Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hugging and Consent

If you look around at a Pagan event, there's so much hugging going on that you'd think a full-body hug was the equivalent of a handshake. Mainstream society's view on hugging reserves it for close friends and family, but in pagan communities, a hug can be a welcoming gesture or even an attempt to reassure others that this is a place of safety and trust.

But in truth, a hug is a form of affectionate greeting that is reserved for friends, not the population in general. There are appropriate and inappropriate moments to give a hug, and unfortunately, a hug can be intrusive and even abusive if projected onto another person without permission.

If you've never hugged someone before, don't assume that because that person is Pagan, or that the person has hugged others, that he/she is ready to hug you. Hugging involves such closeness that some people can be very picky with whom they're comfortable to be that close.

1. If the person throws their arms out, inviting you to hug them, feel free to accept the invitation.
2. If you're unsure, start with a handshake. If the person leans into you to hug you, feel free to accept the invitation.
3. If it's just a handshake, smile, look the person in the eye, and say something positive (the handshake should not last more than a couple of seconds).

Unless you know the person very well, and you have a history of hugging with this person, DO NOT grab them by the body and pull them into your space without permission. Also, keep in mind that hugging does not give you free reign to kiss the person or fondle any part of their body that has nothing to do with the hug. A hug generally lasts about 2 to 10 seconds.

Don't EVER think that because you love to hug people (even for the most platonic of reasons), this gives you the right to hug anyone you want, even without their consent. The onus does NOT fall on the receiver to state that the hug is unwanted or that they have to move out of the way of an unwanted hug. It is ALWAYS the responsibility of the giver of the hug to ask for consent before hugging someone else.

If you are not comfortable with being hugged, you have every right to have your boundaries respected. Although many Pagans engage in hugging, it is not a statement about how Pagan you are if you don't like to hug. You should be suspicious of anyone who suggests that you are somehow less in your character, your spirituality, or your values because you don't like to hug. Not cool.

However, it can be difficult in the excitement of a moment to let the person who is trying to hug you to know that. A graceful way of side-stepping an unwanted hug without creating a scene is to grab an incoming hand as a handshake, using your other hand to hold them back by the shoulder. Try to smile, maybe whisper "I'm not into hugging, thanks", and move on. It gives the other person a chance to recover gracefully and no feelings are hurt.

If the person persists on pushing through with the hug, push them back harder by the shoulder, which should throw them off. If the persistence to hug continues, push back, get out of it, and state firmly that you are not into hugging. If the person continues to insist that you accept the hug, call out for Security.

If you are the person who has launched an unwanted hug, pay attention to other person's body language. If they draw back, have their hands up, or have a frightened look on their face, change your stance and offer a handshake instead. You can easily recover from this faux-pas and and save face, but you need to put respect of the other person's personal space above your need to unleash your love upon the world at large.

Above all, don't get insulted if your hug is rebuffed. Try to be gracious in your misunderstanding. No one is obligated to accept your hug, and if you think they are obligated in some way (because you're a great person, you're a celebrity, you're of the opposite gender, you should be bonding on your common ground, etc.), you're going to find yourself in a very bad, very lonely place.

It can be difficult to know when hugging or handshaking is appropriate, but if you're unsure, stick with the handshake. The choice to hug or not to hug needs to be respected and not used to identify who is more pagan-than-thou. It all comes down to respecting a person's boundaries and being gracious when etiquette mistakes are made.


  1. Excellently put! The only thing I might add is to be aware of your personal state of hygiene before you go for a hug, giving or receiving. If you are sweaty, grimy or just plain smell bad at that moment, it's OK to say, "I'm not sure you're going to want a hug from me just now" and let the other person decide. It's a kindness...