All About Emotional, Sexual, Physical, And Platonic Intimacy
When you hear the word ‘intimacy,’ it’s likely that something like sex pops into your head. While intimacy is commonly used in the context of making love, this only describes one aspect of it. Intimacy occurs not only between lovers, but also in friendships and in other platonic relationships. It can describe closeness on an emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, or platonic level. In this article, we’ll be exploring the different types of intimacy and discussing how you can improve in each area with your partner, friend, or someone else in your life.
What Is Intimacy?
The Marriam-Webster dictionary defines intimacy as “closeness,” describing it as familiarity or friendship of a personal or private nature. This means that there is a feeling of proximity when you’re intimate with another person, regardless of the type of bond you share. When improving your intimacy within any kind of relationship, it often involves connecting on a deeper level whether emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually, or otherwise.
The Different Types of Intimacy
You’ve probably heard of platonic love 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 you can be platonically intimate:
Offer your friendship by being present in your friend’s life and listening to them when they come to you. You can provide them with emotional support or encourage them when they’re feeling down.
Platonic intimacy may include touching, although not sexual. Embracing, hugging, and giving kisses on the cheek are a few examples. Some people may feel that physical contact improves the level of platonic intimacy in a relationship since it can create feelings of trust, safety, compassion, or all three.
A platonic relationship isn’t expected to evolve into a sexual one. It can happen, but if one party expects it, they may wind up disappointed.
Improving Platonic Intimacy
If your bond with your friend isn’t what it used to be, this can be normal. Life gets in the way, and friendships 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 must go under. Here are some ways to improve your connection:
Make an intentional effort to talk more. Whether it be through phone calls, FaceTime, or texting, connecting with your friends more often can foster a greater sense of closeness in the relationship.
Ask for a night out in the town. Find a night where your schedules align and do something fun together. Making memories alongside one another can help you feel closer.
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 can develop between friends just as much as it can be created in romantic relationships. When you’re emotionally intimate with someone, you can talk about your feelings with them. They can also be your shoulder to cry on or someone you can hug when you feel upset. Being intimate emotionally can require a high level of trust. When you tell a person that you’re emotionally close to something in confidence, such as a secret, you can expect them not to repeat it to others.
In a way, this form of intimacy could be the most important part of a relationship. If you can’t tell a secret to someone or express your feelings to them, you may wonder why they’re in your life to begin with. You can have different levels of this form of intimacy for different people, but it still be a cornerstone of each of your relationships, romantic or not.
Signs Of Emotional Intimacy With Someone:
They’re accepting of your flaws and don’t require you to change.
Your secrets are safe with them.
They’re understanding of your feelings and are empathetic with you. While they may not agree with all your decisions, they remain supportive.
They care about you and want to help you when possible.
Improving Emotional Intimacy
If you’re not as emotionally intimate with someone as you used to be and desire to be closer, talk to them about it. Tell them how you’re doing, ask how they are, and try to see each other more often.
Practice active listening and offer your support when a friend or partner needs it.
Build trust with someone before revealing deeper parts of yourself with them. Vulnerability can be powerful with the right people.
Sexual intimacy is when you form a bond with someone through sexual activity. An intimate sexual relationship is often formed through trust, vulnerability, and openness with one another. Not all sex is created equal, and the type of experience you have could depend on who you’re climbing into bed with. You might be sleeping with someone who you consider to be a friend or making love to the person you’re married to. Sex can strengthen the intimacy between two people, but it can also be a natural outcome when two people are already close in another way. Emotional intimacy, for example, often leads people to want to explore or grow their sexual intimacy.
Improving Sexual Intimacy
All couples are different, but researchers have found that having sex around once per week contributes to greater happiness and well-being within a romantic relationship.
If you feel like the sex is getting boring, try mixing it up. Try new sex positions, use toys, role-play, etc.
Only have sex when you want to. Consent is important for any type of sexual activity.
