Synopsis: The Myth of Sex Equalling Intimacy–Intimacy is an act of continual stripping away — of revealing who we are, with total honesty.
Intimacy, it seems to me, is something that many people say they are seeking, at least in the abstract.
Intimacy is not solely about dialogue nor using the Communication Model. It’s not about long walks or shared interests. It’s not about raising kids together and contributing to the running of the household. Intimacy may contain all or many of the above, but intimacy is about, first and foremost, vulnerability and trust.
Intimacy — is about openness, honesty and vulnerability.
In my book, The. Best. Relationship. Ever. I wrote:
Confusing sex with intimacy
In my book This Endless Moment, I wrote about a woman who broke off her engagement because she’d had sex (on a pool table!) with a friend. She talked about how hot and chargy it was.
I asked her why she’d broken off her engagement.
“I can’t stay with my fiancé, because I must love [pool table guy] a lot! After all, I had great sex with him!”
I said, “Or you just got really horny, and had good sex. It was just sex.”
She: “Oh no! I’d never have sex with someone just because he turns me on. I only have sex with people I love, and I must love him a lot, given how good the sex was.”
Enough said? The problem is not having sex with a friend on a pool table. The problem comes from not being willing to admit that having sex is fun, in and of itself.
“I had sex with him/her, it must be love!” is idiocy. Unfortunately, it’s really prevalent. And that’s because we have such a hard time accepting ourselves as sexual beings.
It’s so weird. People have such trouble saying. “I’m horny, and love to have sex!” This coyness around matters sexual originates in our fear of being “seen” as sexual. Most people are afraid to declare their sexual side, for fear of being judged as “perverse.”
• True intimacy (being seen) encompasses sexuality, but is not equal to it.
• Sexuality is an intimate act – true intimacy is so much more.
• True intimacy is the act of becoming open, honest, and vulnerable.
• True intimacy is the activity of sharing deeply and with verve.
• Most couples have sex, while never achieving true intimacy.
Because of our embarrassment over our sexual nature, we quickly mislabel sexual charge as ‘love’
Sex is not equivalent to romance or love, and yet romance and love often contain, or provide a container for, our sexuality.
Sexuality is a simple and very basic part of our being. It is what it is, and nothing more.
Intimacy, on the other hand, is the ability (to use the language of The Haven in BC) to be open, honest, and vulnerable.
- Openness is the willingness to shine a light on me. If I am open, I am willing to be clear about all aspects of myself.
- Honesty is just what it sounds like. It means telling the truth as opposed to half-truths, manipulations, or even “little white lies.”
- Vulnerability adds to this: I am even willing to admit to the scary, strange, weird, nasty, manipulative parts. I am willing to tell you how I hurt myself. I am willing to risk it because this is what true dialogue, communication and relationship require.
This is scary stuff for most, so other things intrude:
Many moons ago there was a series of TV commercial in Canada, from Star Choice, a satellite TV company. In one commercial, a man and a woman are sitting on a couch. The woman turns to the man and says something like, “Tell me about how you are really feeling about our relationship.”
The guy looks like he’s having his prostate checked. The announcer walks on screen and says, “This disaster could have been avoided, if only he had gotten Star Choice TV.” We then see the couple sitting next to each other, staring blissfully at the TV screen. There’s a romance playing, the woman is teary eyed and smiling, and they guy is also smiling and looking altogether too clever by half. Moral: watching satellite TV averts a disaster — the very scary intimate communication.
Leading me to an off ramp on the highway of today’s Myth.
There’s a great book called Radical Honesty, by Brad Blanton. His theory and I would concur, is that living in our head and spending all our time “thinking” is something to be escaped from, as our head lies, all the time. Of course, this is also Buddhism 101.
He describes how we tell others lies about our past, our present, our thinking, about whom we are and what we know. Blanton calls lying “bullshit,” and prescribes total honesty as a cure. This core of honesty leads to a feeling of nakedness before others. When I am vulnerable I am placing myself naked before another, by choice, in order to be seen and known.
This requires trust. Trust is about having faith that the person I am being vulnerable with will not attempt to take advantage of me.
As I tell my partner something, I trust that they will treat my revelation with dignity and respect. They will not try to hurt me with what I’ve said, call me names, nor use what I’ve shared as a weapon. They will never try to control me, or the relationship. They want to be with me as I am, and that “as I am” grows with each revelation. As I develop more and more trust, I learn to be more and more open and vulnerable.
Contrast that to most relationships.
Most couples, when they reach an impasse, fight by dredging up something the partner said in a moment of vulnerability. This is designed to hurt, to wound — not to resolve whatever issue the couple first disagreed about. This flinging back and forth of vulnerabilities naturally leads to less and less intimacy.
Another favourite avoidance tack taken by couples is:
“I’ve been hurt in the past (either by you or by someone else,) so I won’t risk being completely open with you. You’ll have to wait for intimacy.”
