All About Emotional, Sexual, Physical, And Platonic Intimacy
Updated August 03, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC
When you hear people say ‘intimacy,’ what do you imagine? Odds are, you imagine sex. This is because the word is commonly used in the context of sex. You get intimate with your partner. It’s one of those words that almost sounds scandalous.
But this is only a part of what intimacy is. In this article, we will break down all the types of intimacy.
What Is Intimacy?
The dictionary defines intimacy as “closeness,” describing it as familiarity or friendship that is close. This means that there is a feeling of closeness if you’re intimate with another, which doesn’t really have to be with your spouse. It could be your friend. When you are intimate with another, you are doing something that strengthens your bond with that person. That is why sex is described as something intimate because whether you’re having sex as lovers or just friends, it’s a way to connect and bond.
There Are Different Types of Intimacy
You’ve probably heard of the word platonic before, but what does it mean? Simply put, it’s love that is non-sexual. Named after Plato, who talked about love, this can apply to friendships or even relationships themselves. Here’s how to be platonically intimate:
-Offer your friendship. Be there for your friend’s emotional needs and listen to them as much as possible. Don’t be an inconsistent friend who is only there when your friend has no problems and then vanishes when things got rough.
-Platonic intimacy may include touching, although not sexual. Embracing and cuddling are a few examples. Some people may feel that their level of platonic intimacy improved after physical contact. It’s possible that platonic intimacy improved from feelings of trust, safety, compassion, or all three.
-A platonic relationship should not be expected to evolve into a sexual one. It can happen, but if one party expects it, they may wind up disappointed.
How to Improve
If your bond with your friend or platonic intimacy isn’t what it used to be, don’t worry. Life gets in the way, and friendships do go through periods of stagnation. We all grow older and have jobs, kids, and lives to deal with. But that doesn’t mean that your friendship has to go under. Here are some ways to improve that.
- Talk more. Most people have social media and phones, but we’re all too afraid to talk to one another. Fix that. Try to have a “hold space” – holding space refers to offering your ear and compassion to someone without expecting anything in return. Be there for your friend for their sake and the sake of your relationship.
- Ask for a night out in the town. Find a night where your schedules align and get at it.
- Or invite your friend over. Do something like you did in the good old days, be it a game night or just a night of chatting.
This is like platonic intimacy, but it can happen for both non-sexual and sexual relationships and friendships. If you’re intimate emotionally with someone, you’re sharing all your feelings, secrets, and desires with them. They’re the person you can go to whenever you feel like talking about your feelings. It doesn’t have to be verbal, either. They can be your literal shoulder to cry on or someone you can hug when you feel upset.
Being intimate emotionally does require a high level of trust. They’re someone you can confide your secrets with, a person who will not tell others your confessions. Your secrets are safe with this trusted individual.
In a way, this form of intimacy is perhaps the most important part of a relationship. If you can’t tell a secret to a friend, they’re not a very good friend. If you can’t express your feelings to your spouse, then what are you doing married to them? It’s a cornerstone of all relationships. You will have different levels of this form of intimacy for different people, but you’ll still have at least some level of this intimacy with most of your friends.
Signs That Someone Is Good at Emotional Intimacy Include:
- They’re accepting of your flaws and don’t require you to change.
- You can share pretty much anything with them. Your secrets are safe with them.
- They’re understanding of your feelings and will always be empathetic with you no matter what. While they may not agree with all your decisions, they’ll still be supportive.
- They care about you and want to help you any way you can.
How to Improve
- If you’re not as emotionally intimate with someone as you used to be, talk to them. Tell them how you’re doing, express your emotions more, and speak.
- On the other hand, you can be the empathetic one. Be the one who listens and offers advice for the person.
- Just remember to talk to a trustworthy person. The last thing you want to happen is having half the town know your secret.
Perhaps the one type of intimacy people think of when they think of intimacy; sexual intimacy is when you form a bond with someone through, well, sex.
Not all sex is created equal, of course. You can have casual sex with a friend that lacks intimacy. It’s a way to make you feel good, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it as long as you practice safe sex, but it’s not quite the same as having sex with someone for who you have hard feelings, is it?
Intimate sex involves a bond that strengthens as you have sex. It doesn’t have to be the cliché of having candles in the room and making love in a missionary position. It can be slow, rough, wild, or any way else you like having sex. But it will feel different, like two people’s bodies melding into one.
How to Improve
- With sexual intimacy, you should have sex with your partner at least once a week to keep the bond going strong.
- If you feel like the sex is getting dull, try mixing it up. Try new sex positions, new toys, new ways of having sex, sex in costumes, the list goes on.
- Only have sex when you want to. Please don’t do it out of obligation, but instead of passion.
This is one level below sexual intimacy, which includes physical activity. It may be connected to platonic intimacy, but it may also be linked with sexual relationships. Different people have different love languages and might approach physical intimacy differently. Some examples of this physical bond are:
Holding hands- ever held someone’s hand and felt butterflies in your stomach? This is an intimate bond you’re sharing with someone.
Hugging-a hug from someone you’re intimate with can reduce your stress, make you feel better about yourself, and make you feel closer to that person.
Kissing-It doesn’t have to be a hot make-out session. Just a peck on the cheek can make you feel closer to that person than a less intimate kiss, such as a greeting in certain cultures.
Cuddling-This is like hugging, but the good feeling lasts so much longer.
How to Improve
- Be physical with your partner more. Or your friend. Just make sure they’re comfy with being touched. Always ask first.
This is another type of intimacy that is not very common yet still worth discussing. Intellectual intimacy is forming a connection with someone through discussion. It can be a discussion on your favorite TV show, religion, political ideas, or any other hobby or idea you’re obsessed with. If you find someone who stimulates you intellectually, then you are bonded with him intimately. It can be a colleague, a friend, or even your partner. The person who you’re intimate with doesn’t necessarily have to have a high IQ, but just someone who has extensive knowledge of a subject you like.
How to Improve
- Find a subject the two of you are passionate about and have a good conversation about it. If you can’t think of anything, maybe introduce each other to your hobbies, leading to a good conversation.
If you’re religious and are fond of going to church, you could be spiritually intimate with your fellow church members. You will feel a connection with a higher power as you sing songs of praise as a group or a choir. However, you don’t necessarily have to be religious to feel spiritual intimacy. The experience must be awe-inspiring. For instance, if you go hiking in the mountains and explore the world with someone, this can very well be a spiritually intimate event for both of you.
How to Improve
- Go to church with some good people. The spiritual intimacy should come tumbling out.
- Alternatively, find a breathtaking location and go on a journey with your friend to get to it. The journey itself may end up being more intimate than the actual destination.
If you’re not feeling as intimate with your partner as you once were, then maybe it’s time for you to talk to a counselor. They can help you spark that intimacy, be it sexual, platonic, emotional, or physical. Everyone needs to have some form of intimacy in their lives. If you feel like your life hasn’t been that intimate, and our advice isn’t working, talk to a counselor today.
And those are the types of intimacy. What is your favorite type? Are there any you’ve been missing? Tell your stories. We love to hear them.
“Rhonda has been very helpful and consistent over the past few months as I worked through issues related to fear of intimacy. Her observations have shed light on aspects of myself that I took for granted, which I realize now are actually are holding me back and are in my power to change. I would gladly work with Rhonda again, and recommend her without hesitation.”
“Emily is a very effective counselor in our very first call she drilled down and uncovered some of our intimacy issues and gave us a game plan to help resolve them. She's timely, easy to talk to, listens but also gives advice (which I've found uncommon with some professionals). We'd use her again and recommend her in a heart beat.”
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