Intimacy Is Not About Sex .. And It Is
"So, did you nail her?"
If you're a heterosexual guy in American culture, I'd be shocked if you haven't heard some version of this question. The question is loaded, of course. It's a clear question of a guy's manhood. If you had sex, you're cool. If not, you're a "pussy" or a "fag" or some equally immature, hateful term.
(Not to mention, if the guy in that photo above actually nailed the woman he's with, she'd be broken and the light would go out. These aren't just metaphors.)
That question is most likely to have been asked in your teens or twenties, when it's expected that men will be hyper focused on racking up sexual conquests. Having lived through those testosterone-filled years, I can say that was one of the biggest social pressures a guy faces from "his boys", so there's a ton of focus on sex through that lens.
Sadly, and to the detriment of so many relationships, I believe that most men never move too far away from that understanding of sex. It's how, for many, they define intimacy.
That's a shame and shame sucks, so let's explore this a bit more.
What Intimacy Is Not
Sex. Intimacy is not (just) sex. The dictionary actually considered intimacy to be a euphemism for sex, which says a lot.
Now I realize this may be obvious to some, but intimacy is not exclusively about sex. In fact, there are several ways to build intimacy into your relationships that don't involve getting naked.
By the way guys, when you have built these other layers of intimacy, the getting naked part is WAY more fun. Just sayin'...
Intimacy Is Sex
Yes. Intimacy sometimes includes sex, which is literally the way to be as close as possible to another human being. There's way more to it, though.
(h/t to this terrific article for helping me articulate it)
Let's go through the list...
Yeah, I started with the hardest one, guys. But it's also usually the most difficult one for men. It's no wonder - we've been bullied for so long by our culture, which encourages us to disown the emotions that lead to intimate connection. Being tender, caring, and responsive have somehow become "unmanly", yet they are essential to creating close, personal connection with another person.
Science agrees. According to popular studies noted in Psychology Today, we need emotional closeness (emphasis below added by me) to thrive! You do want to thrive, not just survive, don't you??
It is only in the last 20 years that we recognize that infants need to be held and touched. We know that they cannot grow--they literally fail to thrive--unless they experience physical and emotional closeness with another human being. What we often don't realize is that that need for connection never goes away. It goes on throughout life. And in its absence, symptoms develop--from the angry acting out of the adolescent boys I saw, to depression, addiction, and illness.
Take a deep breath, guys. This one is probably a lot easier. (See? You can do this.)
We feel close to others when we know that we can engage with them in dialogue in ways that we challenge each other. We can passionately discuss a topic from our viewpoint while allowing them to have theirs, knowing that neither has to be "right", yet still feeling safe to reveal our core feelings on the matter.
This is, by the way, the exact opposite of the "mansplaining" behavior that drives women absolutely, fucking crazy. Try staying smart and passionate, while not having to be right, and see if that creates more closeness for you with your partner. (It will.)
Remember a time when you and a romantic partner got lost or had to go through some sort of shenanigans to get out of a situation? Of course you do! You were together during an encounter that felt charged up. That is experiential intimacy.
Being "in this together" is a fantastic way to deepen your connection with a partner. It's actually one of the easiest - and most fun ways - to do it, too. Know why? Because it's all about sharing, which means you only have to do part of the work! Go ahead and take care of all of the treats you want to have when you reach the summit, but have your partner come up with the plan for the hike itself. Boom - you've built an adventure that will lead to greater intimacy.
This one might not be what you think - and it might. Sure, this could have a religious aspect to it, if that's an important part of who you are. But for those who aren't inclined in that direction, there are numerous other ways to engage your spirit. Here are just a few things you might share with a partner to tap into this aspect of intimacy:
Sitting together silently in a favorite place in nature
Having a conversation about what you each want to achieve in your lives
Sharing a piece of music or writing that really strikes you (and telling her how & why)
Seeking out opportunities to laugh together, because laughter is a spiritual pursuit
Ugh, That's So Much - Why Bother?
Hey, I get it. This stuff seems so, so .... soft, though.
(Remember that whole part about being bullied out of honoring our human need for intimacy? That's what's showing up for you right now. Stay with me for another minute.)
Here's what I'm after, guys, why I'm writing this. I learned about this stuff way later than I wished I had. As a result, I avoided developing the skills for intimate relationships for most of my life. I figured I could just continue hiding behind the facade of what "men are supposed to be like". So I did.
And I suffered.
I spent years in a marriage that was distant and painful, before losing it altogether. I lost out on years of connection with family members. I lost friendships. I got depressed. I felt like my life sucked. (It did.)
This is a choice, men. The consequence of ignoring intimacy, of not developing the skills (and they are skills, not magic), ends up being a series of upsetting outcomes in your life.
So to the men who are reading this, I encourage you to be braver than most men. Screw the "did you nail her?" narrative and embrace intimacy. It might even lead you to a better sex life. ; )
Jim Young is a writer, a coach, a comedian, and a Dad. He lives, increasingly more intimately all the time, in Western Massachusetts where he runs his intimate little business, The Centered Coach. And in November, Jim brings to bear a form of intimacy not even named in this article. (It's called "Pie Intimacy".)
Jim's life work is to help men live a more fulfilling life, a big part of which involves helping them embrace living life with more intimacy. He teaches those seemingly elusive skills in a variety of settings.