All About Emotional, Sexual, Physical, And Platonic Intimacy

Updated July 29, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

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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, doesn't it?

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 a familiarity or friendship that is close. This means that if you're intimate with another, there is a feeling of closeness, 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 that is 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

Platonic 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 vanish 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

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If your bond with your friend or platonic intimacy just 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 for 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 just 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.

Emotional Intimacy

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 is not going to tell others your confessions. Your secrets are safe with this trusted individual.

In a way, emotional 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 emotional intimacy for different people, but you'll still have at least some emotional intimacy with most of your friends.

Signs That Someone Is Good at Emotional Intimacy Include:

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  • 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 just 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 trustful person. The last thing you want to happen is having half the town know your secret.

Sexual Intimacy

Perhaps the one type of intimacy people think of when they think of intimacy; sexual intimacy is when you form a bond with someone though, 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 who you have hard feelings for, 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 anyway else you like having sex. But it will feel different, like two people's bodies melding into one.

How to Improve

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  • 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. Don't do it out of obligation, but instead of passion.

Physical Intimacy

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 as well. 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 compared to 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.

Intellectual Intimacy

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, which can lead to a good conversation.

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Spiritual Intimacy

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 to 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.

Seek Help

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.

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is platonic friendship?

As we discussed previously, a platonic relationship or friendship is one that contains platonic love – love that isn’t sexual the way love in a romantic relationship might be. Love between two friends can still consist of various forms of intimacy and closeness. What your relationship with a friend looks like can be very different than a best friend.

Friendships are a great source of emotional support, advice, and good times. You may find that you feel close and intimate with someone without any desire to pursue them as a romantic partner. This type of relationship – a close, strong, and healthy friendship – is normal and wonderful to have. Don’t be afraid to show or tell your best friend, friends, or platonic relationships that you care for them!

Is platonic friendship possible?

It’s completely possible to keep up a platonic relationship with someone. Sometimes a close relationship or friends turn into romantic partners, but many times they don’t. You may be friends with someone, even someone of the opposite sex/gender, for years without your relationship ever moving past platonic or platonic intimacy.

There are lots of different types of relationships, and sometimes they can bleed into each other (your significant other might also feel like your best friend, for example). There are some people who may not be interested in romantic or sexual pursuits because of sexual or romantic preference (asexual aromantic and others). An agender person may feel more comfortable with another agender person.

A queer person might be friends with another queer person, but a completely platonic relationship is still possible.

Friends and acquaintances may come and go, but friends that you share true platonic intimacy with are likely to stay and become long term. Intimate relationships between friends can be just as rewarding and necessary as intimate relationships between lovers. Better bonds and intimacy are likely to lead to a closer, more involved friendship that can stand the test of time.

Can platonic friends cuddle?

Yes, people who are platonic friends – just friends with no romantic or sexual attraction – can experience physical intimacy like cuddling. You might also hug or hold hands. That’s okay too, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these things. Being physically intimate with your friends can be a great way to strengthen your bond if it’s something that both parties are comfortable with. Platonic intimacy can combine with and include parts of other types of intimacy.

You might find some friends or individuals prefer different types of bonding and intimacy over others. Some people might be uncomfortable with physical touching and intimacy; they might prefer to engage in emotional intimacy with you, like sharing their thoughts and feelings. Remember that not all people have the same love languages!

What is a platonic love relationship?

A platonic love relationship is one that consists of platonic love (love that isn’t sexual in nature), oftentimes described as the love between friends. It’s also possible to be platonically intimate with someone who is your friend, or have other forms of mental and physical intimacy with them. Intimate friendships, like those between best friends, can still be completely devoid of sexual or romantic attraction.

Platonic love is not only very strong, but it’s an important part of life. Everyone needs support systems when the going gets tough. So be sure that even when you are busy or otherwise occupied to take the time to stay in touch with your most important platonic friends.

Is kissing platonic?

Whether or not something is platonic or not really is up to you and the person you’re with. Generally speaking, kissing is usually associated with sexual or romantic attraction, but it doesn’t have to be. Kisses on the cheek, hand, forehead, etc. might be considered something appropriate for a friend to do, but others might draw the line for physical contact further back, like whether or not it’s okay to hold hands. Different people have different love languages – that is, different people show affection in different ways.

For most people, kissing probably extends beyond the boundaries of platonically intimate relationships. Other activities like hugging, cuddling, or even sexual contact can happen between platonic friends. If you’re uncomfortable or unsure about anything said or done to you (or something you may say or do) from someone you consider a platonic friend, the best thing to do is likely to talk to that person. Discussing and understanding boundaries is a healthy way to communicate and further build trust.

