When you think of the word “intimacy,” you may assume it means sexual relationships. But while one can boost the other, one doesn’t necessarily include the other. Intimacy on its own involves trust, acceptance, and an emotional connection with another person. Intimate partners care for one another and are unafraid to share thoughts, desires, and vulnerabilities.
In addition to romantic partners, you can have intimate relationships with friends, family members, and other people in your life.
Even without sex, intimacy can provide many physical and mental health benefits. “There has to be an evolutionary reason why people maintain paired bonding and intimacy when there is no sex involved. Indeed, we have found that there are biological advantages of being a dyad over an individual,” says Michael Krychman, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist based in Southern California and also a clinical health professor at the University of California, Irvine.
Does Intimacy Always Involve Sex? And What’s the Difference?
The lines can get blurred at times, but you can have intimacy without sex and vice versa. “Intimacy is more of an emotional connection rather than a physical connection,” explains Dr. Krychman, who is a co-author of The Sexual Spark. “As relationships increase in duration and [partners increase in] age, the sexual frequency may decline, but intimacy may increase.” But while sex and intimacy are different, they are interrelated, he adds. “They go hand in hand. Some partners need to feel loved and cared for to be [sexually] intimate, and some need to perform sexually to demonstrate that they love and care.”
What Are the Different Types of Intimacy?
It’s important to understand that there are four key forms of intimacy, says Krychman:
Physical, which means being in the same place at the same time and spending quality time together, like on a date night.
Emotional, which means sharing emotions and thoughts and connecting on a feeling level.
Sensual, which means physical touch and pleasure and other ways to physically connect that don’t involve sexual acts, such as hugging and kissing.
Sexual, which includes vaginal or anal sex, oral sex, and other forms of sexual contact.
Everyone is different, and we all desire these different forms of intimacy to varying degrees in our relationships, he says.
The Health Benefits of Intimacy: Less Stress, Better Sex
Intimacy, in all its forms, has a variety of health benefits for body and mind, experts say. Here’s a look at some of the different ways that intimacy can improve daily living.
Intimacy Helps You Reduce Stress and Stay Healthy
Chronic stress can cause a host of health complications, such as insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure, cardiac events, a weakened immune system, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease, among others. “When you are in a constant state of fight-or-flight, you use up a lot of necessary nutrients needed to maintain health. Intimacy helps reduce the stress and panic so that your body can replenish itself and maintain a good immune system,” says Barbara D. Bartlik, MD, a psychiatrist and sex therapist who works with Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.
Intimacy Counters Loneliness and Reduces Risk of Mortality
Social isolation is linked with increased morbidity and mortality, according to one study (1), while another study found that in addition to higher mortality, loneliness can also impair executive functioning, sleep, and mental and physical well-being. (2)
“If you feel complimented, loved, and appreciated, that all contributes to good health. If you feel alone, isolated, stressed, abused, or taken advantage of, that has a negative effect on your health,” explains Dr. Bartlik, who is a coauthor of Integrative Sexual Health.
Intimacy Fuels a Better Sex Life
While sex isn’t necessary to achieve intimacy, intimacy can often lead to a better sex life, which in itself has health benefits. Your experience of sex will improve because you will be unafraid to express (and receive) what you desire, and willing and open to hear and care for your partner’s needs as well. The trust will allow both of you to grow and try new things that might enhance your relationship.
The Health Benefits of Sexual Intimacy
The act of having sex can lead to many positive changes in the body, such as boosting oxytocin (known as the “cuddle hormone”), says Krychman. A healthy sex life may also affect your immune system and blood pressure, lessen pain, and help you sleep better, he adds. In fact, orgasm alone can reduce blood pressure by releasing oxytocin, notes Bartlik. “It has a calming effect that can last a few days,” she explains. Sex is also a form of exercise, notes Krychman, which in itself has many health benefits.
Intimacy Can Benefit Your Mental Health
When you’re intimate with another person, you get a mental boost too. “Studies show that men who are deprived of intimacy get angry and women get depressed. Your hormone levels, especially oxytocin, actually change when you touch or are touched by someone, or share an intimate act such as decision-making,” says Krychman. “If you are connected in a loving relationship, you have more of the happy hormones (like dopamine),” he adds.