Excuses abound over why intimacy will take a long time. And often there’s some expectation that, first, the other person “should” fix whatever happened in the past.
Most of this comes from our upbringing, naturally, as we’ve been saying throughout this myth series. Parents often cut off the sharing of emotions. Babies who scream or cry are rocked or fed. Children and teens are punished / disciplined / or talked out of emotional outbursts. Seldom do parents have the skills to teach their kids how to communicate elegantly… obviously, they can’t do it with each other, so how can they model it for their kids?
And it gets even worse when something goes wrong for the kid / teen. I had a 17-year-old client. Her parents, like most, had told her repeatedly, “You can tell us anything. We won’t get mad. We’ll just help you sort it out.” So, she took them up on it and had told them that she’d become sexually active.
All hell broke loose. Yelling. Both parents name-calling. Dad even slapped her. The parents (who know me from working with them previously) sent her to me to “sort out.” During our session, she cried, a lot. I helped her get that, and no little anger, out.
Then, I said, “Tell me about your experience. That’s a big moment!” She did, with relief, pride, awe and a bit of fear. Too bad mom and dad had chosen not to experience all of that with her, by communicating instead of browbeating.
Needless to say, the 17-year-old learned a lesson about the dangers of being honest, open and vulnerable, but hopefully also learned from our conversation what intimate dialogue could be like.
Sadly, though, most adults have precious little experience with full-blown intimacy.
It takes work to trust, to risk, to open, and it takes acceptance, because it’s not always going to work out. And few have had it modelled, so that’s a problem too.
So, many people substitute sex for intimacy, without even noticing.
We were taught to be modest — to think that being naked is an intimate act. (Beginning to see the connection?) So, we hide (behind clothes) and resist the pull to be seen. (Of course, I’m also talking about intimate communication here…)
I suspect that most people have a “young adolescence” attitude about sex–sort of a leftover from the first 2 years of puberty. Back then, sex was something joked about, whispered about. Kids teaching kids.
Adults sense the need for closeness and intimacy — we want to be intimate, to share who we are, at the core of us. But we lack the skill-set to do so… and often the best we can do is to have sex while being embarrassed about our bodies. This is left-over from adolescence (for many of us) and our first sexual encounters.
Remember being blown away by the intensity? Our minds go, “Wow. That was so… so… special!!! I came, (s)he came, and (s)he treated me as if I was… special!!! I must be in love! That was so… so… intimate! S(he) saw all of me, liked me, loved me!!! (S)he must be… oh!!!… my… soul mate!”
Well, phooey. Sex is a marker, an indicator, in and of itself, of exactly nothing.
Having sex is simply a way to find out whether or not you’ll let your body experience pleasure. It only seems to be “special” because sex, our bodies and passionate horizontal encounters are so so pleasurable and much easier than communicating intimately:
“I want to be close to someone without having to open up to them, to be honest. I know! I’ve been told that being naked and having sex with someone is special… and I’m sure that I’d only do it with someone special! This must mean we’re in an intimate relationship!!!”
This is what happened for pool table girl.
I tried, oh how I tried to get her to talk about sex, relationships, and communication. After all, she’d condemned her fiancé for doing the same things she did. All she could keep saying was, “He did it for sex, I did it for love.” So sex-shy was she that she was reluctant to discuss how much she enjoyed it. She ended up leaving her fiancé, and therapy, because “You just don’t understand about true love!”
After a while, though, people get browned off when they wake up one day and realise that sex doesn’t produce intimacy.
But because it’s the only item in most couple’s intimacy bag of tricks, (since they don’t have deep and meaningful conversations, and thus vulnerability and openness and trust aren’t happening) people feel cheated. But remember: they decided, long ago, that sex should equal intimacy, so they run off and screw someone else. And miss that they’re really screwing themselves.
Intimacy has little or nothing to do with sex
Intimacy is an act of continual stripping away — of revealing who we are, with total honesty. There can be no element of one person trying to control the other, no holding back, no blaming. Intimacy is an ongoing process or deep communication, not an isolated, single act.
Sex, on the other hand, is a great way to let someone know you find them attractive and, practised as “safer sex,” is simply fun. And rarely, when sex is combined with intimate relating, the result transcends both intimacy and sexuality and becomes a sacred act.
If you’re trying to use sex to find intimacy, you’ll most likely fail. If you refuse to be fully, deeply, vulnerably, out-of-control intimate with your partner, sex will never be what it could be. It will either become a weapon, boring, or non-existent. If you think that fidelity means your relationship is solid, think again.
In the end, intimacy produces the energy of life. Sex, in and of itself, is simply an activity. Combined with true, honest intimacy, it’s a symphony. At its best, it’s experienced nakedly and openly — without shame.