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.






8 thoughts on “When Sex and Intimacy Got a Divorce

  1. I agree that now a days its very hard to commit to people because of how people meet. Now a days its hard to even know if we are in a relationship with someone or just “dating. ” I didn’t know there was difference between the two but if two people don’t actually discuss what they are( relationship status) then its not considered something serious. I do believe that sex plays a big role because since it seems like its not a big deal dating apps etc make it harder to even meet someone that wants something more then just a hookup.

  2. Great insight professor. Im happy to live in a era where women have voice and power, but when it comes to love and sex it does seem to be backwards. Single, dating, friends with benefits, who knows now.

  3. I smiled as I saw the title of this post, because I’ve often times discussed it with my mother, my students, best friends, men in my life, anyone who I deemed needed to hear it really. I concur with this post wholeheartedly and will go one step further and add that’ chivalry like intimacy, is not dead.” I refuse to believe that sex and intimacy are two separate entities -and is a “either one or the other” type of situation-as I strongly believe they should be so much intertwined that there should never have been a distinction betwixt the two in the first place. I have observed however, that in my generation (lovely people in their twenties), the society that is portrayed to us through various mediums have separated the two. So, it leads me to wonder; do I blame society for the separation? Can I believe that society has won in controlling the mind of my generation? And as such, should I desist in my search for someone who knows the value of intimacy in a relationship? Absolutely not.
    We looked at the behaviourist theory this week, and one of the tenets postulated was that people can be conditioned to act or produce a particular result. The theory believes strongly in the observing and measuring of behaviour. Working with this theory, I can therefore say that my generation has simply been influenced by the environment in which we live. Currently the era of technology is a significant part of our environment and as such a big “influencer”. We are encouraged through popular songs with lyrics that preach having sexual intercourse solely for the purpose “getting money…”, where hip hop music has turned into “trap music” and females have become more acceptable of the “ride or die” concept that preaches loyalty regardless of the behaviour your partner displays towards you. Having a voice and understanding that what you are looking for in a relationship is not just to scratch the itch of sexual desires. Nor is it to sate the financial needs of your partner (though this is just awesome really!) but it is actually giving time to a different facet of your relationship. Getting to know that person behind the beautiful smile, voluptuous curves, and well put together attire. As you rightly stated, “sexuality involves intimacy” and thankfully enough, if the behaviourist theory is to be believe, though small I have seen slight changes where several celebrities, have spoken up about knowing the difference between sex and intimacy. Not settling for mediocre sex, acknowledging that sex, is powerful but to share this gift should be done with someone who truly knows and appreciates you and all aspects of you. It is through this knowledge I believe that intimacy is conceived and through careful observations and conditioning it can be birthed into a relationship, and I believe would eradicate issues of inhibitions during sex -which, lets be honest, this may and can hold back many people during sex-. thus further improving the interaction between a couple.
    I can go on and on and will often stumble into new topics to be addressed but to focus on the topic at hand, sex and intimacy should be twins. Originating from the same egg. Through the eyes of a behaviourist, this can be fixed if the environment, – in our homes, in the media, be it television, newspapers, YouTube, etc, anywhere that social interaction takes place- reinforces positively, that intimacy should not be shunned but practised regularly. Additionally, continuing through a behaviourist lens, we, women and men alike, can practise negative reinforcements to get our partners to see the importance of intimacy and if that doesn’t work, we punish the suckers! (kidding). Seriously though, the onus is on us to set the wrong right, because after all, are we too not a part of the same environment that influences us? Then, do we too not hold the power to condition others to behave how we want them? Let us show and “condition” their minds to understand that sex and intimacy goes hand in hand as you’ve rightly posited professor.

