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Intimacy is Not Synonymous with Sex

Intimacy is Not Synonymous with Sex

Oftentimes, we hear the word intimacy used in the context of romance and sex. For example, the phrase “being intimate with someone” may be used as a way to describe having sex. However, it is important to note intimacy is not synonymous with sex. Intimacy is defined as closeness or familiarity between people in personal relationships. Sure, sex can help partners build intimacy, but it is far from the only indicator of intimacy in a relationship. In fact, there are different types of intimacy, such as emotional, intellectual, and spiritual intimacy that are just as significant as physical intimacy. Continue reading to learn more about the different types of intimacy and how therapy may help foster intimacy. 

Different Types of Intimacy

There is some debate about how many types of intimacy exist. This may be due to the fact that intimacy can mean different things to different people. Additionally, intimacy may change depending on the relationship at hand. In this article, we will discuss five overarching types of intimacy.

Emotional Intimacy

It has been said that emotional intimacy is the foundation of any solid relationship. Emotional intimacy is built and sustained when people in a relationship can candidly and authentically share their thoughts and feelings. This includes feeling seen and heard when you share your deepest fears, dreams, and hardships. Ultimately, emotional intimacy cultivates a strong sense of security within a relationship that allows both partners to be completely themselves. 

Intellectual Intimacy

Intellectual intimacy is all about the ability to communicate beliefs and viewpoints without fear of potential conflict. Strong intellectual intimacy does not mean you and your partner share all the same beliefs. In fact, on the contrary, strong intellectual intimacy means each partner has the freedom to think for themselves and feels their opinions are valued. Creating an atmosphere where there is no pressure to fully agree on everything encourages stimulating conversations. Having debates and intellectually stimulating conversations can help you and your partner feel closer because they emphasize how you care for and respect each other regardless of your differences. 

Experiential Intimacy

Shared experiences and interests can undeniably strengthen a bond. Think of all experiences you have shared with loved ones that have lead to inside jokes or private, cherished memories. The bond you feel with someone after sharing an experience together is called experiential intimacy. Doing activities with your partner that you both enjoy, trying new things together, or working as a team towards a common goal can help intensify your connection. 

Spiritual Intimacy

Spiritual intimacy is arguably the most variable form of intimacy. This is because spirituality means very different things to different people. Furthermore, some people value their spirituality more than others. In general terms, spirituality is the belief in something beyond the physical realm. Spiritual intimacy could mean that you and your partner have similar core values, such as a strong belief in kindness or gratitude. Perhaps you and your partner both believe you were destined to be together. Spiritual intimacy could also mean you and your partner have the same views or beliefs in organized religion. 

Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy does include sex. However, it also includes other physical connections like holding hands, cuddling, or a tight hug. You do not have to be in a sexual or romantic relationship to have physical intimacy. A tight squeeze from your best friend can elicit the same dopamine and serotonin release as a sensual act with your significant other. It is important for couples to incorporate a multitude of physically intimate actions into their relationship and not rely solely on sex. This ultimately creates a stronger, more meaningful physical connection between partners.

Rebuilding Intimacy

If you’re trying to increase intimacy in your relationship, it is important to look at intimacy as more than just sex. Focus on each individual type of intimacy and how you can improve in that area specifically. This will help the process seem more manageable and give you concrete ideas of where to start. For example, to work on your experiential intimacy you could plan a picnic with your partner. Working together to plan the ideal location, food, and activities for your picnic will bring you closer and create a memorable, fun experience for you both to treasure. At the same time, you could work on increasing emotional intimacy by engaging in deeper, more introspective conversations together. Ask your partner thoughtful questions with a true curiosity about what they think and feel. Practice being a good listener during these more emotional conversations. Listen to understand rather than to respond. 

Therapy Can Help

Attending therapy alone, or as a couple, may further help intimacy grow in your relationship. Past traumas, communication errors, and conflict can all hinder a couple’s ability to foster intimacy. Furthermore, if one partner has developed a specific fear of intimacy or vulnerability, it can become hard to break through their comfortable coping mechanisms that hinder intimacy. Therapy provides a safe space for couples and individuals to better explore the root cause of their intimacy issues. Once the root cause is identified, a therapist can equip you with the skills and communication tools to work toward a healthier, more intimate relationship.

Chriselda Santos, licensed psychotherapist and certified life coach, specializes in helping couples improve their relationship so they can thrive together. She has had great success helping couples rebuild their communication, emotional connection, intimacy, and affection towards each other. Chriselda offers both in-person and online therapy options in order to provide the best experience for her clients. For more information about Chriselda’s therapy process, or to book an appointment, visit her website

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