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How to Build Emotional and Sexual Intimacy

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Intimacy is a hot topic right now. New intimacy terms are being coined every day (Intimacy Anorexia?), the most googled phrase is ‘husband or wife avoids intimacy,” the most common problem in my office is some type of intimacy disorder and sexual intimacy is a main theme in most of our favorite shows and movies.  Clearly, we have intimacy on our minds.

My theory on this is that we are struggling to build more intimacy in our lives. This starts with understanding intimacy.  From what are the different types of intimacy to the difference between emotional versus sexual intimacy to what defines intimacy disorder, almost everyone who comes to my office has a question about intimacy.  So, let me introduce this three-step Intimacy 101 course:

Men and Woman have different definitions of Intimacy.

Many men think of intimacy as the act of sex, or the physical acts that end with sex such as gift-giving or going on dates. Woman focus more on “emotional sex,” that is, conversations and discussions that arouse sexual desire. So sex is “doing something” for a man and “communicating” for a woman. This difference is due to the psychological development in men and women.  Boys develop their sexuality at a later stage than girls. Many couples get hung up on which definition is “right” or “wrong” but they’re neither. They simply are, because they’re biological. The ultimate intimacy is being able to engage in both.

Definitions of Intimacy:

It helps to understand the vocabulary used when talking about intimacy such as the differences between sexual intimacy, emotional sex, emotional intimacy, building intimacy, etc. Intimacy is a feeling, an emotional state, one that expands beyond the physical closeness of sex to include the verbal closeness prior to sex.  Intimacy is really about transparency. It’s about letting your partner see the good, the bad and the ugly about you as a whole person as well as kindly accepting all this in your partner. From this perspective, being honest with your partner about your feelings—how her joke at your expense made you angry or how you feel neglected when she spends your evenings together texting with friends. Sex is physical, yes. Verbal closeness can put one in the mood for sex. True intimacy satisfies us physically and emotionally.  Said another way: engaging in emotional intimacy leads to sexual intimacy which is the same as emotional sex. If you are limiting your definition of intimacy, you are missing out on another potential connection with your partner and thus a broader, deeper intimacy.

Understanding Intimacy Betrayal:

Here are the questions I hear every day that concern intimacy betrayal: Is my husband’s emotional texting cheating? Should I feel betrayed by my husband’s porn use? My wife avoids intimacy, is she seeing someone else?  

Intimacy betrayal is defined by these parameters: 

1.) someone is seeking intimacy elsewhere  2.) at your expense and 3.) when you tell your partner she refuses to change.

Intimacy Betrayal looks like this: 

Someone is texting anything to anyone and not opening up to you enough 

Someone is using pornography but avoiding sex with you

Someone is having lengthy calls with friends and lying about it

Someone is meeting an old flame for lunch every once in awhile and hasn’t told you.

Intimacy Betrayal does not look like:

Someone is texting anything to anyone but when  you ask for some time together, he gives it willingly

Someone is using pornography but tells you about it and you’ve agreed on the terms

Someone is having lengthy calls with friends but agrees to be open about it.

Someone is meeting an old flame for lunch but agrees to stop when you say it bothers you.

In short, intimacy betrayal is subjective and requires “testing.” Given the parameters above this looks like: 1-clarifying with your partner the act that feels like betrayal, 2- speaking your needs and feelings about the behavior while respecting your partner’s needs and feelings, 3- working out the differences together. 

All good relationships are based on the ability to compromise. In fact, it is in this compromising that intimacy finds its strongest foundation. If your significant other refuses to compromise  with you then it IS betrayal and you might have to rethink your relationship with this person.       

The Different Types of Intimacy:

Sexual Intimacy: Talking about your needs and feelings about sex with your partner while respecting theirs is what turns sex into sexual intimacy.  Most of my patients find this conversation easier during sex. If this is hard for you, try one of these opening lines the next time you and your partner find yourselves between the sheets. • I like it when you do that … • You seem to like it when I do this … • Remember the time we … • I’ve always had a fantasy about …. 

The second part is being open to her needs and wants. That means listening without judgement or criticism. Then, if you find yourself on different pages, finding a compromise together. Or get some guidance such as instructional porn (yes, there is such a thing) for how-to guidance on ideas and toys you’ve never tried before.  Who knows, your compromise might be a new sexual act that you never considered and knocks your socks off!

Emotional Intimacy: Emotional intimacy has to do with transparency.  You letting your significant other “see” what you are thinking and feeling AND being non-judgemental of what he is thinking or feeling is at the heart of emotional intimacy. This starts with the understanding that there are no right or wrong thoughts or emotions.  Only right or wrong actions. If you and/or your significant other has difficulty with any part of this, there are plenty of shame-free opportunities for learning how to be more transparent or intimate. Visit a respected therapist who specializes in intimacy, read books on enhancing physical/emotional connection. 


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