Intimacy and Emotional Support Strengthen You
If you are upset about something, you often feel comforted by discussing these issues with a close, empathetic companion or therapist. “When you feel supported, you can begin to overcome a certain amount of emotional pain and start the healing process,” says Krychman.
Plus, emotional insensitivity can weaken you. “If you encounter a lack of empathy or humiliation from someone you trust, it can exacerbate your pain and retraumatize you. You may then withdraw or avoid intimate relationships, which can make depression or anxiety worse,” says Bartlik.
Online Intimacy: Can You Cultivate Intimacy Virtually?
While many feel that the explosion of online and smartphone technology has limited social intimacy, research shows the opposite. (3) While the internet cannot simulate all aspects of intimate exchanges, there are many ways you can enact certain aspects of intimacy, says Anna M. Lomanowska, PhD, the founder and director of the Digital Well-Being Lab who is based in Toronto and who has studied the phenomenon.
“A basic definition of intimacy is the sharing of what is personal and private. From this perspective, actual face-to-face contact is not necessarily required to experience a sense of intimacy,” Dr. Lomanowska says. “While we do know that human touch and other nonverbal cues play a very special role in promoting greater intimacy between individuals, individuals who know each other offline can also easily use the internet for intimate exchanges, which can reinforce their face-to-face contact.
“We see this in the context of personal text messages we send to loved ones, where we have a particular way of expressing ourselves with certain individuals, [certain] phrases or emoticons only the other person fully understands. And of course it’s easy to feel closer to others while keeping in touch via Skype or Facetime,” she says.
But a healthy balance of face-to-face interactions alongside online interactions is important, adds Lomanowska. “In my opinion, the internet can be a great tool that can promote intimacy in relationships through various applications, but it certainly cannot replace all aspects of human intimacy,” she says.
6 Steps to Achieving True Intimacy With Another Person
According to Cheryl A. MacDonald, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in San Diego and the author of Health Psychology for Everyday Life, there are several ways to build trust and achieve intimacy. These include:
Be honest. Trust is the bedrock for all true intimacy.
Strive for mutual and considerate communication. When your partner or friend speaks, be fully present, not doing grocery lists in your head (or on your phone). When you speak, use declarative sentences that describe your perspective rather than assign blame (“I feel … ,” not “You always … !”).
Remember that intimacy takes time. It’s not something you can download an app for. You have to spend time together, slowly getting to know and feel comfortable with each other.
Give each other room to breathe. Everyone needs alone time and space to process life. Don’t think if you aren’t together every second that something is wrong.
Have fun together. Not every encounter has to be intensely meaningful or serious.
Accept your partner, accept yourself. No one is perfect. You can’t get close to someone if you are negatively judging them or yourself.
Is It Possible to Have Intimacy While Practicing Celibacy and Abstinence?
You don’t have to be in an exclusive relationship to experience intimacy. “You can be intimate with your friends, or with multiple sexual partners,” says Krychman. If you are in a relationship but are uninterested in or unable to have sex, you can still reap the benefits of intimacy, he adds. “Sex is a physical act. Intimacy is emotional. For example, men who can’t get an erection after extensive cancer can be intimate both emotionally and physically,” he explains.
Do you or any of your friends have similar stories? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org!
11 Reasons You’re Crying During Sex
Picture this: You’re getting hot and heavy—the sex is good, maybe even great. But suddenly, you’re getting a little wet in an unexpected place. Yep, you’re crying. You don’t feel sad, though. So, what’s going on?
The truth is, shedding a few (or many) tears during intimacy isn’t uncommon. After the fact, you might feel embarrassed or confused, but there are actually many reasons for the waterworks. “Usually, if we start crying during sex, we try to immediately shut it down, like ‘What the eff is happening?’ or, ‘I shouldn’t be crying right now—my partner is going to be so uncomfortable,’ or, ‘What is wrong with me?’” says Rachel Wright, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York City. “While it may not be your favorite way to engage in sex, crying is totally normal.”
