What is Intimacy?

A rather fierce debate broke out over at Sunshine Mary’s blog a few days ago over why men marry and what men look for in marriage. Much of the debate centered around the role of sex in marriage. I intruded into the debate to argue that it was intimacy which men sought in marriage, and not purely sex. The idea being that intimacy was a solution to The Void. However, this led to something of a minor disagreement between myself and the blog hostess over the nature/purpose of Christian marriage (the disagreement starts there and continues for a bit). I bowed out after the matter was diffused, in part because I wanted to think over the subject of intimacy more thoroughly.

What I had noticed is that Sunshine Mary distinguished between “physical intimacy” and “emotional intimacy.” I found this fascinating because I don’t make such a distinction. To me, there is only intimacy, although it has a physical and emotional component. But they are just that, components, pieces of a large whole. Here is how I see it:

Sexual intercourse (physical) + Feminine companionship (emotional) = intimacy (a fusion of physical and emotional acts)

As I see it, you cannot have the one without the other. A purely sexual relationship isn’t intimate, it is basically just a lust filled physical release. Whereas a companionship unaccompanied by sexual intercourse is not intimate, but merely a friendship. Perhaps a close friendship, but nothing more.

Clearly we are not on the same page about intimacy. Part of me wonders if we hold different views because I’m a man and she’s a woman. Or perhaps it is something else. So which of us is right?

Merriam-Webster defines Intimacy as: The state of being Intimate… or something of a personal or private nature.

Not exactly a very helpful description there. Which leads me to instead turn towards my loyal readers:

What is Intimacy? What constitutes intimacy in your book? Is is separated between the physical and emotional? Or  are they merely different parts of a larger whole?

Your thoughts are appreciated.

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34 Comments

Filed under Femininity, Marriage, Men, Red Pill, Sex, Women

34 responses to “What is Intimacy?

  1. Sis

    SSM link not working 🙂

  2. Not sure what was wrong, but they are both fixed now. Thanks Sis.

  3. embracingourfemininity

    I’d say intimacy has both a physical and emotional component.. it’s not really intimacy if it’s one without the other in my opinion. Maybe I am wrong and just have the word in english wrong.

  4. Elspeth

    No, embracingyourfemininity. I think you have it exactly right.

  5. an observer

    Or maybe men and women have very different definitions of what physical and emotional intimacy encompass…

  6. Or maybe it’s just that the language got shifted so that “intimate” means “sexual” regardless of its emotional component–like “adult” or “mature” in the same context have nothing to do with the age or maturity of the partaker.

    In its usage until recently, “intimate” had little to no sexual connotation. The word that used to mean what “intimate” means now is “conjugal”, which perfectly encapsulates the aspect of coming together and its marital context.

    The root of the problem is the divorce (excuse the pun) of sex and marriage, so we have to rewrite the language.

  7. Sigyn – The root of the problem is the divorce (excuse the pun) of sex and marriage, so we have to rewrite the language.

    Random thought…. perhaps rewriting the language, hereby redefining what sex and marriage are (among other things), caused the change.

  8. Random thought…. perhaps rewriting the language, hereby redefining what sex and marriage are (among other things), caused the change.

    More likely they were contemporaneous. They fed off of each other.

  9. @ Sigyn

    Interesting that you bring up the word conjugal. It still has some play in legal circles/doctrines, but otherwise doesn’t really show up outside certain translations of the bible.

  10. I think that women differentiate because we can be very emotionally intimate without being physically intimate. Surely you have heard of emotional affairs? One can also have highly intimate (appropriate) friendships with the same-sex, where you pour your hearts out to one another. Women are frequently encouraged to develop such friendships around these parts to relieve their spouses of the burden of being their emotional crutches.

    Intimacy, IMO, is a lack of boundaries. When you come to the circle of intimacy, that means you’re in reaching distance of the deepest recesses of self.

  11. Two things

    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God

    Then

    You have heard that it was said, “you shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

    Seems clearly linked to me.

    The only thing that seems to vary is that women need emotional connection before physical, with men the other way around. However, both are connected and the beginning of sinful desires will lead to the consummation of those desires if not actively fought by the individual with the strength of God and prayer.

  12. As a side note – I’ll emphasize that I believe those to be the typical routes for each of the sexes. An improper relation involving intimacy of emotions can certainly color a man and turn him towards sin, just as a particularly physically attractive man can tempt a woman. However, in both of those cases I believe the amount of intimacy in that area before hand must be far greater than the traditional routes – it’s men having relations with co-workers that respect them over extended periods of time and women attracted to the pool boy.

    So, we have clear ways to quickly fall into sin for each of the sexes and slower, more insidious ways they fall into sin.

