Are Sex and Intimacy the Same Thing?

We often use the word intimacy as a stand-in when we’re talking about sex. But if you are in a close relationship, married or not, you probably realize that they are not exactly the same thing.

All of us have the capacity to be intimate with family members or dear friends, even though those relationships aren’t sexual. And we know that sex in a loveless marriage, or any sex act we perform out of duty, will lack any sense of intimacy. So what is the heart-to-heart connection that allows us to feel we are actually intimate with one another?

I would define intimacy as the state of feeling heard and seen by another, believing that our loved one really “gets” us. We feel comfortable revealing ourselves, warts and all. When we are intimate, each of us knows what makes the other angry, sad, happy, scared or sexually stimulated. No topic is off-limits, and we don’t have to hide behind masks. We do this openly for each other, letting ourselves be visible and known.


In the get-to-know-each-other stage of an intimate friendship or love affair, we engage in a lot of revealing conversation. There is a joy in finding out about the other. We find out how we are alike, marveling at the things we have in common. We also discover our difference and find those traits just as fascinating. Throughout this process of learning, we share how we feel about nearly everything.

Once the friendship or the marriage is established, everyday concerns seem to take over: Did you clean the litter box? Have you called your mom? How did you do on those tests? But if a couple wants to enjoy true intimacy, they will also ask: Do you mind cleaning the litter box? Would you prefer that I do it, or could we take turns? How are you feeling about the tests you took?  Want to talk about it?


If both partners are coming home after long, stressful days, it’s often the case that one will hit the couch and grab the TV remote while the other takes something out of the fridge for dinner. They may eat together silently, later returning to TV or tablets or smartphones. Before bed, they may have sex. But where is the intimacy?

This couple will feel much closer if one partner comes over and cuddles on the couch while they both watch TV, or if one says, “Let’s go for a walk as soon as you’re through with the dishes”. One of them could ask the other, “How are you feeling about the trouble at work you were telling me about?” Or they could make plans for the weekend.

If you try this new approach, your partner may be crabby or quiet at first. Don’t give up! Show concern and genuine interest. Ask more questions that begin with “What’s happening with…?” or “How are you feeling about…?”

When the person you care about shows that he or she cares about you, things change for the better. Small expressions of interest and caring conversations are what build intimacy. It takes time. Try to make a point of adding these actions into your everyday life. Intimacy needs to be tended like a living thing, and when you make the effort, your relationship will bloom.

Need help communicating with each other and fostering a sense of closeness that will create a stronger bond between you? As an experienced therapist helping couples throughout the Las Vegas area, I am ready to show you how. To schedule a conversation in my offices, get in touch with me today.



Psychology Today