What is Intimacy?

When you hear or think of the term intimacy, what does it mean to you? Do you immediately think about sex or some form of physical relationship?

If you did that’s ok, because for most people when they are asked what the term means to them, the most common answer is having sex with someone. While this isn’t a completely wrong answer, it is more wrong than it is right. Here’s why.

Intimacy is about being close to others and is important in many types of relationships. It is however not just in romantic relationships and it is something that is built over time. There is a misconception that you either do or don’t have intimacy with an individual. There is a process to becoming intimate with someone and it takes time.

The reason why it’s defined as a process is that there is more than one way to be intimate with someone. There are four keys forms of intimacy and understanding how each plays a role in your relationships is important.

What are the Different Types of Intimacy?

The four types or forms of intimacy are physical, emotional, sensual and sexual intimacy.

  • Physical Intimacy: Being in the same place at the same time as someone else and enjoying their company. In a romantic relationship, this could be the time you spend together on a date. In a platonic relationship, it could be enjoying some drinks after work.
  • Emotional Intimacy: This is created by sharing emotions and thoughts with another individual. From this, a connection is made on a feelings level.
  • Sensual Intimacy: You become physically connected through physical touch and pleasure that does not include sexual intercourse. The physical nature is more like hugging and kissing.
  • Sexual Intimacy: Physical intimacy created through sexual intercourse or any other form of sex.

In every relationship you have, there are varying degrees of these four forms of intimacy.

Emotional Intimacy

To get a better understanding of what emotional intimacy is, here are some examples. Emotional intimacy is a general feeling of closeness to another person. These can be expressed or experienced:

  • Through active listening, open communication and nonjudgmental support.
  • It can vary in intensity and change over time within the same relationship
  • This form of intimacy can occur with friends, family members and significant others.

Physical Intimacy

There are many types of relationships that have a physical intimacy component but never have sex. This is healthy and should be noted that physical intimacy is not always a precursor to sexual intimacy. Physical intimacy is close proximity and non-sexual touching.

  • This can be expressed in many ways, ranging from handshakes and high fives to a simple touch on the shoulder.
  • Individuals communicate affection, support and caring for one another.
  • This type of intimacy can occur with friends, family members and significant others.

Sensual Intimacy

This is very similar to physical intimacy but is reserved for more close relationships, such as family and close friends. Again sensual intimacy is physical touching without sex and is a healthy part of close family members and friends.

  • Non-sexual physical touching can get hugs and kisses, as would be done to greet or say good-bye to someone you are close with.
  • As with physical intimacy, individuals communicate affection, support and caring for one another.
  • This type of intimacy occurs with immediate family, the closest of friends, family members and significant others.

Sexual Intimacy

Sexual intimacy is the most well-known form of intimacy. This includes all forms of intercourse and a broad range of sexual activity.

  • All sexual intimacy requires asking for and giving consent.
  • This can include individually or together, cuddling, sexual touching, oral sex and penetration.
  • The best form of sexual intimacy is accompanied by established emotional, physical and sensual intimacy.
  • This occurs with short and long-term sexual partners.