Remember that it’s also normal for your relationships with other people to change, grow, and evolve over time. Sometimes people start as friends, then become lovers, then become strangers, then go back to friends. These are all natural processes in life, and there’s no reason to stress over them or wonder whether they are “normal.”

What is platonic flirting?

The words platonic and flirting almost seem like they don’t belong next to each other. Flirting is usually behavior seen as overtly connected to romantic or sexual attraction and relationships, right?

Platonic flirting, or harmless/casual flirting, may happen between friends who genuinely aren’t interested in each other sexually or romantically. Compliments, teasing, kind gestures like buying drinks or meals, hugging or other physical contact, etc. might be considered flirting, and whether or not these actions are appropriate for a platonic friend to do can really be up to the person.

Some people might seem flirty even when they aren’t trying to be, and it can be confusing to understand how to read someone’s behavior toward you. Drawing the line between platonic intimacy and other intimacy or between platonic relationships and romantic relationships can be tricky. Talking to your friends about your feelings and concerns is always a good idea, whether you’re doing any flirting or not.

What are the three types of friendship?

When someone mentions the “three types of friendship,” they are usually referencing Aristotle and his work to understand and think about friendship. Aristotle lists three types of friends:

  1. Friendships of utility. These friendships are ones that exist between two people who can be useful to each other. For example, two apartment neighbors may become friendly because they can (and do) ask each other to take care of their plants during time away from home. Maybe two high school students often help each other with homework answers. Perhaps those same two high school students also have lockers next to each other and regularly have friendly discussions.
  2. Friendships of pleasure. Like the name suggests, this type of friendship exists between people who enjoy each other’s company. It’s fun for these friends to be around each other. They likely share a lot of similar interests and do different activities together, like playing a sport or travelling. They might also joke around and banter when they talk – this isn’t necessarily exclusive to only very close friends.
  3. Friendships of the good. These friendships usually take a while to build up, as they exist upon a foundation of admiration and respect for one another. These types of friends may have similar outlooks and philosophies on life and the world – they may be passionate about the same cause, like fighting for breast cancer or practicing social justice. They are likely a best friend, perhaps even a best friend from childhood or high school. These friendships are often described as the strongest or most powerful.

These definitions of friendship aren’t always easy to distinguish in real life, and they are mostly useful in thinking about friendship, all the ways it can look, and the role it has in our lives.

What are the levels of friendship?

There is no set definition of various levels of friendships, but as a relationship with someone forms and evolves, it certainly changes and grows over time. Different levels of friendship or platonic relationships may include:

  • Total strangers: a person you have yet to meet entirely.
  • Acquaintance or colleague: a person you may be friendly with or talk to, but not necessarily someone you would call a friend.
  • Friend: a person you feel you can trust and enjoy spending time with. What a friendship looks like can vary from person to person.
  • Best friend: a best friend is usually a specific friend who you feel knows you better than anyone else, and you are the closest to out of all of your friends.
  • Family/close to family: this could include people you are close to in your blood family, or people who are sort of like a “chosen family” (close friends or a best friend who feel like they’re your family or support you in the ways family does).

Intimate friendships generally take longer to develop. A best friend often starts as a regular friend, for example. It’s also possible to have more than one best friend, or lots of acquaintances, lots of close friends, etc. – it really depends on each person’s personal needs. Friendships sometimes evolve into romantic relationships, but as discussed earlier, platonic intimacy doesn’t always equate to romantic relationships. It’s possible to live a life of platonic love and never pursue romance either. Everyone is different, and that’s okay!

Can platonic friends fall in love?

It is possible to fall in love with someone you once considered a platonic friend. A best friend probably has a lot in common with you as it is, and you likely enjoy spending a lot of time together and having experiences together. You likely know your friend very well, including their quirks or flaws. It makes sense that romantic feelings might evolve between close friends.

It can be confusing, overwhelming, and even worrying to realize that you’re developing feelings for someone you are close to platonically, especially a best friend. You might worry about what to do with all of your feelings. You may fear that your friend will no longer want to spend time with you if they find out, or you fear what might happen if you get rejected – will it ruin the friendship?

All of these thoughts, feelings, and concerns are normal and valid. You might find it helpful to confide in someone close to you about how you feel and talk things out. Even though it might be hard or feel scary, it also might be beneficial to be candid with your friend about how you feel. Intimate friendships with healthy communication are more likely to effectively address these sorts of challenges even if your friend doesn’t feel the same way.


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