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.
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Why You Should Disclose Your STI Status to Your Partners
In the vibrant city of Kumasi, Ghana, a tale of love, honesty, and courage unfolded. Meet Ama, a compassionate and determined young woman, and Kwame, a kind-hearted and understanding man. Their love story was one that transcended barriers, as they learned the importance of disclosing their STI status to each other.
As their relationship blossomed, Ama found the strength to open up to Kwame about her STI status. She understood that this conversation was crucial for the well-being and trust within their relationship. With a pounding heart and a sense of vulnerability, Ama mustered the courage to disclose her status, unsure of how Kwame would react.
To her relief, Kwame listened attentively, appreciating Ama’s honesty and her courage to share such a sensitive matter. He assured her that he respected her openness and cared deeply for her well-being. Together, they embraced the importance of transparency and understanding in their relationship.
Recognizing the significance of this conversation, Ama and Kwame embarked on a journey of learning and understanding. They sought guidance from healthcare professionals who provided them with accurate information about the specific STI, its transmission, and the necessary precautions to maintain their sexual health.
With newfound knowledge, Ama and Kwame fostered open lines of communication about their sexual health and desires. They acknowledged that disclosing one’s STI status not only promoted trust and respect but also allowed them to make informed decisions about their intimate lives.
Ama and Kwame understood that their journey would involve taking necessary precautions to ensure their sexual health and prevent the transmission of the STI. They diligently followed the guidance provided by healthcare professionals, including the use of barrier methods and regular check-ups.
Their journey was not without challenges, but they faced them together with unwavering support and understanding. Ama and Kwame recognized that their love extended beyond physical intimacy, and their commitment to each other grew stronger through the trials they faced.
Through their experience, Ama and Kwame learned that disclosing one’s STI status is not only an act of responsibility but also an act of love. It fosters an environment of trust, empathy, and support within a relationship. They discovered that honest communication and education were powerful tools that could strengthen their bond and deepen their connection.
As their love story continued to unfold, Ama and Kwame became advocates for sexual health within their community. They shared their experience and knowledge, encouraging others to have open and honest conversations about their sexual health with their partners.
And so, dear reader, the story of Ama and Kwame teaches us that love and honesty go hand in hand. It reminds us of the importance of disclosing our STI status to our partners, as it fosters trust, respect, and responsible decision-making within our relationships. In the vibrant city of Kumasi, Ama and Kwame celebrated their love, empowered by their openness and the unbreakable bond they had formed.
How to Cope With (and Fix) Vaginal Dryness-Naa’s Story
In the serene coastal town of Cape Coast, Ghana, a tale of love and resilience unfolded. Meet Naa, a vibrant and compassionate woman, and Kwame, her devoted partner. Their love story was one of unwavering support and a shared determination to navigate the challenges they faced, including the delicate issue of vaginal dryness.
As time passed, Naa began to experience vaginal dryness, a condition that not only affected her physically but also had an impact on their intimate moments. Sensing Naa’s discomfort, Kwame approached the situation with empathy and a deep desire to find a solution that would allow their love to flourish.
With open hearts and a commitment to their relationship, Naa and Kwame embarked on a journey of understanding and exploration. They recognized that vaginal dryness could be caused by various factors, including hormonal changes, stress, certain medications, and even certain hygiene products.
Together, they sought advice from healthcare professionals who specialized in women’s health. They learned about the various treatment options available, such as lubricants, moisturizers, and hormone therapies. Naa, supported by Kwame’s unwavering presence, sought medical guidance to address any underlying causes contributing to her condition.
In addition to medical interventions, Naa and Kwame discovered the power of open communication. They fostered an environment where discussing their desires, fears, and concerns surrounding intimacy was not only accepted but encouraged. They explored the importance of foreplay, embracing longer periods of arousal and engaging in sensual activities that nurtured their emotional connection.