Although crying is typically perceived as a sign of sadness, in reality, it’s your body saying “too much!” of any emotion—be it joy, fear, happiness, or pain, says Laura McGuire, MEd, a sexologist in Florida. Wright actually calls crying “emotional sweating.” But like sweating, tears sometimes pour out unexpectedly.
If your partner seems confused about why you’re crying, “being honest is the best policy,” says Sara Nasserzadeh, PhD, a psychosexual therapist in Palo Alto, California and co-author of Orgasm Answer Guide. Yep, that means opening up about what you think triggered those tears.
But what if you have no idea where they’re coming from? Below, experts explain the most common reasons you’re crying during sex—and what to do if your partner’s the one tearing up.
1. You’re dealing with hormonal changes.
Whether you’re on your period, undergoing fertility treatment, or pregnant, you know hormonal spikes, dips, and shifts can trigger a waterfall. And that’s the case whether you’re watching a dog adoption commercial or spread-eagle in bed, says Nasserzadeh.
Hormones can lead to involuntary emotional responses. But if you’re interested in continuing to have sex—and just worried about how these tears might make your partner feel—you can disclose that you’re going through hormonal changes once the waterworks start. This can sound like “I’m not crying because it’s sad, I’m crying because it was that good,” or “I’m crying because I have a lot of hormone things going on right now, and when it comes down to pleasure and orgasms, this is part of how it expresses itself,” says Donna Oriowo, PhD, LCSW, a certified sex and relationship therapist and founder of AnnodRight.
2. You’re drunk.
That last cocktail might have given you the liquid courage to ask a crush out, but you can also curse it for lowering the inhibitions that typically keep your emotions close to your chest, Nasserzadeh says.
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Those emotions might not even have anything to do with your partner, or the sex itself. Maybe, the combination of alcohol and sex is making something else, like a deeper trauma or sense of anxiety, bubble to the surface. “[You] may be processing something very different from the sex that [you’re] actually having, and it can release as tears,” says Oriowo.
If your drunk tears feel bad instead of cathartic, try skipping sex while under the influence. And if this is a pattern for you, consider working with a sex therapist to help you sort through the feelings that arise when you drink.
3. You’re really relaxed.
Know why sex can feel so good? Because the rest of the day (or week or month) you’re tense, and the deed forces you to relax.
“When sex is really good and we’re completely relaxed for a few seconds—sometimes minutes—it allows all these things to come out,” McGuire says. It’s the exact same reason you may cry during a massage or yoga class.
“Sometimes, your body just has some things it needs to release,” says Oriowo. “And sometimes, the release happens at a time that we feel is inconvenient or embarrassing. But just because it feels that way, doesn’t mean it’s not needed.”
4. You feel super connected.
“If sex is a way of deep connection with a partner, your body might choose this form of release to communicate your emotions,” says Nasserzadeh.
That’s pretty typical, Wright adds, since sex releases oxytocin, and oxytocin promotes bonding, trust, and empathy. “It’s easy to feel safe [enough] to release emotions that may have been bottled up for whatever reason,” she says.
5. You’re grieving.
If you’re dealing with a loss of any kind, grief can strike anywhere—walking down the sidewalk, during a work meeting, at the supermarket, or in the middle of sex. It goes without saying that it’s normal to cry while grieving, but experiencing grief while also experiencing pleasure can be confusing.
“Sometimes, we seek sex when we’re in a state of grief because we’re craving closeness. We’re craving to be seen, to be held, to be touched, and we’re also craving some sort of pleasure as an escape from pain,” says Oriowo. “But that does not mean you won’t cycle through the grieving process even in that moment.”
Additionally, you may feel a sense of guilt for seeking pleasure while you or those around you are still hurting. Still, grief has no timeline, so the best option is to feel everything as it comes and know that it’s completely normal, she adds.
6. It hurts.
First and foremost: Sex is not supposed to be painful. If you’re crying because you’re experiencing painful sex, that may mean you simply need to slow down and grab some lube. But if it happens frequently, that may signal any number of (treatable) conditions like endometriosis, an infection, or pelvic inflammatory disease. Pain can also occur from scarring due to a previous vaginal delivery or surgery, birth control, allergies, and more. The list of possibilities is long, which is all the more reason to put a pause on sex and reach out to your gynaecologist for a proper diagnosis.
