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Sexual Intimacy Isn't What You Think

Do you really know who you're sleeping with?

Key points

  • Whether we're married or not, most of us are lacking in the area of sexual intimacy.
  • The subject of "sexual intimacy" is so much bigger than just "doing it” with our partners.
  • Sexual intimacy allows couples to safely share the full spectrum of their sexuality with one another.

In one of my men's therapy groups, one man shared a sexual fantasy of forbidden sex involving a threesome with his wife and his wife’s best friend. He shared this comfortably and easily and, most significantly, safely. No one judged him; no one preached at him. It was, after all, a "fantasy," and not a direct plan of action.

After the group took some time to process the fantasy, I asked the man, "Have you ever shared this fantasy with your wife?"

His answer was a typical one in a men's therapy group. "Are you kidding?” he said. “My wife would kill me."

Once the laughter (also typical) in the group subsided, I continued, "So what you're saying is that, on some sexual topics like this one, you, a heterosexual male, have more sexual intimacy with a group of men than you do with your wife?”

He grimaced.

I then asked, "Are you comfortable with that state of affairs or do you wish your wife could know you at least as well as the men in this group do?"

He thought about it and shared that he had no idea how to share anything like that with his wife.

A Common Problem

Whether we're married or not, most of us are lacking in the area of sexual intimacy. Yes, we can have sex with our partners, but when it comes to being sexually intimate (e.g., sharing a forbidden fantasy), we have a problem.

Understanding Intimacy

In Dennis Bagarozzi's woefully overlooked book, Enhancing Intimacy in Marriage, he outlines multiple dimensions of intimacy, such as emotional intimacy (the ability to safely share feelings with one another), intellectual intimacy (the ability to safely share ideas with one another), and vocational intimacy (the ability to safely work alongside one another). The attentive reader will note that it's not the sharing that makes it intimacy, it's the word "safely."

Applying Intimacy to Sexuality

Let's see what happens when we apply this concept of intimacy to sexuality. Sexual intimacy includes having sex safely, where both people feel safe during intercourse. But that’s not all there is to it. The subject of "sexual intimacy" is so much bigger than just "doing it” with our partners. Sexual intimacy can include the following:

  • Safely sharing our sexual preferences, i.e., what we like and what we don't like.
  • Safely expressing our fantasies, even if they involve our wife's best friend.
  • Safely talking about sex in any and all of its dimensions—trust me, there's a lot.

The Joy of Sexual Intimacy

Sexual intimacy allows couples to safely share and express the full spectrum of their sexuality with one another. Think about it this way: we like getting to know the other, and we like it when the other gets to know us. The more people know us and the more we know others, the safer we feel. Ultimately, when it comes to sex, the distinction between sex and sexual intimacy is mere titillation (sex) versus titillation plus engagement of feelings and thoughts (sexual intimacy).

Intimate Conversations

If we think about it, there are conversations that are far superior to having mere sexual intercourse without the engagement of feelings and thoughts. Consider the casual date for lunch and the enjoyable process of getting to know someone. Say, on your second or third date, they lean across the table, take your hand in theirs while they look you in the eyes and say, "I haven't been able to stop thinking about you and what it would be like to kiss you."

There's no intercourse there, but the moment sizzles with sexuality. The disclosure is flattering, emotionally engaging, sexually stimulating and... fun! Who wouldn't want this, especially when the contrast is mere intercourse with a relative stranger?

Are You Ready to Get Sexually Intimate?

If you're convinced that there's more to knowing someone than merely having sex and you see the value in exploring sexual intimacy, I have one big suggestion: promise yourself you’re never going to ever have sex with anyone who’s not comfortable talking about having sex. This can be challenging if you’re already in a committed relationship so consider finding a private moment with your partner and popping the question: “Do you really want us to know one another sexually in this relationship?”

The answer will open the door to further conversation and, hopefully, to sexually intimate questions such as:

  • How well do you want to know me sexually?
  • Can we talk safely about our sexual histories?
  • Can we talk safely about great or awful sexual experiences of our past with one another?
  • Can we talk safely about where we'd like our sexual intimacy to go?
  • What kinds of sexual play and humor do you enjoy?

It’s OK to Ask for Help

If you and your partner need help having these conversations, which can continue for a lifetime, consider asking a counselor what you need to do to have a safe conversation. Most times, you'll find that you simply need the awareness that this kind of closeness is possible, the courage to take little steps in laddering up the intimacy, and the patience to know this is a process that creates a lifetime of pleasure and fun with a partner you really know.

Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock

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