Intimacy is one of those concepts that has almost as many definitions as there are people to have opinions about it. Some people think “feelings” when they think about intimacy, and they find it easy to achieve emotional intimacy with others.
They are not afraid of feeling vulnerable or else they enjoy the rewards of intimacy enough to be willing to take the risks entailed therein. Others never feel emotionally intimate unless they are actually having sex. Aside from those raw moments of closeness that happen during lovemaking, these people are entirely shut off from attachment, closeness, or vulnerable feelings. Between these two ends of the spectrum is an endless range of possibilities.
Physical intimacy is much more than sex, though sex is one very important example of that form of closeness. When there is a physical connection between two people –we all know what that chemistry feels like, I hope – there is a whole range of characteristics to intimacy on a physical level.
- …can involve sex, which is a wonderful fulfillment of sexual chemistry between two people but – at its best – is also an expression of closeness and attachment that goes beyond the physical.
- …is all about the cuddling, touching, and kissing, and yes, this can be sexual too… or not. There is some magical intimacy that happens when truly close touching and cuddling and even kissing does not result in sex. For some this will seem obvious. Others are thinking, “What? Really?”
- …pleases the senses. It is an aesthetic experience for the physical you – not just the sexual you. The you who sees, smells, touches, tastes, hears. Physical closeness and an openness of the senses can take you to a very high place and open you up to even greater emotional bonds with your partner.
- …provides stress release subconsciously and neurologically. There have been studies that show that physical intimacy and sex can add to your longevity. If your granddad lived to be 97… think about that! (Or not.)
- …allows you to convey how much you care about someone through affection and touch.
- …helps you share your desires openly and trustingly. Not just sexual desires, but all desires. Being close to someone in that way lets you be even more vulnerable, and thus honest, about yourself and your wants and needs.
There are some things to look out for. Keep your eye out for some common pitfalls or missteps that can happen around the physical side of love when it is divorced from emotional intimacy.
Sex without emotional intimacy. We know this is possible, and can be fine… even great, at certain times in our lives. However, in a relationship, sex without intimacy is just sex. It is not particularly meaningful and is not likely to sustain a relationship. Though both men and women are capable of keeping emotions out of sex, men seem to be able to compartmentalize in that way better than women.
Compartmentalization can be destructive to relationships when it closes the box on feelings. Another danger? Infidelity. Keep the feelings flowing and you are more likely to keep your relationship together, no matter how hot the sex is.
There is an old saying. “Men look for sex that sometimes results in emotional intimacy and women look for emotional intimacy that sometimes results in sex.” The gender stereotype here is just that – a stereotype – and it may or may not be true for the men and women you know. But bottom line – sex is not just about sensual gratification. It can be, for many, an outward manifestation of an inner desire for closeness.
Lack of emotional intimacy leads to distance, relationship failure, and possible infidelity. Good, solid relationships can experience fluctuations – times of closeness balanced with times during which both partners seem to have more space between them. However, in strong relationships, they are always connected, and if there is a lull in intimacy, it is in the physical, never the emotional – for it is that which holds two people together, ultimately.
Make the most of both kinds of intimacy. In the end, it is a combination of the emotional and the physical that gives a relationship legs. Depending on who you and your partner are, and how compatible your wants, needs, and desires are – both on an emotional and physical level – your relationship will have its own unique profile. But keep the doors open to intimacy and you can weather most any storm.