A researcher and writer who I admire is Marilyn Mason, PhD, LCP, whose booklet simply called Intimacy is a good read. She says there are nine types of intimacy and you need to practise them all within the context of a committed relationship in order to develop an intimate relationship. Sex is an intimate experience, but doesn’t mean you’re having an intimate relationship. That takes time and commitment.
Intimacy is a multi-faceted thing.
Dr Mason says the following are the nine different types of intimacy.
- Social intimacy develops when you share a group experience like a family reunion, a church group, community organisations. Or maybe you’re in recovery and share with others in a group like AA or other 12 Step fellowships. We get vulnerable with each other in meetings and this promotes a type of intimacy that bonds fellows.
- Intellectual intimacy is the intimacy of sharing thoughts and ideas, or how we think. We share our values when we talk to each other about intellectual expressions. We think out loud, clarifying our ideas.
- Emotional intimacy happens when we share our feelings, something that’s hard for people with addiction to do. Often it wasn’t safe in our family of origin to talk about how we felt when we were scared, and this becomes a barrier to intimacy in later life.
- Physical intimacy through working together – gardening, dancing, exercising alongside each other.
- Recreational intimacy happens when we share a sport or a hobby or other activities that are fun. Even playing cards or games can lead to a form of shared closeness and developing a bond.
- Aesthetic intimacy is all about sharing what we find beautiful – and we don’t even need to talk about the art or the sunset or the music, just the sharing of it will create the intimacy.
- Affectional intimacy develops through non-sexual touching – hugging, holding hands, a touch on the shoulder.
- Sexual intimacy. I love the quote Mason includes in her booklet: ‘Love will get you through times of no sex better than sex will get you through times of no love’ – US folk singer, Michael Johnson, lamenting the loss of love in his 1973 song Sex and Love.
- Spiritual intimacy happens when we share an experience that connects our spiritual core with each other, feeling at one with another and often comes as a surprise. Tears may be involved.
Otherwise, it’s just casual sex. Sex without commitment can be like a pyrrhic victory. Images come to mind of that harrowing 2011 film Shame with Michael Fassbender as an out-of-control sex addict. His casual encounters with random women left him devastated - and me as a viewer, reeling.
In my work as a sex-addiction therapist I’ve come to the conclusion that sex addiction is an intimacy disorder. That fear of intimacy keeps people in a loop of repeating the same behaviour (watching porn, paying for sex workers, extra-marital affairs) while expecting a different outcome.
The hapless sex and love addict who can’t find true connection with his/her partner goes looking for it with other men or women, only to be heart-broken each time the affair ends in tears and more scar tissue forms on their heart.
It’s hard work, maintaining a long-term relationship and the sad thing is that lots of people just give up and give in and live in despair. I don’t think Thoreau meant that we should abandon hope when he wrote about ‘the mass of men living in quiet desperation’ in his book Walden.
It does require a certain type of self-reflection, of course, and getting rigorously honest with ourselves.
I’ll finish off with my favourite quote from Hamlet: To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.