When people hear the word ‘intimacy’, images of two people in a committed relationship exchanging sensual back massages with slightly-too-hot oil tend to come to mind. Contrary to popular expressions in the media and emulations by our intimacy-deprived societies, there is more than one type of intimacy that people can experience. These intimacies are not exclusive to romantic relationships either, as intimacy is something that can be felt in every type of relationship: familial, romantic, platonic, between strangers (as a collective societal intimacy from groups we identify with), and most importantly, with ourselves.
Intimacy offers a way for humans to connect authentically, and our authentic selves should not be limited to experiencing intimacy with a sole romantic partner. Expecting one relationship to fulfill every type of intimacy we crave is the emotional manifestation of putting all of our intimacy eggs in one basket. Developing intimacy in every relationship we have, beginning with ourselves, can fulfill our needs and desires in a way that doesn’t place responsibility for intimacy solely on our romantic partners.
Some types of intimacy are listed below. This is not an comprehensive list, but it captures the sentiment:
Physical– Hugs, cuddling, braiding or playing with hair, non-erotic massages, European style kissing, dancing, and generally expressing physical acceptance through touch
Erotic- Sexual experiences (that can but don’t have to involve penetration or an orgasm by either party), sensual massages, stroking, kissing, and nuzzling
Emotional- being heard and supported about things and events that are close to your heart; healthy boundaries, good communication, feeling validations, and willingness to address difficult dynamics of interpersonal relationships; emotional vulnerability and an openness of heart
Intellectual– discussing concepts and events, connecting over mental endeavors and challenges, exchanging wit and snark, and pushing each other mentally
Spiritual- a common sense of direction and life purpose, cultural similarities, supported beliefs in higher order or religion, ethical and moral agreements and growth
Experiential– going on adventures, experiencing new things together, surviving traumatic events together, enduring life’s many curve balls together (marriage, divorce, death, birth, transpacific moves) and navigating these experiences in a healthy manner
The foundation of healthy intimacy in any of these categories is respect, reciprocation, trust… and time. Any overlap of intimacy types in a relationship can be nice, and is usually preferred for romantic relationships. If a relationship is not providing intimacy that YOU REQUIRE in a respectful and reciprocal way, you are free to exit the relationship knowing you aren’t getting what you NEED.
Your intimate relationship with yourself is extremely important and should be nurtured prior to nurturing other relationships. Do you enjoy experiencing things with yourself? Do you comfort your body through physical touch, hugging yourself, stroking yourself, gently playing with your hair? Do you stimulate your brain with new stuff to learn and think about, challenging yourself? Do you masturbate and understand how your body enjoys to be touched sexually? Do you validate yourself and listen to your emotions as they course through your body? Can you fully embrace and challenge your morals?
Think of three people in your life, including yourself, and rate your intimacy in every category on a scale of 1-5 (bad to great). If choosing a familial or platonic relationship, mark ‘Erotic’ as N/A
unless you’re from Alabama.
If any of the intimacy types are marked lower than you desire, here are some things you can do to foster connection:
Physical- make a point to hug each other goodbye every day, dance together
Erotic- Explore different sexual positions, don’t make sex be about penetration or orgasms
Emotional- Ask for time to express your feelings and emotions, and tell them how you wish to be received (advice/validation/silence)
Intellectual- Read a book together and discuss, or watch Jeopardy (or whatever game show is intellectual these days)
Spiritual- Organize a community event like picking up trash on a trail or coaching a children’s sport, or mentoring college students; start a non-profit together
Experiential- Go on a trip together, plan a picnic, cook a new recipe together
Hopefully, you will find your relationships become more meaningful through increased intimacy across multiple categories. Let me know what you think!
The general information and exercises came Elizabeth Earnshaw from her course: Love Lessons 365. You can find her @lizlistens on Instagram. This course is awesome, and I highly recommend it for anyone wishing to learn about all kinds of love and relationships.