Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
What is intimacy?
Intimacy means a lot of different things, but the constant is that it relates to closeness. Intimacy means emotional closeness in some cases, whereas in others, it refers to physical acts. In any case, intimacy requires trust. Whether you're talking about physical intimacy in sexual relationships or emotional intimacy, you have to feel safe and comfortable to establish it.
What kinds of intimacy are there?
Since intimacy means multiple things depending on the context, you're probably wondering what kinds of intimacy there are. There's physical intimacy, sexual intimacy, and also emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, spiritual intimacy, and more. There is even intimacy that relates to experiences. For example, embarking on a particular activity may require intimacy for you. Maybe, you're comfortable going skydiving or traveling to a new city with one person, but you wouldn't be so comfortable doing those things with someone that you don't trust and aren't connected to in a way that feels intimate. Intimacy means something different to everyone, but regardless of what it means to you, it is a crucial part of our lives.
Why is intimacy important?
Intimacy is important because, as social creatures, close relationships are vital in our lives. Additionally, they have an abundance of benefits, some of which you might not expect. Studies show that social relationships are beneficial for both our mental health and physical health. Conversely, social isolation can affect our mental and physical health in a negative way, which is why it's important to work on building intimacy. If you have intimacy with someone, you likely feel safe with them, which can provide a sense of comfort and understanding.
Studies have also revealed that building intimacy with someone can boost one’s immune system, reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart diseases. People with high blood pressure can also have it lowered when they hug their love and build intimacy.
How do you build intimacy with someone?
Building intimacy with another person takes time, especially when it comes to emotional intimacy or romantic relationships. Intimacy is not something that you can build in a day. It takes time to trust someone, get to know them on the deep level that would allow you to achieve intimacy, and to feel strongly connected. Emotional closeness requires openness on both sides. When it comes to building intimacy, you have to be vulnerable and willing to communicate. You must listen to the other person and make an effort to hear what they have to say. If you have any past wounds that interfere with your ability to establish emotional closeness, romantic relationships, or even sexual intimacy, it is possible to work through it so that you can have strong, open connections. For those who find that they have a pattern of struggling to build intimacy, working through why that is, is often the first step to being able to establish intimacy with others.
Sometimes, people who have yearned for an intimate relationship for so long often feel the need to build trust as fast as possible when they eventually meet the one who they are comfortable with. In a relationship, a partner can build intimacy by allowing the relationship to grow organically, rather than forcing things.
Friends and family members can also contribute to the growth of the relationship and intimacy when they share stories and moments during get-togethers as partners aim to build intimacy. To build intimacy, partners can organize date nights either in a restaurant or privately, depending on the agreement between the both of them, which also gives them the necessary time to assess and improve their level of intimacy. Other times could be indoors where they play games and or see a show like Game of Thrones, if they both fancy the series.
It is also important that partners build intimacy by discussing salient and vast topics that would help to boost intellectual intimacy. Physical intimacy such as holding hands, cuddling, kissing, etc. are also very important. However, working to build intimacy also requires some level of intellectual understanding between both partners.
What should I do if I'm having problems with intimacy?
Whether you are having trouble with physical intimacy, sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, or getting close to people in general, seeing a mental health professional can help. A counselor or therapist can help you get to the root of your concerns regarding intimacy and help you establish long-term relationships that are good for your mental health. Search the online network of mental health professionals at ReGain and get the help that you need. Building intimacy can be difficult, but it is important, and you can get to a place in life where you are able to establish emotional closeness or other forms of intimacy without fear.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the four types of intimacy?
Everyday human physical and non-physical interactions can be classified as some sort of intimacy, all existing in some form of relationship. As people interact with one another over a period of time, an intimate relationship may occur as they begin to feel closer to one another. There are different types of intimacy, even though intimacy many times is seen as some sort of sexual relationship or connection between people. Depending on the nature of the personal relationship with others, intimacy is a word that can be used to describe it.
The different types of intimacy are highlighted below;
- Experiential Intimacy: This is very common and experienced several times on a daily basis as it involves the togetherness that is seen when activities are performed with another person. Experiential intimacy is majorly focused on the activity or action between the parties involved. It could be a dance or a game between two individuals. The experience in this case is what counts and what creates the moments of intimacy.
- Emotional Intimacy: Some people often have the fear of intimacy when emotions are involved. Their fear of intimacy is valid if they have experienced hurt in the past or previous relationships. Emotional Intimacy involves sharing feelings with each other, irrespective of how deep the feelings are. Many find it difficult to share their emotions and often experience some sort of fear due to past hurt. However, emotional intimacy involves sharing even awkward and painful feelings.
