Home Alone

Real closeness and great sex depend on emotional risk-taking.

By PT Staff, published on December 31, 1969 - last reviewed on August 30, 2004

Everybody wants it; few achieve it. The subject is intimacy, and
it's a buzzword of the '90s, as if it were the quid pro quo for cashing
out of the consumer culture. Perhaps it's because we mistakenly pursue
relationships as though they were financial transactions.

Most folks approach intimacy like equity, says sex researcher David
Schnarch, Ph.D,, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Louisiana
State University. But that just about guarantees they'll never achieve
the intense eroticism they are lusting for in long-term relationships.
Equity implies reciprocity. Real intimacy takes strictly one-sided

The hitch is this: we trust intimacy develops through
self-disclosure--two souls equally baring their innermost insecurities
and expecting the glow of warmth and acceptance. That's actually a quest
for reassurance that we are worth loving, an "I will if you will" tally
to avoid rejection. We seek someone to help carry the burden of a
dissatisfying relationship with ourselves.

This "other-validated intimacy" not only promotes emotional fusion,
a "we" mindset, it yields only a low level of satisfaction. In reality,
one partner always needs validation more, the other builds up resentment
against the obligation to reciprocate disclosure. They get paralyzed in
defensiveness and withholding.

Forget expectations of reciprocity and all that gooey stuff, says
Schnarch in a book for sex therapists, Constructing the Sexual Crucible
(Norton). Profound intimacy takes individual growth, an independent sense
of self--the kind of ego strength that lets us dance autonomously without
fearing a partner's response. Intimacy is not the search for care from
others but the ability to display our inner life to our partner.

With at least one partner capable of sustained self-disclosure,
there's a chance for expanding the sexual repertoire, which at first
tends to be very disquieting, eliciting a " where'd you learn to do
that?" response. "People have boring, monotonous sex because intense sex
and intimacy (and change itself) is more threatening than many people
realize," says Schnarch.

The bottom line is that good sex doesn't just happen when you're
relaxed. And all the garter belts in the world won't stimulate the really
hot stuff. Sex is not a matter of paraphernalia but persona.