Intimacy & Sex: How They’re Different and Why You Should Know.

Intimacy & Sex: How They’re Different and Why You Should Know.

Being a marriage counselor I often find that couples who come to me with sexual problems are usually having relationship problems, too. One usually goes along with the other. I don’t know if one causes the other or not but it sure is a blurred line between relationship problems and sexual problems. One of the first questions I ask couples who come to me in this situation is if they’re having sexual problems or intimacy problems.  But when I ask this question I usually get a a lot of blank looks. Most couples don’t know the difference between sex and intimacy. And it’s too bad, too, because a lot of couples’ sexual problems could be resolved if they only knew difference.

What’s the Difference Between Sex and Intimacy?

Couples often use the word ‘sex’ and ‘intimacy’ interchangeably. But they are distinctly different. Sex is simply the act of intercourse; the physical gratification of enjoying a good sexual experience and orgasm with your partner. Intimacy is something else – something much deeper. Intimacy is an emotional connection you share with someone close to you.

Most couples fight about sex because they think in order to have sex they have to create intimacy first…or that they have to have sex first in order to create intimacy. So the couple fights back and forth about what should come first: sex or intimacy. One usually says, “I need sex to feel close to you” And the other retaliates by saying “I need to feel close first in order to have sex” And round and round they go arguing about which one needs to come first.

A lot of problems would be resolved if couples realized that you can have sex without intimacy and vice versa. Sex and intimacy are mutually exclusive. That is, you can have one without the other.

How to Create Intimacy Without Sex

Creating intimacy in any relationship means you share personal, vulnerable things with each other that creates connection and bonding. In a romantic relationship this usually comes when you feel heard and validated by your partner after a vulnerable experience. You feel that you were able to rely on them in a very personal way and they were there for you. It’s a unique experience that both of you shared together and as a result, it brought you closer together.

Intimacy doesn’t always have to lead to sex. People create intimacy all the time with without it leading to sex. For example, you create intimacy when a relative dies and you cry on the shoulder of a close friend who comforts you. Intimacy is a vital part of your relationship. Without intimacy, your relationship often feels “casual” or “lifeless”.

Why Have Sex Without Intimacy?

As members of the animal kingdom we have sexual urges. It’s biological.These carnal urges aren’t always intimate or connecting but they’re still important to your relationship. Not meeting these fundamental biological needs feels painful and awkward. As one of the only animals in the animal kingdom who are monogamous, when you feel these sexual urges you don’t express them with just any local mate who is in heat. You exercise enough self control and restraint to only express these urges with your loved one. So when you express this core need to your partner you feel passion and excitement – which are also important elements of a relationship.

Sex is different from intimacy in that while you share intimate experiences daily with different people, you don’t usually have sex with just anyone. Most people reserve sex for someone they feel romantic about. Sex without intimacy is good in it’s own right. It’s sensual, sexy, and visceral. It also sends a message to your partner that you only want to share this sensuality (a core part of you) with them – not just any local mate in heat. If your spouse is the one who usually wants sex more it also sends a message that you’ll be there for them and you’ll try to meet their needs and desires. It also sends a message that you’ll accept them for who they are – high sex drive and all. And that creates intimacy.

Both Kinds of Sex are Good for Your Relationship

As a marriage counselor it’s my firm opinion that great sex brings out (and creates) the best in relationships. Both kinds of sex are important: the carnal biologically driven kind and the intimate connecting kind. Both kinds of sex have a place in your relationship and neither one should be neglected or else your relationship will also feel neglected.

When you understand the difference between sex and intimacy you can understand better your own sexual urges what you’re in the mood for. It also helps you understand what your partner is in the mood for and why. This creates a whole new level of understanding in the bedroom and can take your relationship to new heights.

5 Responses to Intimacy & Sex: How They’re Different and Why You Should Know.

  1. My question is can you have intimacy with someone you are having a sexual realtionship with without having love? I have been having a sexual realtionship that has become more intimate over time but no romantic love has developed. I have never before been in this situation and it is a bit confusing for me because I have always believed if you have both sex and intimacy, you have a romantic. bond which is turning out to not be the case.

  2. I have a question as well. What if your partner does not understand or feels that its necessary. I have been with this man for 5yrs with two kids and I am thinking it maybe the intimacy that is lacking, as well as the sex. I want more and he is not up for it mostly. So I thought maybe we need more intimacy but I don't think he still quite understands or he just don't want to and I am trying to figure a way to get through it with out making it into a more complex relationship or feeling as though its going no where… does that make sense

  3. You assume humans are monogamous. This is patently untrue Aaron. You use the biological knowledge selectively. Helen Fisher does this too. Thus you try and support the societal, quasi religious construct. You must know in your heart that this is wrong surely? Like Fisher, I think you need to perpetuate the myth, since it's "good for business". But it's not.

    If the starting point is always fallacious, then expectations are pitched stupidly high for any couple. It's very comforting, especially for women, to hear this, and especially in today's culture where feminism has infected the legal system and other aspects of our culture.

    If couples were to understand that monogamy is far from the default position of human – and almost all mammalian existence – then the sexes could at least begin to understand each other's imperatives.

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