The term “homosociality” is used to describe friendships between people of the same gender. As a general rule, the term refers specifically to friendships among men, although women may also form homosocial attachments and bonds. Many cultures have some tradition of homosociality, and in some areas it is extremely common, especially in regions like the Middle East, where friendships with the opposite gender are frowned upon.
Due to the similarity between “homosexuality” and “homosociality,” many people wrongly believe that homosocial friendships are of a sexual nature. This is not, in fact, the case. People in a homosocial friendship may have a heterosexual sexual orientation, and homosociality is not a strong indicator of future homosexual behavior. In fact, in regions where homosocial relationships are extremely common, there is often a severe social stigma surrounding homosexuality, sometimes complete with government bans and punishments.
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Homosocial friendships are characterized by an extremely tight bond, and the people involved often cite their gender as one of the many points on which they connect. In some areas, all-male groups are sometimes used as an exclusionary tactic. For example, law firms historically had a heavily male culture, and female associates often struggled as they were excluded from male events; in a sense, a strong tradition of homosocial fraternizing contributed to the glass ceiling.
It is not uncommon for people in a homosocial friendship to be physically affectionate with each other, though not in a sexual way. Holding hands, hugging, and teasing are all common features of homosocial relationships, as are frank discussions about sexuality, life, and health. Some researchers believe that the physical aspect of such friendships may actually be an important socializing tool, pointing out that people with less physical contact in their lives can be less socially confident and emotionally stable.
In some cases, homosociality can spill over to more sexual territory. The Greeks, for example, had a famously homosocial culture, and they were also known for their homosexual proclivities. In this instance, many married men participated in sexual relationships with other men as part of a complex and lengthy cultural tradition, and young men were often initiated into Ancient Greek society through homosexual relationships with older mentors which later evolved into homosocial friendships.