I asked about the intimacy in your relationship… not the sex. And, no, they’re NOT the same.

I would dare say that if I would ask most people how the intimacy in their relationships are, they would probably start to tell me something about their sex life.  Or, if I were to ask people if they felt intimacy were important in a relationship, they would think I was asking if sex in a relationship was important.  So, I got to thinking about why that is. Is intimacy really just the same as the physical/sexual part of relationships, or is it something related, but altogether different?

Keep on reading and you’ll find out:

  1. How intimacy is so very different from sex
  2. Why intimacy is so important for the sexual part of any relationship (especially a long-lasting one)

We all know what sex is. At least the actual act of it.  There really is a lot of focus on that, in my opinion. In the beginning of a relationship, for instance, there are the questions about when to have it, if you’ve had it too soon, and what it “means” for the relationship or about you once you have had it. There’s a lot of pressure there even if you are head-over-heels excited over the guy and can’t seem to get enough of him right at that stage. 

Then there’s always, no matter what stage you’re in, the worries about if you’re having it enough, not enough, too much, if you’re compatible, better than people he’s been with in the past, doing what each other wants and needs, etc..  Truly the list goes on and on. 

But, is all of that intimacy? There’s no doubt that you are certainly being the most physically intimate with someone when you are having sex with them.  After all, you are sharing your body with them and completely vulnerable in that respect. 

However, a relationship between two people where there’s sex without intimacy can exist.  And while most people who agree that having healthy, satisfying sex with the person you’re with is important for any relationship to endure the long-haul, a relationship like this is sure to run its course very quickly. 

Other relationships exist in which there is strong intimacy even without sex.  And a relationship like this is much more likely to stay the course.  However, a relationship with intimacy that supports and maintains a couples’ passion and sex life is one that will certainly fare the best of all.    

So, if intimacy and sex are not the same thing, what exactly IS intimacy? And how is it really different from sex? 

Let’s think about two different couples to figure this out:

Couple A:  They’ve been dating about a month and texting incessantly every day since they met, flirting back and forth. They are both so excited to see each other every time they get a spare moment. They feel like teenagers with raging hormones as they are barely able to keep their clothes on for the first 5 minutes after they first see one another. They each are passionate lovers with a high sex drive and don’t ever want this to stop. 

Couple B:  They’ve been dating a few months and she had a horrible day at work.  The second her boyfriend called and she picked up the phone to say hi, he heard something in her voice that made him immediately ask “what’s wrong, babe?”  And this was followed by him allowing her to tell him about her day and him later coming over with dinner from her favorite restaurant and them snuggling on the couch before heading off to bed… where he then proceeded to undress her and the two of them had intense, passionate sex before falling asleep. 

I hope you can tell the difference in the 2 couples. Even though they both have passionate sex in their relationships, Couple B, has intimacy: the part of the relationship between two people where they feel they really “get” and understand one another. It is about knowing how to make each other feel loved, supported and connected emotionally and physically. 

Emotionally, you each know what the other needs when life gets stressful or one of you is in a particular situation.  Say, for instance, you know your guy hates being around a conceited colleague who always boasts about himself and passively finds some way to put him down in front of colleagues and he has a work event coming up with this guy today.  If you’re in an intimate relationship with him, you’d not only know this, but know what he would need once he got home to feel loved and supported.  And, you’d give that to him. 

Furthermore, intimacy is about being able to open up to one another about your struggles, your victories, and who you are.  You are able to feel safe enough with one another to know that the other will be empathetic to your needs and feelings. So, for instance, if you are so very excited about getting a promotion at work and you call your guy knowing he will be just as excited for you as you are, there is a level of intimacy there.  If he then plans a surprise celebratory dinner out with all of your friends, which is something you had briefly mentioned in a short conversation months ago, envisioning it to be “the best way to celebrate” if you were to ever get a promotion, then he is further cementing the level of intimacy between the two of you, as his actions really show you he “gets” you. 

Intimacy is also physical, but not in a sexual way.  However, physical intimacy fosters a connection and a closeness that, like emotional intimacy, helps the passion and sexual part of any relationship. Affection and physical touch like holding hands, kissing hello or goodbye, him grazing his hand across the small of her back as he passes her by in the house, or her gently kissing his neck as he washes the dishes and she heads off to bed…all of these little things that perhaps each knows the other appreciates and that fuel intimacy and connection between the two people that ultimately results in having a passionate, satisfying sex life.

If two people have strong intimacy between them, they will be able to be open, vulnerable, trusting and communicative with one another about what they want, need and desire in all areas of their relationship.  Being able to maintain passionate, satisfying sex in a long-term relationship requires both people to be able to do all of these things. If each person already feels so desired by their partner on a day to day basis due to the high level of physical and emotional intimacy they have fostered outside the bedroom, they are more likely to approach one another for sex and want it, too.  Furthermore, they are also more likely to maintain a satisfying sex life because they are more likely able to, for instance, open up about wanting to try a new position or asking their partner to touch them a certain way that would feel good.  If they lack intimacy, they may not even approach sex, worried that they may be rejected as they have had no signals during the day that they were desired or even cared for.  Or, even if they do find themselves having sex, they may be hesitant to open up about what they want or need, unsure about how their partner would respond. 

So, I do think most people will continue to think “sex” whenever the word intimacy comes up.  However, sex and intimacy are truly not the same.  Intimacy is what fuels long-lasting passion and desire that maintains a healthy, satisfying sex life between two people.  Whatever is going on outside the bedroom usually does have an impact on the inside, so it might be worth taking the time to take a step back and assess the level of intimacy between the two of you if you ever find your sex life struggling or just not quite what you want it to be.