Physical intimacy refers to touching that brings people closer in some way. It doesn’t necessarily include sexual contact but could. For many people, physical intimacy can be an important aspect of being in a satisfying relationship. People might approach physical intimacy differently and engage in some or all of the following behaviors depending on who they’re with:
Holding hands – Have you ever held someone’s hand and felt butterflies in your stomach?
Hugging – A hug from someone you’re intimate with can reduce your stress, make you feel better about yourself, and help you to feel closer with that person.
Kissing – Kissing someone else doesn’t have to be a make-out session. A simple peck on the cheek can make you feel closer to that person, and this is a common greeting in certain cultures.
Cuddling – This is like hugging, but the positive feelings that come from it can last even longer.
Improving Physical Intimacy
Discuss physical intimacy with your partner or friend. Find out what they’re comfortable with and unsure or uneasy about. Ask how you can increase the physical intimacy in the relationship.
Participate in activities that foster physical closeness.
Get consent before touching someone.
Intellectual intimacy if often formed with someone through discussion. It can be a discussion about your favorite TV show, religion, political ideas, or any other hobby or idea you’re interested in. If you find someone who stimulates you intellectually, you may intimately bond with them. This could be a colleague, a friend, or even your partner. The person who you’re intimate with doesn’t have to have a high IQ, but rather extensive knowledge or curiosity about a subject you like.
Improving Intellectual Intimacy
Find a subject the two of you are passionate about and have a conversation about it.
Find others to have discussions with; create a discussion group with those who have similar interests.
Do research on a topic together, learning more as a team.
If you’re religious or spiritual and are fond of attending services with like-minded individuals, you may be spiritually intimate with them. You may feel a connection with a higher power as you sing songs of praise as a group or a choir. You don’t necessarily have to be religious to feel spiritual intimacy, and you can experience it almost anywhere. 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.
Improving Spiritual Intimacy
Try attending religious or spiritual services, like church.
Pray or read religious text together.
Find a breathtaking location and go on a journey with a friend or partner to get to it. The journey itself may end up being more intimate than the actual destination.
Online Counseling With Regain
Relationships can be complicated. If you’re not feeling as intimate with your partner as you once were, it may be time to talk to a counselor. Regain is an online platform that specializes in couples counseling. A counselor can help you reignite the spark and intimacy in your relationship, be it sexual, platonic, emotional, or physical. Although you and your partner may have busy or conflicting schedules, online counseling allows you to meet anytime and from anywhere. Instead of waiting and hoping your relationship will improve, you can begin getting the support you need to move forward right from the comfort of your home.
The Efficacy Of Online Counseling
Being intimate with another person can naturally lead to more opportunities for conflict. Couples experiencing tension in their relationship could benefit from online couples counseling. In this study, researchers found that couples participating in an online intervention experienced significant improvements in their relationship satisfaction and had fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“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.”
Intimate relationships take time and patience to develop. The more you invest into the people you care about, the stronger bond you can hope to have with them. If you’re having trouble growing closer to the people in your life, reach out to Regain. An online therapist can work with you to strengthen the intimacy in your relationships whether they’re sexual, platonic, emotional, or physical. Intimacy can come in many forms, and you can experience each type if you desire to.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a platonic friendship?
A platonic relationship or friendship contains platonic love – love that isn’t sexual the way love in a romantic relationship might be. The love between two friends can still consist of various forms of intimacy and closeness. What your relationship with a friend looks like can even be very different than a best friend.
Friendships can be a powerful source of emotional support, advice, and happy moments. 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 fulfilling to have.
Is platonic friendship possible?
It is possible to keep up a platonic relationship with someone. Sometimes a close relationship or friendship turns into a romantic relationship, but many times they don’t. You may be friends with someone for years without your relationship ever moving past platonic intimacy.
