Are sex and intimacy different things? Can you have one without the other? Or does one lead to another? I shed some light on the murky waters of sex and intimacy in my latest blog to help you decode what you really want
Put your hand up if you’ve ever sought intimacy via sex – and, even though you’ve enjoyed the initial hit, it’s quickly worn off and you’ve been left feeling lonlier than ever?
There is no shame in admitting that you may have looked for intimacy in a one-night stand. Let’s face it: there’s a lot of confusion about what intimacy actually is, and a lot of people I speak to think it’s all about sex.
So what is intimacy, and can you only experience it through sex?
To me, the essence of intimacy is being present with another person.
Think: meaningful conversation, eye-contact, a long hug – many of us have daily intimate moments that never get near a bedroom. Which is great news if you’re seeking connection but are single, sex-starved or just don’t fancy it.
What does intimacy mean to you?
I like to think of intimacy in these 4 ways (though there are likely countless more):
Intellectual (a meeting of the minds)
Sexual (shared sensual and sexual expression)
Physical (hugs, massage)
Emotional (shared feelings, trust, vulnerability)
All of these types of intimacy share a basis of caring for and wanting to be there for another. Intimacy is that sense of being prioritised, special and cherished – which isn’t necessarily dependent on being in a long-term relationship. You can have an instant, deep connection with someone and create intimacy through the vulnerability of being completely yourself.
Let’s get physical
Then there’s physical intimacy, which isn’t necessarily sexual. As a society, we simply don’t touch each other as much as we once did, a decline that’s also mirrored in us all having a lot less sex than we used to. This is unsurprising (though pretty depressing), given most of us are overworked and tired, distracted by our screens, and fearful about consensual touch in a post #MeToo world.
Living without touch is a recipe for loneliness (and London is ranked one of the loneliest cities in the world). It’s bad for our health, suppressing the immune system and increasing stress. Even if you don’t have a partner, getting more physical intimacy in your life is not only possible, but absolutely advisable!
Take massage, for example: either going for a full-blown sports massage, or giving a family member a hand massage can be a huge stress-reliever for the feling of intimacy it brings us. And don’t underestimate self-massage for therapeutic benefits too (ladies, have you tried a sensual breast massage lately?).
Think about what kinds of physical affection are important to you. Do you like touching or being touched – and if so, in what ways? Which acts of physical affection could you live without and which feel important to you?
And when you’re in a relationship, think about how often you touch your partner (or do you only touch them when you want to have sex?). How close do you get when you’re talking? Do you eat together? Sharing a meal can be an intimate thing, but do you both sit in front of the TV or stare at your phones?
Growing intimacy inside a partnership is about so much more than sex. Sharing a cup of tea without your phones around, reading in each other’s company without the pressure to perform; intimacy is about consideration, connection and care.
The truth about sex
For most people when they think of intimacy, they think of sex. But the truth is that sexual desire is on a spectrum, just like lots of other things about being human; Some of us don’t want sex at all (nothing unhealthy or unusual about that), and some of us want sex a lot. And while sex is often really important at the start of a relationship, for many people in long-term relationships, sex is just one thing amongst many others that’s important for intimacy.
There are times we crave the purely physical act of sex, and you know the person you’re hot for isn’t someone you’re necessarily going to fall in love with. Sex can come in so many different flavours: with or without affection; in a friendship (friends with benefits); to group sex or play parties. As adults, it’s empowering to understand the nuances of sharing parts and not hearts. The important thing is to know what you really want.
Then there’s emotional intimacy that doesn’t require physical affection at all. The hallmark of emotional intimacy is the vulnerability of showing your true self. This can feel far more uncomfortable than the purely physical act of sex (which we sometimes rush into to avoid vulnerability!). One way to alleviate these feelings is to allow enough time to pass so you can build trust.
Ask yourself which is usual for you: is sex the lubricant from which communication and intimacy flow? Or do you need some level of emotional intimacy to get your juices flowing for a fulfulling sex life?
Sex and intimacy don’t come in one simply package. You’re not always going to have the right conditions for intimacy, and that’s totally OK. Sometimes sex can be just about getting off. Other times it can be about relieving stress. And sometimes your most intimate moments can come from the most mundane act. If there’s one thing that’s true of both sex and intimacy though, the key to true fulfilment and connection is more than skin-deep – it’s about taking off the mask and revealing who you really are. If you can do that, sex and intimacy take on a whole new dimension.
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