    All of which makes complete sense and is directly in line with any teachings on attraction and seduction you can find online, as well as seem to be in line with scriptural teaching. That’s about as solid a backing as you can get.

    Separate care and preparation should be taken against each of these paths towards sin; and special care should be taken to note that these paths towards what would be sin are holy when pursued in marriage.

  13. 1959duke

    I have been married a long time. On its basic level there is always emotional intimacy between my wife and I. The physical part slowly fades away as you age. There is a long list as to why that happens. Health reasons are at the top of that list.

  14. @ Leap

    I think you are really onto something there. I thought before that men and women approach intimacy in a different fashion, and your comments helped me finally figure out how it worked. My original approach used simple arithmetic, with sex+companionship=intimacy. But that is wrong. Men and women both acquire intimacy, or to paraphrase what Sigyn said, conjugal relations, through a different process.

    For men, physical connectivity permits emotional connectivity which helps establish intimacy. Otherwise stated:
    Physical connectivity(sex) —->emotional connectivity (feminine companionship/presence) —-> Intimacy

    For women, the emotional connectivity permits the physical connectivity, which then leads to intimacy. Or:
    Emotional connectivity (masculine companionship/presence)—-> Physical connectivity (sex) —->Intimacy

    This explains a whole lot, including why so many women deny their husbands. Its because for them emotional connectivity and attraction are inherently linked. A man needs to be attractive (aka, have a masculine presence) in order for her to want to establish physical connectivity (sex). Such women don’t want to have sex with their husbands because he no longer (if he ever did) clears the hurdle allowing them to move onto physical connectivity.

    At the same time, this explains why men who are denied by their wives are so badly hurt. Without the ability to physically connect/bond with their wives, they cannot benefit from any kind of emotional connectivity and thus intimacy wanes and eventually disappears.

    As you note Leap, “emotional” affairs are dangerous for women, because they have already started down the path towards a physical affair. At the same time, this understand explains why men can have an affair but not lose affection for their wive: they may have physically connected with a woman, but there was never any or enough emotional connectivity to break the conjugal relationship.

  15. Hearthie, I agree with you. Not all intimacy is inherently sexual.

    And certainly I don’t question that both physical and emotional intimacy are needed in marriage. But you can have one without the other, which proves, Donal, that they are two separate things. If a man were injured in a car accident and paralyzed such that he could no longer engage in intercourse with his wife, would you now say that they do not have intimacy? Of course not. They don’t have sexual intimacy but they do have emotional intimacy.

    A rather fierce debate broke out over at Sunshine Mary’s blog

    Like sayin’ there was a Tuesday last week… le sigh 🙂

  16. Hearthie, I agree with you. Not all intimacy is inherently sexual.

    Not sure if you saw my later comment SSM, but I qualified my explanation some. Perhaps I am still wrong about how it works for women, but I think for men that it doesn’t really work as you describe. At least, not at first. Perhaps after a long enough relationship the physical connectivity loses its importance.

    In fact, as I think on it, this would explain something which Alte has pointed out before; Men are more likely to leave a paralyzed wife than vice versa.

    Women can still have that full emotional connection without the physical connectivity (or perhaps can have full emotional intimacy if they are truly separate for women). But for men, without that physical connection, they will slowly lose the emotional connection they have with their wife. This means they eventually lose a feeling of intimacy with their wives. And as a result probably “fall out of love” with them, leading to a significantly greater chance of divorce.

  17. Deep Strength

    This is the way I’ve been viewing women it in the past few months, so this may actually help you analysis a bit better. If you told me you were gonna write a post on it I would’ve told you sooner!

    Women = dominated by feelings = for them to feel good around you they need to respect you = they need to consciously or subconsciously believe that you have higher value (via LAMPS) = hypergamy = emotional connection / chemistry. Subsequently, only after establishing the emotional connection will the physical connection work, because you have established “dominance” over them .

    Men are attracted to a woman by her physical appearance = being able to interact with “intimately” because of her beauty = establishing a physical connection. Then with the establishment of a physical connection (does not have to be sex but other forms of touching such kissing, holding hands, massage, etc) comes the emotional connection in the form of the closeness/touching/etc.

  18. earl

    “If a man were injured in a car accident and paralyzed such that he could no longer engage in intercourse with his wife, would you now say that they do not have intimacy? Of course not. They don’t have sexual intimacy but they do have emotional intimacy.”

    But they had sexual intimacy…before. He released a part of himself into her before the accident.

    If they never had it beforehand…then there wouldn’t be much reason for emotional initmacy for either party. Women need to understand that for a man to develop deep emotions he needs to physically release himself into something…that’s how it works in our brains. It’s probably the reverse when it comes to women.

