Sunday, July 6, 2008

Topic 16: Intimacy

Topic 16: Intimacy

Perhaps one of the most difficult issues to address in promoting sexual health is the desire for intimacy. Too often intimacy is seen as “sexual intercourse.” The goal of this topic is to expand the understanding of intimacy by looking at different types of intimacy. Without a doubt, many individuals are stuck on a limited view of intimacy and often use sexual behavior to try to get other needs meet. As you review incidents in your sex history and timeline, think about the times when having sexual contact that you may have been searching for something else entirely. By the end of this topic, it is hoped that you will be able to clarify your primary intimacy needs, as well as begin to think about healthy ways to get those needs met.

There are a variety of definitions of intimacy. Perhaps the easiest definition of intimacy is the feeling of connection with another person. One of the best definitions I heard was about 20 years ago. Intimacy is the soul to soul connection between two people. Intimacy is more than simply saying, “Hi,” but a connection with openness and honesty. The need or desire to be connected with others is healthy and normal. Most of our life is about the experience of intimacy. This simple reality is dismissed when intimacy is reduced to sexual contact.

It is important to highlight that intimacy can include sexual contact; but it is equally important to highlight that not all intimacy is about sexual contact. It is possible to be very intimate with another person without any sexual contact. It is also possible to have sexual contact that is lacking in intimacy, and may actually harm intimacy particularly if it is exploitative or abusive.

Types of intimacy

To expand our understanding of intimacy, it is helpful to review different types of intimacy. Two researchers, a husband and wife team (Clinebell and Clinebell, 1970) identified twelve types of intimacy. These are included below. Their focus was on marriage relationships, but I tried to build on their work by expanding their definitions.

Sexual intimacy is more than the bringing together of sexual organs. It is more than the reciprocal sensual arousal of the partners and even than mutual fulfillment in orgasm. It is the experience of sharing and self-abandon in the merging of two persons. There are types of sexual intimacy beyond bodily contact. Sometimes simply talking about sex is very intimate. For some of my clients, I am the first person they have every talked to about sexuality concerns, behaviors or issue. I would argue that talking about the deepest and darkest secrets in the realm of sexuality is a form of sexual intimacy. (And, as a pre-emptive disclaimer, I have never violated any sexual boundaries with any client. Simply highlighting that sexual intimacy may be more than sexual contact with the corresponding fears that it can trigger confirms the very bias of our culture and the assumptions of intimacy that I’m trying to address in this workbook.)

Emotional intimacy is the deep self- awareness and sharing of significant meanings and feelings. Emotional intimacy is the foundation of all other forms of intimacy. It is the ability to talk openly, without fear. And when fear is present, to disclosure that fear in such a way to facilitate a stronger and closer relationship. Emotional intimacy includes the ability to share one’s hopes and dreams.

Intellectual intimacy is the closeness resulting from sharing the world of ideas. This can include addressing similar concerns, or interests. Intellectual intimacy can range from hobbies, topics, or current events. There is a genuine respect for each individual’s opinion. Agreement on the topic isn’t necessarily required for intellectual intimacy. It is the process of sharing, reflection and discussion which highlights the aspects of intellectual intimacy.

Aesthetic intimacy related to experiences of beauty. Various expressions of this can include typical expressions of art, music, plays and movies. Other experiences of this type of intimacy can include natural beauty such as sunrises, listening to a thunderstorm, and taking a day hike through a park.

Creative intimacy is the intimacy of shared creativity. Sometimes this can include aspects of aesthetic intimacy. The key component of creative intimacy is the process of co-creating with the other person in the particular encounter. In the connection, you are experiencing growth and I’m experiencing growth through the movement toward new possibilities.

Recreational intimacy refers to the experience of play. It talks about stepping outside of work and struggles of life, and simply spending time together. The types of play may vary and include sports, outdoor activities, indoor activities, and the like. Sometimes other intimacies are incorporated into recreational activities such as going to a movie (aesthetic) and then talking about it afterward (intellectual).

Work intimacy occurs in the sharing of tasks, either at home or at work. It can include projects, events, or simply the process of long-term commitment regarding work or family. The corresponding feelings of satisfaction when completing a task with another person is an example of work intimacy. These tasks could include completing a project at work, or finishing cleaning up the house at work.

Crisis intimacy is the intimacy that occurs as a result of major and minor tragedies. Personal crises may be illness or accidents. Larger forms of crisis intimacy can be community experiences in response to a natural disaster. In these situations, individuals step outside of their limits and connect. Strangers will go above and beyond typical experience.

Commitment intimacy is the experience of hope and possibility in response to addressing some issue, cause or event that is bigger than one person alone. This can range from a short-term task (completing a social service project at work) to a never ending task such as social justice for the poor. It is the process of transforming the world relative to the task that is the source of intimacy.

Spiritual intimacy is the connection that develops through sharing with others the most important areas of concerns including values, meaning for life, and the core of our being. It is an experience of possibility and transcendence beyond the daily experience of who we are. It can be connected to religious traditions and practices, but ultimately it is about how we connect with God (in whatever way we describe God).

Strategies for building Intimacy in your life.

Now that we have a reviewed the types of intimacy, the next step is to highlight how to build intimacy in your life. The following are simply ideas and suggestions. They are far from the “only way” or the “correct way.” The suggestions are, however, based on research and experience in the field.

Start by identifying which of the types of intimacy above are the most important to you. Which three, for example do you want in your life? How would you know if they were present? Next, who in your life could you start to develop intimacy by being open and honest with? This could be difficult for some people, so a slow start is OK. Where might you find people with similar interests?

Intimate relationships can be brief or long. We are taught to think of intimacy in terms of “Hollywood” or “Disney” movie moments. Yet, if we look to the present moment, there are many types of connection occurring all the time. To limit our ability to see these intimate connections limits our ability to experience intimacy. How am I connected to the person next to me at this time.

Recognize barriers to intimacy.
Barriers to intimacy can be internal and external. Internal barriers reflect issues in our life and how we interact with others. They may be historical (history of abuse) or current (shame or depression) These barriers can be unhealthy thoughts we have of our self or that we have of others. Overcoming, correcting and changing these thoughts is necessary. One example of a barrier is someone who identifies as a gay man, but believes he is sinful. Such a person must address the internal story before healthy intimacy is possible. External barriers may be isolation, or lack of resources to connect with others. In these situations, setting up plans can be a helpful tool. Other times the barrier may be a lack of skills that negatively impacts a person’s ability to share with others. In these cases, therapy and coaching may be helpful.

Take appropriate risks. You will not find intimacy when you shut down and isolate out of fear. Intimacy often requires a bit of pain, either through rejection, failure or simply being betrayed. It is not possible to avoid these risks and try to have intimacy. It is your reaction to the hurts and the fears that can actually facilitate additional opportunities for intimacy. The reality is that the other person is probably just as fearful as you are. The question is which person will be the first to transcend their fear.

As you review your sexual history and your timeline, think about how intimacy, or the lack of intimacy is related to your life. Where you searching for a type of intimacy through sexual contact? How satisfied where you with the contact? Which intimacy needs are the most important? Who in your life can help you get these needs met.

Identify the top three types of intimacy that are the most important for you.
Identify 3-5 people who can help you meet those intimacy needs.
If you aren’t satisfied, identify a plan to increase your level of satisfaction.

No comments:

Post a Comment