamorize it, over-emphasizing its importance, or they talk about it as if it is shameful, to the point that our very language confuses intimacy (really loving and understanding another person and receiving the same in return) with sex.
The sexualization of love and contact causes many men to be afraid to build intimate friendships with each other or even touch each other, and many live out very isolated lives lacking in deep connection with others. It is an epidemic that is literally killing men. Niobe Way, a researcher at New York University who studies male friendships, notes:
when adolescent boys stop sharing their intimate feelings with their peers, we see an alarming increase in their rates of depression and suicide.
C.S. Lewis perhaps understood the necessity of love in all relationships best. As he explained in his book "The Four Loves":
Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.
It didn't used to be this way. In their article Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection, the blog The Art of Manliness examines the history of male affection. It shows a number of vintage photos of men who clearly were not afraid of touch. The author of the article notes:
One of the things that I have found most fascinating about many of these images, is the ease, familiarity, and intimacy, which men used to exhibit in photographs with their friends and compadres.
We have come a long way in the last hundred years. I hope with the deepest part of my soul that this cultural aspect of our society changes soon. I intend to be an agent of that change.
Some additional reading on this topic:
Why Do We Murder the Beautiful Friendships of Boys, by Mark Greene
Why Male Bonding is So Important, by Brothers
A World Obsessed With Romantic Love, by Kim Evansen