I read this post about hugs and it is just too funny! I grew up with an Italian mom and American dad. We lived in Italy until I was 7 and I went through a bit of culture shock when I moved to the states.
Between hugs, kisses on the cheek, it was ALL so confusing at first. Social norms were very stressful for me to learn as a young unidentified introvert. They used to call me "shy" but I wasn't really, I like being around people but I don't like being the center of attention and I especially don't like drawing attention to myself by doing something awkward. Over the years I opted to take my cues from those around me. "When in Rome!" right? I don't mind hugs but I rarely initiate unless it is a family member or very good friend and that is the kind of relationship we have established already.
I am trying to teach my own children to respect the personal space of others and I don't force them to hug even family unless they want to. I think my in-laws were uncomfortable (maybe even offended) with this at first, but I think they understand now that my 3 year old enthusiastically goes up to them and wants a hug all on her own initiative. I hope it is so much more meaningful to them than an automatic, imposed action. I find my children are naturally affectionate to those around them and they model the behavior that they see without being forced to.
As social creatures I think we need non-sexual physical interaction, though individual needs may vary greatly. You might even call it a need for platonic intimacy, which gets kind of confusing for teenagers approaching puberty and even young adults. As a society we may help our youth to recognize this need as a way to prevent pre-marital sex. We all need affection, but there is a time between puberty and marriage that we don't have many socially acceptable outlets. I theorize that it may be this unfulfilled need that we are not addressing as the average age people get married gets higher and it may contribute to the high incidence of premarital sex. (I personally don't make it my business what people do in private, but when they involve children either by influence or by conception, it becomes everyone's problem.)
On the flip side, some people feel that any physical contact is potentially dangerous for becoming inappropriate. I would argue that our puritanical values have made even hugging awkward for some who fear temptation or even just the appearance of evil. When in close proximity, it is easy to make a wrong move by accident and cause an extremely awkward moment. For this reason, many err on the side of caution and just don't hug. In an effort to set clear boundaries, some people miss out on a natural source of legal dopamine. Hugs can counter depression.
I personally don't feel that hugs are "too intimate" at all. Intent is the key. I cannot control another person's intent, but I know my own. For me it is a friendly gesture of support that communicates something words cannot. In some situations words are the wrong thing to say.
What is your hugging "style"?