We often define intimacy as a politically correct and a polite descriptor for Sex; then we further complicate things by equating sex to intercourse. We seem to have a tendency to also do this with so many other definitions, where we erroneously associate meanings to words that do not in fact exist for the described meaning. This trend creates huge problems as it diminishes the true meaning and the power of these words.
To start with truly understanding the word intimacy, we need to recognize a few baselines. The first is that you can be sexually intimate, but to be intimate does not mean you need to be sexual! Same goes for sex; you can choose to include intercourse into sex, but sex does not have to include intercourse to be considered sex. These two definitions become more and more important as we age, and diminish our physical sexual powers and desires.
If we could define these two terms correctly from the start, when we age, we don’t always have be disappointed with the fact that we can no longer be “intimate” with our partners, because we can’t have “sex”. Obviously this is not true of every aging adult. However, it is extremely common for men to struggle with erectile dysfunction issues, and for women to lose their innate abilities to lubricate and thus, making intercourse much more painful. These two issues, being some of the most common, and least interruptive in the sexual engagement process, tend to create many undesirable feelings. Just imagine, if there are more severe dysfunctions or disorders.
The point being, that this does not have to be what we settle on. In fact if we just realize that to be intimate means much more than to just have sex, we’d forgo a lot of the feelings of disappointment. One of the play-on-words that I have seen and read over the years is
Intimacy = Into Me You See. I love this for a series of reasons. The first is that it truly captures what intimacy is emotionally and does not focus on any sexual practice. It simply highlights that in order for us to be intimate, we need to understand our partners at much deeper emotional levels, and to become able to read their verbal and non-verbal cues, as though we become a forecaster with their emotions.
Additionally, if we realized that sex means so many different things to so many different people, we would decrease the immense pressure we place on ourselves to perform. For some, sex could simply mean laying naked and caressing each others’ bodies. Now imagine how fulfilling a couple’s sex life would be if they realized they were both sexual and intimate with these much more accurate and simple definitions.
As a sex therapist, one of the things I have observed to be extremely common among couples from all walks of life, is that when we try to create intimate moments our brains are fully preoccupied. We often bring to bed so many thoughts and critical judgments of ourselves that we distract ourselves from the potential powerful moment, of creating intimacy. We often worry about how we might look to our partners, or if the angle through which they are seeing us is making us to look as attractive as we believe to be or know at we are not.
The simple fix here is to allow ourselves to become vulnerable, to give ourselves the permission to relax and be present in the moment. Remember, the whole point is to create intimacy, not to distract ourselves from it. These definitions and quick fixes might require months of processing and practice. However, if each time we hear the words or when our thoughts stray, we catch ourselves as wrongfully associating or not being present in the moment, to re-define or to bring ourselves back to the moment, eventually we will create the muscle memory of not getting lost in our thoughts. By doing so we in fact teach our brain how to stay focused on what is important and at the task at hand.