    So yeah I agree with Donal it probably is another difference of the sexes that makes us compatible.

  19. If a wife is submissive intimacy is whatever the man says it is.

  20. I tend to agree: for a man, emotional intimacy without sexual intimacy equals blue balls. And sexual intimacy without emotional intimacy basically doesn’t exist. Even in a one-night stand, there’s emotional intimacy at that moment.

    Of course, on one particular day, you might have one without the other. But if you don’t have a mix of both in general, there will be a problem.

    In the extreme case of one spouse being paralyzed, it’s completely different, because then you’re unable to have sex. No one’s going to bed wondering if he’s going to get sex, or expecting it and being denied by a last-minute headache. Your spouse isn’t denying you; you’re in this unfortunate situation together, and so your emotional connection can help both of you through it. And yet, I would wager that in most such cases, the relationship does tend to turn over the years to more of a friendship than a romance, and it’s probably not unusual for the healthy spouse to get something on the side, possibly even with the disabled spouse’s reluctant blessing. Not saying that’s a good thing, just that I’d bet it happens, because a romantic relationship without sex just isn’t complete.

  21. Physical intimacy is also important for women… I would say that it seals the deal, as t’were. But we don’t need it to start the intimacy cycle.
    I hear men say that they’re “talked out” and women say they’re “touched out” but rarely the opposite.

    The differences between the sexes, and the charity needed to deal with one another in grace, are aways we learn to be better Christians!

  22. @ Sunshine Mary
    “But you can have one without the other, which proves, Donal, that they are two separate things.”

    I disagree.

    I don’t think you can have one without the other. I think that if there is slight emotional intimacy, there will be slight sexual intimacy as one or both of the people start wondering what the other person meant, if they are sending confusing signals on purpose or maybe if the individual is just reading into things too much.

    Just because there’s not an act of sexual nature, does not mean the two are not sexually intimate. Our Lord makes it clear that sexual thoughts are the same as adultery. Emotional connections are tied with the physical ones.

    Does that mean that a sin of thought and temptation will lead to the consummation of that sin? No, not at all.

    But a denial of how our emotions and sexuality are tied together is a dangerous way of allowing an individual to foster the growth of that emotional and sexual connection to a point where it leads to the sexual acts.

    I can be ‘friends’ with women without emotional connection or attraction, but it’s more like being coworkers with them than what I would consider true friendship. I can be pleasant with a coworker, an overweight woman, a feminist etc; but I never feel attracted or emotionally close to them. If a woman I did feel attracted to and emotionally close to gains weight, comes out as a feminist, or anything else I have noticed I lose both any attraction I had to them as well as any emotional connection. I withdraw my heart, body, and soul from their presence if either their body or their emotional/mental state are disgusting to me

    Outside of my family; there is not one woman I was ever emotionally connected with that I wasn’t attracted to at some point before one of us friend zoned the other or we simply revolved around each other’s inaction. Not a single one. Can I now be friends without feeling that attraction or temptation? Yes. But in the eyes of our Lord I HAD TO GO THROUGH SIN OF LUST AND DESIRE to get there. Not acceptable.

    We are not ghosts in the machine

    The inward is a reflection of the outward. Intimacy with one necessitates intimacy with the other.

  23. A man can develop considerable emotional intimacy with a woman he’s spending time with — maybe dating, or they work or go to school together — even if they’ve done nothing sexual. But in that case, part of the intimacy for him is the anticipation of possible or likely sex in the future. If at some point she says (and convinces him) that they will never be having sex ever, his emotional commitment will drop in a big hurry, and soon he’ll have better things to do.

  24. The inward is a reflection of the outward. Intimacy with one necessitates intimacy with the other.

    Yes. In Catholic theology, sacraments always involve both body and spirit, prayer and matter. Baptism requires the Trinitarian blessing and water (or blood). Transubstantiation requires bread and wine and the words of consecration. There is always a physical part that goes with the spiritual part, because we are a composite of spirit and matter, and we should never neglect either.

    It’s true that we sometimes mortify the body to strengthen the spirit. But that’s not the same thing as neglecting the body, or saying that it’s an illusion (like New Agers) or that it’s evil (like the Gnostics). It just means we treat it and use it differently than our spirit, but it’s still an important part of us. It’s bound too tightly together with our spirit for us — at least for most men — to separate something as intense as intimacy with a woman into two independent parts. One can sub for the other at times, as when we fast to improve our spiritual lives. But endless fasting will eventually kill the body, killing the spirit too. Endless sexual abstinence will likewise kill the romantic spirit, in my opinion, unless there are understandable special circumstances (the aforementioned paralysis) and a fair bit of grace.