- Intellectual Intimacy: Intellectual intimacy involves comfortably sharing ideas and thoughts continuously and consistently with someone. Having grown in intimacy with a person, intellectual intimacy involves sharing similar thought patterns with the person such that it appears that you both are almost always thinking along the same path or have the same thought process. You both think alike and can have deep level conversations with one another.
- Sexual Intimacy: Most times, when the word intimacy is used, it often refers to sexual activity between persons. Sex and intimacy are seen almost as like poles that attracts. While the previous three types of intimacy is mostly intimacy without sex, sexual intimacy means the persons involved here are relating sexually. Some intimate relationships do not necessarily involve sex, however, sexual intimacy would mean the persons involved understand and complement each other so well when it comes to sex.
What is real intimacy?
Real intimacy is understanding another person’s feelings even if there is no vocal or verbal conversation. It also involves feeling very comfortable with and around another person enough to share your deepest thoughts and feelings with them. Medically reviewed studies show that real intimacy doesn’t always mean sex has to be involved, it means getting so familiar with another so much that you feel closer and at home when you are with them. Even if it's in a romantic relationship, real intimacy would mean you understand your partner’s feelings enough to know what they want at different times when you both are together.
Real intimacy means you feel comfortable with and around your partner, knowing them well enough such that you see them in their weakest and most vulnerable state. It means you accept them enough despite the differences between you both. You feel safe and feel comfortable enough that you keep nothing away from them whether or not it is a romantic relationship. The fear of intimacy would not arise because your partner understands you enough to accept you just the way you are. Many times, it’s hard to release yourself due to past pain or hurt and so you try to avoid intimacy. A real intimacy will ensure those past pain are not brought to fore and the only things that matter are what happens, moving forward.
When the intimacy is real, both partners feel safe with each other, accepting the differences that exist and the anticipation that comes with finding out and living through each other’s differences.
What is intimacy in a relationship?
The word intimacy in a relationship is the feeling of being connected, supported and accepted. The feeling of being able to share your most deep thoughts and vulnerabilities with your partner and feel no need to hold back, line or hold back information. It is the feeling a wholeness you feel when you are with your other partner. Intimacy does not happen after knowing someone for some few days or weeks. It is not going to happen because you had sex with someone repeatedly or if it was a one-night stand. Intimacy grows over a period of time after knowing someone who you are comfortable with. Medically reviewed reports show that it is important to nurture intimacy just like a newly planted seedling which is expected to grow after a while. With intimacy, you feel close to the other person, you feel safe and accepted irrespective of your personality and even weaknesses.
You may struggle with intimacy at the start due to various factors which may be due to your past experiences and challenges. However, giving it time and focus, you will be good in no time as your partner does his or her best not to judge your decisions, actions or inactions.
In a relationship, intimacy isn’t just about sex, intimacy isn’t about just spending time together. While sex and time together may be involved, intimacy presents a deeper level of relationship with your partner where you can lay bare your insecurities and vulnerabilities. Intimate partners should focus on good communication between themselves. The impact of communication cannot be overemphasized as everything that happens as the level of intimacy gets better, is hinged on communication.
What does intimacy mean to a man?
According to medically reviewed studies, men are naturally more physical-oriented as compared to women who are more emotion-oriented. Men often fancy the physical activities which does not necessarily mean sex. A medically reviewed study revealed that on the average, men see intimacy as wanting to have their own personal space unlike women who seek to spend more time together. Intimacy for men could be staying away for a while just to feel the absence of their partner.
Men may start experiencing fear of intimacy if their space is not respected. Sometimes, a man wants to know and feel he can make firm decisions and wants you to believe he is capable of making those decisions without any form of interference. Giving him space may be all that he needs to build the intimacy a level higher.
What creates intimacy?
When it comes to intimacy issues, it is important that the parties involved are open enough to trust each other and are honest about their insecurities and vulnerabilities, and to fully accept each other irrespective of differences and shortcomings. In order to feel closer to each other, a clear communication level must be established between the partners, while also putting the safety of each other into consideration.
Having affection and compassion towards your partner also creates intimacy. This would mean accepting to forgive always. Sometimes, intimacy is created in the little steps such as helping your partner make firm and right decisions, helping them to prepare for an exam or following them to take their driving tests.
What does lack of intimacy do to a person?