  4. I completely agree that now there is a separation of the two. Now, there is such thing as “casual sex” where friends or even strangers just get together and have sex, with no strings attached. There is no intamacy in that. It might just be the times that we are in or the generation we are born into. However, it feels like before, sex was “sacred”, one cannot just go around and have casual sex with individuals we are not married to or intend on being married to. There was more intimacy before also, there was no social media, no tinder, no dating website to facilitate the “sex”, individuals before actually had to meet someone, get to know them, attemp to have a relationship before even thinking about having sex.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this. I definitely agree that there has been a divide between sex and intimacy. Being a college student all I hear people talk about is the multiple “hook ups” they’ve had after going out to the bar while barely knowing the person. I would also say that sex is personal and very intimate for people to go around doing it with just anyone. I really liked when you spoke about our power. It is important for everyone to understand their worth and that they shouldn’t do anything they don’t feel comfortable doing. In this generation, waiting until you are married to have sex is not common which in my point of view is ok but I do agree that there should be a connection between the two people and a certain level of respect for each other.

  6. Upon reading this article I realized that the generation I now live in where separating the sexual contact of sexuality has become a social norm. There are many points in this article I can agree with. My mother has spoken to me about how people are advancing in their sexuality development at a fast rate due to all the portals society gives us to engage in just ” hooking up with someone “. While there are a lot of people who can engage in having casual sex with someone they do not know on an intimate level there are also people who have casual sex with someone they do know on an intimate level with and feel a connection to. Of all the experiences one can engage in throughout life whose to say having sex solely for ones pleasure cannot involve familiarity, affection and understanding of the other person. Casual sex can be based off much more than a physical attraction of the other member, the basis of having sexual intercourse just for ones pleasure doesn’t have to diminish the value or the extent of the relationship. The new extreme we lead ourselves to is a place where the norm is that if there is a lack of intimacy there is no intimacy at all because we are so fixated on the extreme we fail to notice the measurement. Two people can give the consent to please one another, be genuine with each other, and still go their separate ways. Sexuaility involves something we can refer to as “ just sex “.

  7. With a generation that uses apps and social media to meet people its very hard to now understand the difference of dating and not dating. I do believe that because of gender inequalities sometimes we as women like to compare ourselves to men and say “hey if they can do it why cant we ” but unfortunately we just cant. So now a days even meeting someone is difficult because if you sleep with them too soon you’re a slut and thats it but if you don’t sleep with them they lose interest and just swipe on their tinder accounts. Even songs that are popular promote that men should just have sex with us and leave us or have sex with multiple women and thats it . Thats them living the life.
    I do believe that social media and the everything in this generation has made it more difficult for relationships to work. But your class has really opened up my eyes about “training” how we should still hold our power and understand that sex and intimacy is not just anything it goes hand in hand with working on things and making sure its not taken advantage of.

  8. There is so much truth in this post because of the fact that the people of this generation have taken the connectivity between partners out of the act of sex. Our popular culture has made sex into something that is done casually for a few moments of physical pleasure or to numb some kind of pain. I feel this post on a personal level and I feel many people can relate to this problem. I myself have experienced sex without connection and I believe it drains your energy and puts you on a low vibration, as opposed to my current situation where I am in a loving relationship and gives sex a much deeper meaning. I think many men and women use sex to feel some kind of love but as a result end up feeling more of an emotional void and loneliness. It is human nature to want to give and receive love, just as the desire to have sex is also. But knowing this, we need to use our brains and not just our hearts. I don’t think we should feel ashamed for wanting more but I think the problem stems from not developing a mental or spiritual connection with the person prior to engaging in sexual activity. Our norms have become backwards in that we believe sex will give us connectedness with a partner. When in reality, real closeness comes from knowing and understanding a person and being on the same vibration. Sex will never bring you closer to someone without establishing that first. While there are some people out there that make it seem like they can engage in casual sex and be okay with it, I believe deep down there are repressed feelings they are trying to mask. I believe that when you have sex with someone, you form a kind of soul tie and you have an exchange of energy with the person you are with. That is why it is important to know the person you are being sexually involved with. I think people should remember that sex is so much better when it is with someone you love and care about. This idea of casual sex has created people that are void of emotion because they think they have to hold back developing feelings while having sex. This post is powerful and insightful, and might help people think more about the relationship between sex and a connection with one another.

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