Some forms of treatment can include nerve-regulating medications, pelvic floor therapy, avoiding irritating substances, steroid creams, surgery, or other medications depending on the cause, says Omoikhefe Akhigbe, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN and medical director at Pediatrix Medical Group in Maryland.
7. It hurts so good.
ICYDK, tears can strike due to the type of pain you asked for in the form of (consensual) choking, spanking, slapping, or getting tied up. “Both physical pain and pleasure activate the same part of the brain,” Wright says, “so it’s totally possible to be crying from pain and be enjoying it at the same time.”
If you’re engaging in BDSM, make sure you and your partner set clear boundaries beforehand. This will allow you to talk over likes, dislikes, soft and hard limits, and more. You should also discuss what it looks like when you’re having a good time versus a bad time to help your partner get a sense of what to expect during sex or a scene.
“Communicative work [is required] in order to have successful kink that’s not harmful to the parties involved,” says Oriowo. “Sometimes, the scene leads to processing some emotional things that have happened in the past that can trigger an emotional response.”
Following a scene, it’s also important to practice aftercare in order to regulate and stabilize one another, Oriowo adds. During aftercare, you should take time to ask questions and establish what each of you need mentally, emotionally, and physically. Maybe you need water, a snack, cuddles, alone time, reflection time, or something else. Everyone is different!
8. You’re ashamed or feeling guilty.
Nasserzadeh has worked with women who tell her they’ve cried during sex because they don’t feel like they “deserve” to take a moment to enjoy themselves. “They feel like, as a mother, they should be focusing on their child and not on self-pleasuring,” she says.
PSA, though: You cannot take care of anyone else unless you take care of yourself. “If you’re feeling shame around sex or intimacy in general, and it comes out in the form of tears, it’s a good indicator to explore that shame outside of the bedroom and see what it’s about,” Wright adds.
First, try to figure out the root cause of the shame, and proceed from there. “Shame is not yours. It’s something that’s given to you that then becomes your voice,” says Oriowo. For support, she recommends seeing a therapist and finding a community to lean on when shame flares up. And if you can’t access individualized therapy or a supportive community, you can also try group therapy, journaling, shadow work using online resources and prompts, or even look into therapy-based podcasts.
9. You’re so happy!
Maybe you’ve had a seriously long dry spell, or maybe sex just has never been that fun or enjoyable to you… up until now. “If you’ve never had (or rarely had) satisfying sexual interactions, it might be so wonderful that tears would be a sign of gratitude, joy, or happiness,” Nasserzadeh says. In which case, let ’em flow!
“There can be a hormone rush of dopamine and oxytocin based off intense pleasure, which may result in crying,” adds Oriowo.
10. You’re triggered.
Maybe you’re a survivor of sexual assault, or maybe something a little off happened once that you thought you’d forgotten. Suddenly, an otherwise normal and enjoyable sexual experience transforms into an unexpected trigger. “Trauma gets so deeply embedded in our minds and memory that it’s hard to remember exactly what happened, and something [sex] will bring it up,” McGuire says. Stop having sex if you feel like your brain and body are dissociating, if painful memories are coming up, or you feel out of control, Wright advises.
It’s best to seek out help from a mental health professional if “you’re crying a lot and you’re not able to identify why, or even if it’s once but the feelings that are coming with that are sudden fear or a sudden sense of dread,” McGuire says.
If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for 24-hour support.
11. You don’t feel a connection to your partner.
This one is as simple as it sounds. Maybe you had a casual, spontaneous, hookup with someone you dislike, or maybe you’ve just been going through the motions with your S.O. lately. Either way, if you aren’t psyched about your sexual partner, it’s natural to feel a little less-than-great afterwards, or even mid-act. If you’re having sex for the sake of having sex, or maybe just to boost your self-esteem, you might shed a few tears, Oriowo says.
So, what next? “Chances are, it’s time to end the relationship or there is something else that you are really desperately needing to move through that you have not done yet,” she adds. If you’re not ready to break up, take some time to assess where you are in the relationship and if it’s still serving you in a healthy way.