Intimate relationships between friends can be just as rewarding and necessary as close 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, platonic friends – just friends with no romantic or sexual attraction – can experience physical intimacy like cuddling. You might also hug or hold hands. Being physically intimate with your friends can be one 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. Remember that not all people have the same love languages. If you and your friends don’t see cuddling as an appropriate part of your friendship, this is also acceptable.
What is a platonic love relationship?
A platonic love relationship consists of platonic love (love that isn’t sexual in nature), often described as the love between friends. It’s also possible to be platonically intimate with your friend or have other forms of mental and physical intimacy with them. Like those between best friends, intimate friendships can still be completely devoid of sexual or romantic attraction.
Platonic love is not only very strong but can be an important part of life. Everyone needs a support system when the going gets tough. So, try to ensure that even when you are busy or otherwise occupied, you take the time to stay in touch with your platonic friends.
Is kissing platonic?
Whether or not something is platonic or not really is up to you and the person you’re with. 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. 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, it can help to talk to that person. Discussing and understanding boundaries can be 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. Sometimes, people start as friends, become lovers, become strangers, and then go back to being 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?
Flirting is usually behavior seen as overtly connected to romantic or sexual attraction and relationships. However, 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 another physical contact, etc., might be considered flirting, and whether 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 can be helpful, whether you’re doing any flirting or not.
What are the three types of friendship?
When someone mentions the “three types of friendship,” they usually are referencing Aristotle and his work to understand and think about friendship. Aristotle lists three types of friends:
Friendships of utility. These friendships exist between two people who can be useful to each other. For example, two apartment neighbors may become friends 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.
Friendships of pleasure. As 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 might joke around and banter when they talk – this isn’t necessarily exclusive to very close friends.
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 friends may have similar outlooks and philosophies on life and the world – they may be passionate about the same cause, like fighting 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.
What are the levels of friendship?
There is no set definition for various levels of friendships, but as a relationship with someone forms and evolves, it 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 your friends.
Family/close to the 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 an acquaintance, for example. It’s also possible to have more than one best friend, 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 your mixed 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 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.
What are the 4 types of intimacy?
It is common to immediately associate the word ‘intimacy’ with sexual or physical intimacy. However, physical affection is not the only way to generate closeness within an intimate relationship. There are four major types of relationship intimacy: mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional intimacy. Generating intimacy builds feelings of connection and safety within a relationship.
How can I be physically intimate?
Physical affection can be a crucial part of an intimate relationship. As physical intimacy builds feelings of closeness, many people desire physical contact to feel connected to their partners.
Despite popular belief, physical intimacy does not necessarily mean engaging in sexual activity. Many forms of physical intimacy involve non-sexual physical touch. Experts recommend incorporating regular physical touch into your relationship, whether that looks like holding hands, hugging, kissing, or cuddling. It can be important to have open communication with your partner around expectations of physical intimacy and how you each prefer to receive physical affection.
What does physical intimacy mean to a man?
Many individuals desire physical affection to feel close to their partners, as physical intimacy can build connection in intimate relationships. However, physical intimacy does not always have to look like sexual activity. There are various forms of physical intimacy, including non-sexual physical touch, outside of the bedroom. First, it can be important to have a conversation with your partner to discuss both of your needs around physical contact. Think about ways you might incorporate more physical touch into your routine, whether a long kiss or hug in the morning or giving each other massages after work.
What is intimate sexually?
Intimate relationships generate a sense of trust and closeness. As physical intimacy builds emotional closeness, any form of physical contact that strengthens the connection could be considered intimate.
Physical affection might look like sexual activity or other forms of physical intimacy such as hugging, cuddling, massages, or holding hands. Experts state that it can be crucial to create a culture of physical touch within the relationship that is not limited to the bedroom.
What are the 12 forms of intimacy?
Intimacy builds feelings of safety and closeness within a partnership. The 12 forms of intimacy include recreational, intellectual, work, commitment, aesthetic, communication, emotional, creative, sexual/physical, crisis, spiritual, and conflict. You might consider exploring a new facet of relationship intimacy that you and your partner haven’t focused on before.
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