Thursday, March 12, 2009

Intimacy doesn't only mean sex.

"Dear Dr. Edwards,
It seems sex has become an overwhelming preoccupation. How important is it and why? It appears sex is not viewed as an expression of love but has become a tool for self-satisfaction (me,me,me)?"

My whole reason for writing articles is to get people talking with their partners, friends, and family (yes, family as appropriate!). So I was thrilled with the number and diversity of responses from my articles Negotiating Sex with Your Partner, Part 1 and Part 2. Looking at these comments showed me that many people, both gay and straight, have a difficult time understanding what intimacy actually is.

Intimacy occurs with everyone we meet, everyday of the year. Friends, family and even strangers fulfill some part of our total intimacy needs. The husband and wife team of Howard and Charlotte Clinebell are counselors who identified 12 of these intimacy needs back in the 70s. If you boil down all their findings you'll discover something most people get confused about: one person can not meet all of our intimacy needs. In reality it would be unfair to expect them to.

I want you to try something. From the list below identify the three most important types of intimacy for you and then answer the following questions:

* How satisfied are you regarding this particular intimacy?
* Who in your life helps get these needs met?
* How am I helping others fulfill their intimacy needs?
* If I’m unsatisfied, how do I plan to address the needs?
* In my primary relationship, what type of intimacy do WE need to work on together?

Forms of intimacy
Emotional intimacy is the sharing of significant experiences and feelings. Emotional intimacy is the foundation of all other forms of intimacy. It is the ability to talk without fear. When fear is present, talking about that fear can facilitate a stronger and closer relationship. Emotional intimacy includes the ability to share one’s hopes and dreams.

Sexual intimacy is more than just the physical act of sex. Talking about the deepest and darkest sexual secrets is a form of sexual intimacy. For some of my clients, I am the first person they talk to about sexuality.

Intellectual intimacy is the closeness resulting from sharing ideas. There is a genuine respect for each individual’s opinion. Agreement on the topic isn’t required for intellectual intimacy. It is the process of sharing, reflection and discussion that highlights the aspects of intellectual intimacy.

Aesthetic intimacy relates to experiences of beauty. This can include expressions of art such as music, plays and movies but also natural beauty such as sunrises, listening to a thunderstorm, and taking a day hike.

Creative intimacy is the intimacy of shared vision. The key component is the process of co-creating with another person. Both you and the other person are growing in deeper ways as a result of the experience.

Recreational intimacy refers to the experience of play and stepping outside of the struggles of life, and simply spending time together. The types of play include sports, outdoor activities, and indoor activities. 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. It can include projects, events, or the process of long-term commitment regarding work or family. These tasks vary in type, intensity and duration and could include completing a project at work, or finishing cleaning up the house. The feelings of satisfaction when completing a task with another person are examples of work intimacy.

Crisis intimacy 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 of a natural disaster. In these situations individuals step outside of their limits and connect. Strangers will go above and beyond typical behaviors. The long-term response of the gay community to HIV is a great example of this type of intimacy.

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

Spiritual intimacy develops through sharing the most important areas of concerns including values, meaning for life, and the core of our being. It's 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 understand God).

Communication intimacy is the process of full disclosure with another person. It is the process of being open, honest and truthful. This includes giving difficult and constructive feedback even when it is difficult to do so.

Conflict intimacy is the process of connecting, respectful fighting and facing differences with others. Through the conflict there is a process of closeness that transcends the conflict ultimately leading to a closer relationship. The power of make-up sex highlights how conflict intimacy is so powerful.

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