Category Archives: Intimacy

When Sex and Intimacy Got a Divorce

As far as I can recall, the separation began in the 1960s. Women’s liberation was making its mark. Women took off their bras, declared that they were more than their bodies, and demanded true equality in the workplace and at home. These were wonderful truths and wonderful goals. Women were ready to move from a norm where sex was a male prerogative and they were simply there to please the men they married. We were ready to move away from the imbalance of power between the sexes. Again, a very good goal.

The difficulty with any social change is that to change we focus on the extremes. The horror, the injustice, moves us to fix the problem. What is lost in the process is the fact that most of us do not live on the extremes; our lives are more normal than that. So, while the stated norm was that sex was a male prerogative there were always men and women who were eager to satisfy each other’s sexual needs and recognized that their own pleasure was enhanced by pleasing their partner (whether opposite sex partner or same sex partner). In reality, just as it is today, the balance of power was not a giant divide, but a place where control shifts from side and side and where each member has responsibility for the actions they take. Men are not always the enemy, women are not always the victims; we all make choices and our choices have consequences that impact us in the moment and in our futures.

While it may seem I have digressed, I hope you will now see the connection. The focus on the extremes led us, I think, to a new extreme – to a place where the norm is that sex is an activity one can engage in solely for pleasure, divorced from intimacy. Early on in the separation process, I began to hear of the “three date rule” (you have sex by the third date or you stop dating that person). Now, of course, there are apps where you simply pick a person based on their looks, “hook up”, and resume your life as it was before the act of fulfilling your need for physical pleasure. In sessions, I meet men and women who feel embarrassed that they want more from sex than that; they want to feel a connection.   I think the embarrassment stems from the shift to this new extreme and the fact that our focus became intercourse (sex) rather than sexuality.

Sexuality involves intimacy. It involves familiarity with the other person, knowledge of and an understanding of that person, a feeling of affection for them, and at its deepest level, a feeling of love for them. Sexuality is a term that encompasses values, body image, sense of self, and self-respect, as well as intercourse. This broader definition brings trust, caring, concern, warmth, and connection back into the equation.

Our power – our control over our bodies and our lives – lies in our sexuality, not in our ability to have sex without intimacy. It lies in our ability to trust our partner, to know that they are looking out for our pleasure (as we are looking out for theirs). It lies in our willingness to be vulnerable – because vulnerability in a trusting relationship allows us to not only be genuine, but to move out of our comfort zone and to grow. Our power lies in our ability to give consent based on our values, our body image, our sense of self, and our self-respect. Our power lies in knowing that our value to the other person does not rest on what we do in this moment, but in the fact that our partner knows and understands us, values us, and that their affection and/or love is not based on the moment, but on our history and our future. Our power rests in knowing that a “no” does not mean our time together is over.

I do hope that sex and intimacy reconcile. For it is in that reconciliation that true pleasure is found.