A hug is a form of physical intimacy, not necessarily sexual, that usually involves closing or holding the arms around another person or group of persons. The hug is one of the most common human signs of love and affection, along with kissing. Unlike some other forms of physical intimacy, it is practiced publicly and privately without stigma in many countries, religions and cultures, within families, and also across age and gender lines.
Sometimes, hugs are a romantic exchange. Hugs may also be exchanged as a sign of support and comfort. A hug can be a demonstration of affection and emotional warmth, sometimes arising out of joy or happiness at meeting someone.
Hugs are mostly short and used to show many levels of affection. It is not particular to human beings alone, as there are many species of animals that engage in similar exchanges of warmth.
Hugging has been proven to have health benefits. One study has shown that hugs increase levels of oxytocin, and reduce blood pressure.
There are different variations of hugs. Prolonged hugging in a cozy, comfortable position is called cuddling. Spooning is a cuddling position, a kind of hugging when both the hugger and the hugged persons face the same direction, i.e., the front of one person is in contact with the back of the second one. The person whose front is in contact with the other's back is referred to as the "Big Spoon" and the person whose back is in contact with the other's front in referred to as the "Little Spoon". "Big Spoon" is a position held predominantly by males, whilst "Little Spoon" is typically the female, or smaller partner. There is also the term snuggling, also known as "kanoodling", coined by the modern psychologist Alexander Althoff, that refers a more intimate form of cuddling, with the two bodies almost intertwined, i.e. one's leg in between the other's.
In May 2009, the New York Times reported that "the hug has become the favorite social greeting when teenagers meet or part these days" in the United States. A number of schools in the United States have issued bans on hugs, which in some cases have resulted in student-led protests against these bans.
Despite hugging being widespread across human culture, several cultures - such as the Himba in Namibia - do not embrace as a sign of affection or love.The Other End of the Leash notes that dogs tend to enjoy being hugged less than humans and other primates do, since canines interpret putting a limb over another animal as a dominance signal.