Relationships are not just about sex. Sex is just one important part of the multifaceted entity that is a relationship. Some may choose not to engage in sex due to religious reasons, past experiences, one’s sexuality, medical conditions or really anything at all —writing a sex column without acknowledging this is doing a disservice.
In modernity, it's a common societal belief that people in relationships ought to be having sex in whatever form it may take. While sex may be over-exalted in certain cases, what is often ignored in discussing relationships is the idea of intimacy.
Intimacy is defined as “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group” by Dictionary.com. It has been proven that humans crave fulfilling relationships, both platonic and romantic, and we generally need to have these connections to feel content. Intimacy in relationships provides the relational closeness we have evolved to desire.
There are many different types of intimacy including, but not limited to, platonic, emotional, sexual and physical. Intimacy may be sexual, but intimacy is evident in many other areas of relationships besides sex. Certain relationships will have different types of intimacy. For example, you may express platonic and emotional intimacy to your best friend while you express physical and emotional intimacy with your partner(s).
Different people express intimacy and affection in different ways. One partner may enjoy physical intimacy such as holding hands or cuddling. Another may prefer emotional intimacy such as having meaningful discussion and connecting with their partner(s). An important thing to note when discussing intimacy is that each type is not mutually exclusive. Many people enjoy multiple types of intimacy. All of these forms of expression are valid, and it's important to discuss with your partner if they are not fulfilling the type of intimacy you prefer.
Intimate relationships can be cultivated in a myriad of non-sexual different ways — these may include sharing hobbies or interests with your partner(s), simply spending time with your partner(s), making efforts to openly and honestly communicate with someone and non-sexual touch. The key factor in all of these is that they take time and effort in order to cultivate.
I believe intimacy is what defines a relationship. Getting to know someone on a deeper level and making an effort to intimately connect with them is what sets romantic relationships apart from platonic ones. Intimacy ensures security in relationships and lends to the growth of partners as individuals as well as within their relationships. Showing the vulnerability and openness requires for intimacy is not a sign of weakness and can actually help contribute to your overall well-being in the long run.
It's important to think of intimacy as a dynamic quality and not a trait of a relationship. This means thinking of intimacy as being developed and consistently worked for over a long period of time and not something that is there at the onset of a relationship. Intimacy is a reflection of the amount of closeness a person may value, not things such as extroversion or amount of time people spend together.
Intimacy is all about communication. Some partners may want different levels of intimacy or have different prenotions as to how they define intimacy. It's important to talk to your partner(s) about what intimacy means to you, how you express it and how you would like them to express it.
For people who do are unable to have penetrative sex or for people who identify as asexual, intimacy is a valid option when individuals want to feel close to their partner(s). It's a common misconception that people with disabilities and those who identify as asexual are uninterested in many aspects of relationships. In reality, anyone can value intimacy regardless of their ability status or sexuality.
In relationships where people engage in sexual activity and in those in which partners do not, intimacy is important in establishing a connection between partners. Cultivating these connections helps bring depth to relationships and helps partners develop as individuals and as a unit. Intimacy helps partners realize how important they are to each other and leads to sustainable, loving, fulfilling and healthy relationships that may last a lifetime.
Edited by Siena DeBolt | firstname.lastname@example.org