Talking these kinds of feelings out with a therapist is always useful. If you don’t have access to therapy, you can lean on a friend who you believe is good at remaining unbiased, loving, and honest with you. You can also join free online communities on social media hosted by therapists to get access to therapeutic information that might be helpful.
What should I do if my partner cries during sex?
So maybe you’re not the one crying, but you want to know what you can do the next time your partner cries. The good news is, there are simple, mindful ways to open up a dialogue. If they start crying during sex, stop completely and check in. Oriowo suggests asking them, “Hey, are you okay? What’s going on?” or “Let’s take a breather. What kind of care do you need right now?”
“You want to do whatever it is you can to check in with them, because you want them to feel safe, good, and sane,” says Oriowo. “You want to be able to feed back into a desirability loop that will make them feel like they got good aftercare.” Reassuring your partner that you can pick things back up later on might also be helpful if they’re feeling self-critical.
But most importantly, the stigma around crying during sex is unnecessary, and for many people, a reminder that it’s okay to cry can also make all the difference.
“We give crying a bad rep,” adds Oriowo. “When we want to insult someone, we say they’re being emotional. And when we say that, we’re saying they’re someone that’s incapable of rational thought. So as a society, we have to do a better job of reframing what it means to be emotional.”
Best Natural Lubricants For Dryness And Better Sex, According To Gynecologists And Sexperts
When it comes to pleasure in the bedroom, wetness is a must. That’s where lube comes in. Lubes designed for sex are safe on most vaginas—but not all. If you’re prone to UTIs and irritation down there, you may be better off with a natural lubricant.
In regular lubes, some ingredients used to create the scents, warming capabilities, and flavors can affect people with skin sensitivities more than others. “Natural lubricants, [on the other hand,] are safe from perfumes, glycerin, and propylene glycol, thus harmless to people with sensitive skin,” says Barbara Santini, psychologist and sex and relationship adviser at Dimepiece LA.
Some edible natural lubricants—like olive oil—can also make oral sex more pleasurable than regular lube, according to Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, founder of Luvbites and professor of relational and sexual communication at California State University, Fullerton. “Edible oils are great for oral,” she says. “[Most] people don’t think they should add lube for oral, but [the experience] is significantly better for men and women.”
But what does natural mean?
Don’t over think it. Natural is just what it sounds like.”When people use the word ‘natural’ [to describe lube], it means its ingredients are from the Earth,” Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn says. Natural is somewhat of a catch-all when it comes to lube, but it usually means water-based (or another natural product like aloe or vitamin E), and free of any chemicals.
However, it’s important to note that you don’t need any type of certification to pass a lube off as natural, so the word can sometimes be misleading, Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn says. “[When shopping for a lube,] I look for organic and natural because that means 90 percent of the ingredients are from the Earth,” Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn says.
Is natural lube the same as organic?
No, but they do get confused. In order to differentiate between a “natural” and “organic” lube, it comes down to the ingredients in each and whether they’ve been certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Organic lubes are made from certified ingredients, while natural ones are not. To be truly organic, a lube’s ingredients can’t interact with any chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers, and GMOs.
That said, some natural and organic lubes can still be tricky for your genitals and include ingredients that you’ll want to avoid. Take petroleum jelly or mineral oil, for example—they can up your risk of developing bacterial vaginosis or other vaginal infections, says Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist in New York.
“Having safe, personal lube can customize sexual pleasure and heighten the bedroom experience,” Santini says. That’s why she’s a fan of this aloe-based one. The water-based lube feels like the real thing. Plus, the 95 percent-natural aloe in this lube has a soothing feel on skin. It was formulated to moisturize and absorb into vaginal tissue, as opposed to simply creating an oily barrier that eventually washes off.
Sliquid’s natural line is made from ingredients that are organic, vegan, and hypoallergenic. Santini points out that the products also lack scent or taste, so you don’t have to worry about any irritation from fragrances. If that’s not enough, they’re also safe to use with condoms.