Naa and Kwame also embarked on a journey of self-discovery. They learned about the power of self-care, embracing practices that nurtured Naa’s overall well-being. They prioritized stress reduction techniques such as meditation, exercise, and engaging in activities they both enjoyed. This allowed Naa to reclaim her sensual identity, free from the pressures that accompanied vaginal dryness.
As they navigated the complexities of vaginal dryness together, Naa and Kwame discovered that their love was not solely defined by physical intimacy. They realized that emotional connection, trust, and open communication were the pillars that held their relationship strong.
Naa and Kwame explored the beauty of intimacy beyond traditional notions. They embraced the power of touch, focusing on sensual massages, extended periods of foreplay, and finding pleasure in exploring new erogenous zones. They learned to be patient with one another, acknowledging that vulnerability and understanding were vital elements in overcoming the challenges they faced.
With time, patience, and a deep commitment to their love, Naa and Kwame found solace in the fact that they were not alone on this journey. They discovered that there is no shame in seeking support or guidance, as they realized that many couples face similar challenges.
And so, dear reader, the story of Naa and Kwame teaches us that love conquers all obstacles. It reminds us that addressing and coping with vaginal dryness requires patience, understanding, and a shared commitment to exploring new avenues of intimacy. In the picturesque town of Cape Coast, Naa and Kwame celebrated their love, embracing the beauty of their connection and the strength they found in facing challenges together.
Prostate Cancer: What It Means for Your Sex Life
In the quiet neighborhood of Osu, nestled in the heart of Accra, Ghana, a love story unfolded, weaving together the delicate strands of devotion, resilience, and the unwavering spirit of two souls. Meet Kofi and Akua, a couple whose love stood tall in the face of adversity as they navigated the impact of prostate cancer on their sex life.
Kofi, a kind-hearted and strong-willed man, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, sending shockwaves through their once blissful existence. Akua, a pillar of strength and unwavering support, stood by his side, ready to face the challenges that lay ahead.
As Kofi embarked on his journey of treatment and recovery, both he and Akua realized that their love was not confined to physical intimacy alone. They understood that their connection ran far deeper, rooted in a bond forged by shared dreams, trust, and unwavering companionship.
In the intimate moments of vulnerability, Kofi and Akua openly discussed the impact of prostate cancer on their sex life. They shed tears, shared fears, and explored the options available to them. They sought advice from medical professionals who specialized in cancer care, learning about the potential side effects of treatment and the strategies to navigate them.
Through their research and candid conversations, Kofi and Akua discovered that prostate cancer treatment might cause changes in sexual function, including erectile dysfunction and decreased libido. Armed with knowledge, they embarked on a journey to find new ways to connect and experience pleasure.
They explored the power of communication and trust, recognizing that open dialogue was key to understanding each other’s needs and desires. They learned to embrace the changes and limitations imposed by the illness, finding solace in the knowledge that love transcends physicality.
Kofi and Akua delved into the realm of intimacy, discovering alternative avenues of pleasure and connection. They explored sensual touch, engaged in passionate kisses, and discovered the beauty of emotional intimacy. They embraced the power of non-sexual acts of love, realizing that affection, understanding, and emotional support were the building blocks of their relationship.
They sought guidance from sexual health professionals who specialized in assisting couples affected by cancer. With their support, Kofi and Akua learned techniques to enhance pleasure, utilizing aids and devices that could bring them closer together.
As their journey unfolded, Kofi and Akua discovered a newfound depth to their love. Their intimate moments became a testament to their resilience, strength, and the power of unwavering support. They found solace in the understanding that love is not defined by physical abilities alone but by the profound emotional connection they shared.
And so, dear reader, the story of Kofi and Akua reminds us that love can triumph over adversity. It teaches us that while prostate cancer may pose challenges to a couple’s sex life, it is an opportunity to explore alternative forms of connection and deepen the bond that holds them together. In the vibrant neighborhood of Osu, Kofi and Akua proved that love is not defined by the presence or absence of physical intimacy, but by the unwavering support and unwavering commitment to stand by each other’s side through life’s trials.