  25. Perhaps it just really is a case of being differently-experienced by men and women. Which is not necessarily a bad or wrong thing – actually maybe it’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s like taste – where you can’t taste if you can’t smell. Personally, I do believe intimacy has both emotional and physical components, just not weighted the same for men & women.

  26. Elspeth

    But a denial of how our emotions and sexuality are tied together is a dangerous way of allowing an individual to foster the growth of that emotional and sexual connection to a point where it leads to the sexual acts.

    Very well stated.

    @ Maeve:

    I see your point but wouldn’t conventional wisdom dictate that what the men are expressing here is an anomaly? That usually it’s women who give credence to emotional intimacy.

    I think Sigyn is right. This is a language issue. Intimacy is intimacy. Emotional intimacy between a man and a woman not married or related by blood most certainly (99% of the time I’d wager) has a sexual component to it. Even if sex never takes place.

  27. Thank you everyone who has voted in the poll. And thank you to everyone for your comments.

    I’m not sure that we have resolved anything, other than that men and women experience intimacy (or a conjugal relationship, if you prefer) differently. But thought provoking all the same.

  28. theshadowedknight

    I think that it depends on the sex. Male to male intimacy happens in a non sexual sense quite often in the military. That differs from what I have seen and heard of male to female, and female to male, in a marriage or other relationship. Obviously, I cannot speak of female to female intimacy.

    I have seen men gather together and allow a single woman in as “one of the boys” to get that feeling. I also know how the bonds of brotherhood in the military fosters a sort of intimate relationship between men.

    It is obviously different between the sexes. Neither one is right. They come at it in their own way.

    The Shadowed Knight

  29. flotsam

    I voted the third option: “Intimacy isn’t like that at all- I will explain in the comments”

    To me, intimacy is just “closeness” as opposed to being “distant” or “aloof”. Breaking this down into “physical” and “emotional” aspects tends to open up a can of worms (juxtaposed against postmodern elements of contemporary society). I see this distinction being made resulting from the inherent biological differences between men and women.

    Do not forget that in loving relationships, the bond between mother and child can often be considered strong and therefore also intimate – in contrast with relationships between adult men and women.

  30. Nota bene: I did not read that post or thread at SSM.

    You are making too much of the word “intimacy”. It just means “closeness”; “familiarity” (as in: What the family knows that non-family doesn’t)

    Here’s some non-sexual intimacy from the Bible:

    1 Samuel 17:55 As soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” 56 And the king said, “Inquire whose son the boy is.” 57 And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58 And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

    18:1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

    Jonathan made David family; a fellow son with a prince’s clothes, and a princes armaments. Because of Jonathan’s love, his father adopted David.

    In the modern era, it’s been a favorite pastime of liberal Bible “scholars” to characterize this intimacy between Jonathan and David as homosexual. I think that says more about the spiritual poverty of those scholars than it does about those ancient brothers.

  31. Cane, the problem with trying to explain this lies in the word intimacy, as Sigyn points out. I used the wrong word for the sentiment I was aiming to describe, and haven’t been able to find the right word yet. She suggested “Conjugal”, and that has some strength to it. But it also is associated with marriage, whereas I was trying to get to the base matter: the deep connection which a man and woman can share through physical connectivity and emotional connectivity. Essentially, the word to describe the associative perceptions/relationship one has with a “lover.”

  32. @DG

    She suggested “Conjugal”, and that has some strength to it. But it also is associated with marriage, whereas I was trying to get to the base matter: the deep connection which a man and woman can share through physical connectivity and emotional connectivity. Essentially, the word to describe the associative perceptions/relationship one has with a “lover.”

    Sigyn’s response is pretty good; though I would probably have used the word “cleaved”.

    My suspicion is that you’re trying to find a positive word for eros, or lust; except you don’t want it to be lust because lust sounds bad…which is sensible of you, in a convoluted way.

    Closeness in Christian marriage is well-described as “my sister, my bride”. It is intimate, strengthening, and overflowing; not maddening, or consuming.

  33. Eros is close to the word that I am looking for. But not quite. Maybe instead Erotic? Of course, that sounds bad to the ears, and probably justifiably so.

    I do believe that there is something positive about this kind of sentiment, or at least, there can be. For Christians, we understand its place is in marriage. I think there is some deep longing which conjugal relations will satisfy. Maybe it is Eros after all…

    Or perhaps it is simply a desire to “cleave” to a member of the opposite sex, and be (feel?) complete.

    Oi. I am feeling like one of the blind philosophers trying to describe the elephant right now.

  34. I know this is an old thread now, but have been pondering this. I think that, intimacy also involves some form of privacy or seclusion. Not secret, just, well, OK I guess I don’t know – confined somehow and yet completely without boundaries between those involved. Meh – I can’t get the thought out.

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