Intimacy. Why it may be the biggest sexual problem of all.

intimacy10I spend much of my day talking about the challenges and mechanics of sex. Low libido, premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, sexual addiction, fetishes and inorgasmia are the bread and butter of a sex therapy practice. I see singles and couples who are trying to find their authentic sexual selves and figure out why things aren’t working the way they should. There is an expression that states, “sex is perfectly natural, but NOT naturally perfect.” Sex therapy is about finding out what you need sexually and what you can do to get it. Specific sexual problems are often treated quickly after a half dozen sessions. If you focus on solutions you can quickly see yourself being successfully sexual. Where clients get stuck however is in the area of intimacy.

Intimacy problems can be hard to define for some people but it’s really about the lack of a deep, meaningful connection with a primary partner. And if the connection isn’t there, a blockage can occur to prevent the kind of sexual lives that everyone is striving to have. A lack of intimacy can leave you unfulfilled sexually. There is no emotional link that makes sex magic. The number one thing couples in relationship therapy seem to crave is a partner that “gets them”, and who works on increasing closeness. For sex it works both ways. Intimate couples are safe enough with each other to be wild in bed, and being creative in the bedroom can open you up for more intimacy in your relationship. Sex shows us in our most vulnerable selves and allows our partners a chance to see us.

I know a lot of people that think intimacy is only physical sex. And due to the constant barrage of sexual images in modern culture, it’s not surprising why people believe this. However intimacy is much more than sweaty bodies.
Wikipedia defines intimacy like this. “Humans have a general desire to belong and to love, which is usually satisfied within an intimate relationship. Intimacy has a huge effect on individual health and well-being, positive emotion, and self-esteem. Within the close relationship, intimacy is associated with satisfaction, security, and stability.

Psychologist Lori Gordon says this about intimacy.
“Intimacy, I have come to believe, is not just a psychological fad,
a rallying cry of contemporary couples. It is based on a deep biological
need. The truth is that couples have never learned
reliably how to sustain pleasure in intimate relationships. The
difference is it never mattered so much before.”
Modern civilization does a good job getting our basic needs such as home, health, food, and safety covered. But we are rarely taught the skills that allow us to connect with someone close. We don’t live in clans anymore. Lots of people aren’t in church groups and we often live far away from our families or childhood communities. We fall through the cracks and don’t have people who truly know us.

Yes couples want to connect sexually, but they also want to be touched, understood, listened to, confided in, support each other when life is hard, and generally be each other’s best friend. The challenge of working, parenting, supporting an extended family, along with the basic challenges of communication and gender differences has many couples confused and unsatisfied emotionally. Skills like communication, empathy, compassion, and intuitive understanding aren’t taught in most high schools. And they are skills that really should be.
Partners want their significant other to heal all the hurts that the world inflicts on them. So what can couples do to make those intimate shifts that everyone seems to be craving?
I have five suggestions that have come out of watching couples who are genuinely striving for true happiness and contentment.

1. I’ve realized that attracting someone who is comfortable with intimacy begins with our own ability to be truly intimate with ourselves. Can you articulate what you want from a partner? Can you get quiet (all that mindfulness stuff) and figure out what you need? It’s really hard for a partner to meet your needs if you don’t know what they are. Get quiet, make a list of all the qualities that you need in order to be fulfilled. Then figure out how many of those needs you can ask your partner to fulfill.

2. Try something called Active intimacy. Intimacy is an action feeling. It comes from touching (hold hands, rub your partner’s head etc.). It comes from listening and giving your partner your undivided attention. And it comes from doing things together. If you can’t remember the last time you planned a date for your sweetie then it’s time to look on Groupon for a date activity in your city. And then make it as sexy as you both can handle. Making your partner feel special should be a top priority.

3. Take a deep breath and work on being vulnerable. Most couples are not allowing themselves to be vulnerable with their partners and find themselves not being as honest as they could be when talking about what they really need. Sex is a great example of this. Asking for what you need in the bedroom can be really insurmountable for some people. When we guard ourselves in relationships, it’s often because we feel that we have to protect ourselves from being hurt by the other person. Such fear does not invite intimacy. Instead, it invites disconnection.

4. Communication. Can you speak your mate’s language? As I say in therapy “use your words”. Your partner can’t know what you want, or what upsets you without you telling them. Understand how your sweetie feels loved. And then do more of it. Don’t assume what they need. Talk, eye gaze and really pay attention to what your love is telling you.

5. Make appreciative noises. As Lori Gordon says in her article about intimacy, “rarely in long-term relationships do we talk about what we appreciate in our partner. Communication is limited, yet it is not possible to sustain a pleasurable relationship without that. I have found that most couples
need to rediscover what it is they value in each other.”

If intimacy is the missing link, and more connection and couple time is what most people are craving, then what’s stopping you from reaching out today?


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