- a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.
- an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like.
- an amorously familiar act; liberty.
- sexual intercourse.
As can be seen by the dictionary definition; the word “intimacy” has several meanings, some of which are sexual in nature, others are not. For me, and I suspect many people, intimacy takes on may forms.
It isn’t all about sex. It isn’t necessarily even about love. It is, in my opinion, about the different levels of connection that one person has with one, or more other people. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to restrict myself to intimacy with a single person, but I suspect many of the areas I will cover could apply more widely.
For me, intimacy is the connection, of minds as well as bodies and the are a number of different components that come into play; all of them interacting at different levels of intensity to create an intimate “whole”. I would tend to break these down as follows:
- Emotional – this, to me, is possibly the most important form of intimacy, the closeness of feeling, the empathy that we have for each other in a relationship. This is what drives nurture and support, what makes us want to be with that person, whether as friends or lovers. Emotional bonds are what, I believe, hold us together and, when abused or broken, are so difficult to repair.
- Intellectual – it is commonly expressed view that if you want to arouse someone’s body, first you have to arouse their mind. Shared interests are an example, but being able to communicate, to express thoughts, opinions, ideas freely without thought of ridicule is a very important part of an intimate relationship. This does not mean outright acceptance of each other’s views and opinions; people can still disagree and still say “no”. The key thing is that there is respect for each other.
- Physical – this is more than just sex, although sex can form an important part of it, physical intimacy can also be platonic depending on the relationship. It is, however about the importance of physical closeness. Most of us derive a degree of comfort and support from touch, whether it be holding hands, cuddling, or just sitting snuggly next to person we want to be snuggling with. Sometimes, however, just knowing that someone is physically near can be enough; the knowing that you could reach out and touch them and your equilibrium would be maintained or restored is enough.
- Experiential – we share many experiences that draw us closer together. Some, like the birth of a child, a dream holiday, buying a new home, bring us joy. Others, such as the loss of a loved one, illness, stress, cause us pain. Some of our experiences will draw on one, or more of the other areas of intimacy, but all experiences are part of the sharing between the individuals concerned.
- Creative – in a way, this draws from all of the others. As we live and share, together we create. We create memories, experiences, homes and sometimes even other lives. Sadly, when things go wrong, we can also create pain and sorrow. There are two sides to intimacy and you can not experience the positive without the potential for the negative also always being present.
- Sexual – just as physical intimacy can be sexual and platonic, sexual intimacy does not always need to be physical and neither is it always just physical. In many ways, sexual intimacy is the culmination and combination of all of the above. Sexual intimacy does not require physical presence; video calls, sexting, even an old fashioned love letter can play their part. It is almost impossible to be completely detached emotionally from sex. The emotion may not be love, or desire, but the basic sexual urge is itself a form of emotional response. I mentioned sexting briefly, but this can form a part of the intellectual intimacy, the seduction of the mind long before the bodies are able to come together. Sex can be highly experiential; we all have particular encounters and memories that stay with us. Without those, many of us probably would have very little to blog about. Sex is also creative; not just because it is the procreative act, but also in that it creates and strengthens the bond between people, it creates memories and it allows us to be creative; to think up new things to experiment with to excite, entice, arouse us.
As can be seen, there are, degrees of overlap; relationships that are “intimate” exist in that area of the Venn Diagram the above areas intersect and interact. Depending on circumstances, that area of intersection will be skewed towards, or away from one or more of the types of intimacy.
Intimacy is a powerful force. It is a force that has many great and positive benefits that enrich our lives. It does, however, have a darker side. As I touched on above, intimacy also has the power to hurt. Whether that hurt is intentional or accidental, the same force that makes the joys of intimacy so life-enriching, make the pain it can cause so damaging. Intimacy is undoubtedly a blessing, but it can also be a curse. Those of us who have known betrayal, those of us who have experienced abuse, those of us that have been the cause of pain to someone we care about have all experienced, in some degree, what the dark side of intimacy can inflict. Because this is real life, and real life is very often less than perfect, sadly the good does not always prevail.