Let’s Talk About Sex (and Intimacy)

by Dr. Chelsea Graziano, Assistant Director of Case Management

Along with what seems to be a never-ending amount of snow, the middle of February brings the tidal wave of Valentine’s Day. Jewelry commercials, condom ads, specials on dinners for two at your favorite local restaurants, markups on chocolate, and heart shaped everything…seriously everything. From early ages we are socialized to see the need for romantic relationships during this time of year. Every year elementary students wait eagerly to see who put valentines in their hand decorated boxes in the classroom. Society puts such pressure on the need for romantic partnerships and their tie to self-worth. As we mature, those eagerly awaited paper valentines tend to become replaced with the idea that romanticism and intimacy are tied to sex. 

This begs the question, is sex the only form of intimacy? Normalizing conversations about sexuality and sexual behaviors is a cornerstone of our agency, but in this case the answer to this question is NO. While sex is a physically intimate action, it is not the only way to foster intimacy with a romantic partner. Many people use the words sex and intimacy interchangeable; however, they are not inherently the same thing. Sex at a fundamental level is a physical action. Alternatively, intimacy is a feeling of closeness that rises above just the physical aspects, into emotionality and vulnerability. They do not always go hand in hand.

Many people choose to abstain from sex for a variety of reasons, including personal preference, religious beliefs, or physical limitations. This means that when it comes to creating intimacy in a relationship, sex is off the table.  However, there are many ways to create intimacy that do not revolve around sex.  Below are some intimacy building tips to use in your romantic relationships:

  • Other forms of touch can be just as imitate: Holding hands walking down the street, a kiss on the forehead, a back massage, and cuddling without the expectation of sex, are all great ways to foster physical intimacy.
  • Communication: Open communication can foster intimacy in a relationship. Active communication is a significant part of a healthy relationship. This is especially important when time, energy, or other factors put a damper on physical intimacy. Sharing goals, dreams, concerns, and events of day-to-day life with your partner fosters closeness in a relationship and can increase emotional intimacy.
  • Small signs of affection: Using little gestures of affection can go a long way in creating emotional intimacy. Complement each other. Help each other with daily tasks. Do you know that your partner loves to cook but hates to do the dishes? Then sneak in the kitchen and do them before they get the chance to complete the dreaded task. Small signs of affection show your partner that you care for and appreciate them.
  • Share with each other: Teach your partner a new skill or engage them into one of your favorite activities. Do a virtual painting class and help your partner be creative. If cooking is your passion, pick a favorite recipe and prepare it together.
  • Set aside time for each other: Life can be hectic, especially if you are juggling many responsibilities and wearing many hats. Planning to devote time to your relationship shows your partner that they are a priority. Even if your day seems endless and time seems impossible, you can still find a way to make it work. At minimum, try to devote the last 15 minutes before sleep to having a conversation with your partner while you lie in bed together.
  • Express gratitude: Expressing gratitude ensures that your partner knows that you prioritize them and the relationship. Set aside time each day to express to your partner the things about them, or your relationship, that you are grateful for.

While sex can be a significant factor in fostering intimacy between partners, it is far from the only factor. Devoting time to each other and becoming attuned to your partners wants and needs go a long way to building a strong foundation of intimacy in a relationship.

Remember, all relationships take work. To continue to build a relationship means learning and growing together. If you, or your partner, are interested in reading more about how to strengthen your relationship there are many resources available on the internet. The Gottman Institute, a well-regarded relationship resource based in psychological research, is a wealth of information on healthy relationships. You can visit it at www.gottman.com