If you feel like your go-to synthetic lube can sometimes feel clumpy after prolonged use, or tends to thicken the more you apply, make the switch to Naked Silk, says Sherry A. Ross, MD, gynecologist and author of She-ology and She-ology. The She-quel. Let’s Continue the Conversation. “This water-based lube feels smooth, silky, and slippery to the touch,”—no matter how much you use. “Women [especially] like the fact it doesn’t feel like you are using a lubricant,” she adds.
If you’re looking for a lube that mimics your natural environment, women-owned company, Dame, designed this product to match the natural pH of the vagina. The lube is aloe-based and made with natural plant ingredients, like mushroom extract, which promotes blood flow. The site also boasts that the bottle is small enough for one-handed pumping—just in case your other is *cough* tied up at the moment.
This lube is plant-oil based (vegetable and olive oil) and is free of glycerin, fragrance, parabens, flavorings, alcohol, and hormones, says Amir Marashi, MD, gynecologist and surgical director of the New York Center for Aesthetic Rejuvenation. The tube is small, but a little goes a long way, customers say.
Here are the facts: It all comes down to ingredients. The fewer ingredients, the more natural the lube. “In general, both natural and organic lubricants do not contain those extra non-pure additives, including synthetic chemicals, dyes, preservatives, artificial fragrances, and other toxins,” says Dr. Ross.
Are there any DIY lube alternatives you should avoid?
Most DIY lube alternatives are safe to try as long as you aren’t using them on a vagina. You should avoid experimenting with DIY lubes if you are using condoms to avoid any risk of breaking down their material, Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn says. You also shouldn’t mix any substances with store-bought lube because you never know how the materials will interact with each other. Here are some specific DIY alternatives you should avoid.
Aloe Vera, Vitamin E, Coconut Oil
These natural alternatives to manufactured lube can be great, but you shouldn’t use them if you are also using condoms. The substances can break down a condom’s material, making it more likely to break.
You should avoid using mint oil as any kind of vaginal lubricant. “First, the pH [can mess with the vagina’s balance],” Dr Suwinyattichaiporn says. “It could also heavily irritate the inside of the vaginal wall because of [its] strong, almost spicy, feeling .”
Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn says you should avoid using CBD oil vaginally, especially when mixing it with another lubricant, without extensive research first. “We don’t know how the lube that you’re using is interacting with the CBD,” she says. “You don’t want them to interact in a negative way and then put it inside your vagina.”
For a general rule of thumb, Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn recommends vagina owners look for lubes that are natural, organic, scent-free, and paraben-free to avoid messing with your pH balance. If you do want to use CBD oil as a lubricant, look for one that’s specifically marketed for that use.
If you have a vagina, you probably should steer clear of essential oils. They might not do any harm depending on the ingredients, but it isn’t worth the risk.
“Each type of essential oil has different properties and a different pH level,” Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn says. “Some of them can throw off the pH in your vagina and cause the culture to change.” However, essential oils are safe to use during oral sex with a penis or anal sex, she adds.
How To Find Your G-Spot So You Can Have The Strongest Orgasms Ever
The G-spot might sound like a place where you go to gather with your girls, or a fun new club. But actually, it’s an erogenous zone located inside the vaginal canal—and a hotly debated one at that.
“There’s a lot of mystery around the G-spot because of different hypotheses as to what it is, where it is, and why it exists,” says Shannon Chavez Qureshiz, PsyD, CST, a licensed psychologist and sex therapist based in Beverly Hills. But put simply, the G-spot is a swatch of sensitive tissue composed of a bundle of nerves, she says.
During masturbation or partnered sex, “when that area is pressed on, it can feel good because it is connected to the internal anatomy of the clitoris and surrounding organs,” Chavez Qureshiz adds. Key word here: can.
Some people might stumble across their G-spot and have a life-changing experience. Others, meanwhile, may feel no more pleasure than they would having their elbow rubbed. “While some people experience full-body orgasms at the hand of G-spot stimulation, other people do not find the zone to be an erogenous one,” says Jessica O’Reilly, PhD, a sexologist and host of the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast.
But whether or not G-spot stimulation ends up being your jam, “exploring your body can remind you that you’re in charge of your own pleasure,” says Chavez Qureshiz. In other words, orgasm or not, there’s no harm in a little G-spot exploration.