Research has suggested that straight male students are happy to show affection to their same-sex friends.

Eric Anderson, a sociology lecturer at Bath University’s department of education, found that 89 per cent of 145 male students he surveyed were happy to kiss their friends on the lips.

Almost 40 per cent of those polled said they had engaged in sustained kissing with a male friend, “initially for shock value, but now just for ‘a laugh’.”

Mr Anderson, who is gay, said that results suggest that homophobia among the young is declining.

He told the Guardian that he believed attitudes towards male intimacy had changed substantially in recent decades and that young men no longer fear being seen as gay for being affectionate with each other or kissing for a joke.

Similar patterns can be seen in studies on US football teams and sport may have a big effect, he said.

“That has been mimicked by footballers at lower levels – a kiss in a moment of sporting glory.

“When these men brought it into the pubs, their kisses made it OK for other men to do the same. The knock-on effect is that gay men can now kiss in student spaces as well.”

He added that his findings indicate that the UK is “near the end of homophobia being acceptable for youth in the UK”.

“Sexual minorities have made tremendous cultural and legal improvements towards equality – the media is saturated with images of sexual minorities, and homosexuality is almost normalised today,” he told the newspaper.

“This is particularly true of youth. Young people have disassociated themselves from homophobia the way they once did from racism.”

Mr Anderson, who hopes to research platonic male hugging next, concluded: “You would be gravely mistaken to think that most youth are homophobic.

“Kids are coming out earlier and earlier – contact theory works: we all have gay friends and family members today. Homophobia is in rapid retreat – it’s just not the issue it was when I was a kid.”