Sex and Intimacy: What’s the difference?

Most couples struggle to find the balance between sex and intimacy in a relationship. But are sex and intimacy really that different from each other? Are they intricately linked or does one simply lead into another. Sex and intimacy are terms that are more than often used interchangeably.

No two individuals can be expected to hold rigorously similar beliefs about sex in a relationship. Maybe this is one of the reasons why they are unable to chalk out a clear cut difference between sex and intimacy.

It used to be that sex would follow a long term commitment, such as a marriage or commitment ceremony, and intimacy was expected to develop as the couple aged together. This was the belief and it is beyond the scope of this article to debate whether or not this was the experience of millions of Americans. Today, the connection between sex and intimacy can be a more elusive as often sex happens recreationally and intimacy can be born after a physical connection is made.

Defining intimacy

Intimacy is a conscious connection found with another. It is about being emotionally vulnerable to your partner…which means having the strength to be vulnerable with yourself.

In a relationship, intimacy comes when your desire to connect outweighs your desire to protect.

Many shy away from intimacy…intimacy =  vulnerability = fear. Ironically, sharing your self in a relationship and being vulnerable to your own tender parts opens you to the most rewarding aspect of a relationship…connection, love, acceptance.

Intimacy sustains a relationship. It is the willingness to be yourself in your partner’s presence. It is an emotional state of acceptance of oneself which translates into the ability to be open to another.

Sex in a relationships

Sex in a relationship is a language of intimacy and connection. Sometimes during sex what is being communicated is love, passion, excitement. Other times during sex, disconnection, resentment, and anger are being communicated. Even when couples are not having sex, there is a lot of communication going on. Recent studies indicate that over 70% of couples are dissatisfied with their sex lives! There is a lot being communicated in that 70%!

Is sex essential for intimacy?

The term making love has long been associated with the act of sexual intercourse. It infers that sex has roots in intimacy and has a degree of connection associated with it. It can reasonably be argued that there is nothing more vulnerable than offering the most intimate part of your body in a physical exchange.

However sex is after all only a basic physical act and hence can be safely considered devoid of intimacy. This can be further proved by arguments that couples, who cannot or choose not to engage in sexual intercourse, do develop intimacy in their relationships. Their inability to be physically connected does not take away their ability to have a satisfying, loving and intimate union.

Cultivating intimacy without sex

Intimacy between two individuals can be developed with the help of many other non-sexual yet effective methods. The key to intimacy is learning to be open and honest with yourself and then sharing that with your partner. Sex is one expression in which couples give and receive love from their partner. Although it is considered the spark in any happy relationship, intimacy can easily thrive without it. Sometimes spending quality time together indulging in a shared hobby, enjoying a physical non-sexual contact or simply taking time out to talk to each other can bring out the intimacy in a relationship wonderfully well.

If you are interested in enhancing the intimacy in your relationship, schedule a free 20 minute consultation now with Jenny Glick, MA, MSC, LMFT. Just click the link below.