Lack of intimacy may tamper with a person’s self-worth and acceptability. Due to past hurts, a person may find it difficult to trust again. Intimacy issues like fear of intimacy may mean the person has low self-esteem, unable to express thoughts or get into relationships due to repeated failures of past ones. Fear of intimacy would mean the person fears being rejected or not being loved in return. Avoidant personality disorder often caused by repeated childhood experience could cause such a person to resist committing to relationships with others. Lack of intimacy could also be as a result of rejections and this person may decide to put up a defensive approach to getting into relationships with others. It is also medically reviewed that self-esteem and intimacy are key factors that play a major role in people with personality disorder and mental health issues. People in this category can be medically reviewed by a mental health expert who will then provide advice, diagnosis or medical advice. Advice diagnosis could be the first step towards healing for persons with mental health issues who find it difficult to be intimate due to fear. Such people can be medically reviewed and adequate medical advice could be proffered when the fear of intimacy scale is used to analyze and understand the root cause of intimacy issues in a person.
What intimacy feels like?
The feeling of intimacy is closeness and bond between people or partners in a close relationship. While intimacy is often considered or understood to be sex, it is not always the case. Many times, intimacy has nothing to with the feeling of sex with another. Generally, being able to have intimacy, share deep thoughts with another person could be all there is to be. The feeling of intimacy must be honest and genuine for it to be true. The same way a relationship gets better and is built over time, intimacy also needs time. As both partners put in the work, the bond of intimacy grows and becomes better too.
How does a man show intimacy?
Intimacy for a man is more physical unlike for women who are more emotional. A man showing intimacy to a partner could be a rub on the palm, a pat on the back or a rub on the shoulder. On the average, men like to be touched. While the fear of intimacy cannot be neglected, to be able to understand intimacy and fear better, a fear of intimacy scale – a 35-question self-evaluation is used to examine the level of anxiety being felt. For women who have fear of intimacy, they often determine how the relationship goes even though men have a high score on the fear of intimacy scale. The fear of intimacy scale contains 35 to 175 questions which are administered and shows the level of fear in relation to close and personal relationships with another. The fear of intimacy scale is accepted as valid and is known to be very reliable when measuring intimacy fear.
For men, showing intimacy is knowing they can be open and feel susceptible when they open up and talk with you. It could also mean they are very fine with having their space and as a partner you understand how important that is.
What are signs of intimacy issues?
Medically reviewed studies show that intimacy issues can often be a result of low self-esteem or trust issues. For those with relationships that have failed in the past, getting intimate with new persons will be an issue which would mean not being able to share feelings. For those with anger issues, getting intimate may be difficult for fear of being let out. As gathered from medically reviewed articles, intimacy issues could also be as a result of insatiable sexual desires. When both partners are having troubles reaching an agreement, it results in intimacy issues. People with cases in this category should be medically reviewed and assessed by professionals and therapists who are able to proffer solutions to these issues.
Intimacy issues could also be as a result of fear, based on past experiences. The drive to get into another relationship will be low or non-existent. When such people eventually get into a relationship, the fear of taking it deeper sets in, which poses an issue with the partner and the relationship as a whole. More often than not, fear is likely going to put strain on the relationship and make communication a big issue, as they are unable to share how and what they feel. People with intimacy issues also find it difficult to trust others and especially their own partner. Some who may also be suffering from trauma may have issues having physical contact with others, even their own partners.
Low self-esteem also contributes to this and may even have such people opting to live as a lone ranger and in seclusion and isolation. Sometimes, as a result of poor understanding, the partners on the receiving end may even unloved or feel rejected due to the signs seen on the person with fear of intimacy. For people who have these fears, they may opt for substance abuse, which may lead to depression. Some of them may even become very difficult to deal and associate with, and other times, they may start battling depression.
For partners on the receiving end, it is best not to be too quick to judge your partner who may be showing these signs and symptoms. Ensure you keep the communication line open as you listen to them and try to understand how they feel. It is also important to seek out medical help from professionals who have a better understanding of the concept and can help them cope. The partner who is willing to hold the fort and stay with them, it is very key that time and patience should be adopted. The desired change will not happen overnight.
What are the types of intimacy?
There are different types of intimacy and while intimacy isn’t all about sex, different people want and express intimacy differently. The main types of intimacy are;
- Emotional intimacy
- Experiential intimacy
- Intellectual intimacy
- Sexual intimacy
Other types of intimacy include
- Recreational intimacy
- Aesthetic intimacy
- Spiritual intimacy
- Physical intimacy