Intimacy and sex are two separate concepts often easily confused

A long time ago when I was 35 years old I left my marriage, which wasn’t a bad marriage, in search of more sex and more intimacy. I was very clear about that. My husband was a charming man who was very closed off from his feelings and whose libido was lower than mine.

At that time a wife who wanted sex more often than her husband was absolutely unheard of in popular literature which featured wives who said ”Not tonight, I have a headache” jokes and advice about giving her expense gifts so she would be willing to put out. I could find no validation or support for being a highly sexed woman and my husband reacted to me as if I were very odd indeed because of my enthusiasm. What was worse, we coudn’t talk about it.

Our inability to speak about our feelings, my own clumsiness in communicating my wants and inability to draw him out about his, made me very sad and frustrated. I’m sure he must have felt the same way even if he didn’t let himself know that, let alone me. Of the basic emotions of “Sad, Mad, Glad, Sexy and Scared” he was good at Mad and I was good at Sad. The rest of the others, the variety of other feelings such as frustration or desire to feel close were simply inexpressible.

I know that many people use the word intimacy to mean sex, but they are two very distinct concepts. What I described above was a lack of intimacy as well as too little sex.

What most people are aiming for, often without conceptualizing their goal, is a combination of the two—sex with intimacy. Joining of the genitals does not guarantee a joining of the hearts and or minds, more’s the pity. Intimacy, a teacher of mine once said, is a contraction of “into me see.” When two people can reveal themselves to the other withoutshame or fear of judgment, when each feels he or she is fully known and understood by the other, that is intimacy. It is not achieved by rubbing naked bodies together no matter how long or how hard we might rub.

Some people say they had an instant connection, that it felt like they knew the other person forever the first time they met. Some call that love at first sight. I call it chemistry. Sometimes two people just resonate. It’s easy to express yourself to someone who seems to understand what you say sometimes even before you say it. It’s a heady feeling which can last for years, if you’re lucky, but often doesn’t. That’s when the real work of making a good relationship has to occur.

In addition to learning all the little foibles of another person, becoming accustomed to their way of being in the world, one gets to see underneath the public façade. Were you attracted to her flirtatiousness? Now you know that’s how she acts when she’s nervous and it doesn’t come from a feeling of sexiness or self esteem. His strength and admirable take charge in an emergency leadership is really a pushy bossiness and an unwillingness to hear what others have to say. Knowing what’s behind the mask is intimacy of a sort.

What I’m writing about is the ideal of two people seeing behind the façade and accepting the other person they see without disappointment, maybe even loving the other one because of who they really are rather than in spite of. “I see the real you and I love you and it.”

Being known for who you are, for how you feel, being able to express your thoughts and feelings and know that you will be heard, if not necessarily agreed with, is at once exhilarating and enormously comforting. I can be who I am and you can be who you are…and we like that. There you have intimacy.

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© Copyright 2015 Isadora Alman, M.F.T., All rights Reserved.
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Isadora Alman, M.F.T., is a California licensed marriage and relationship therapist, a Board-certified sexologist, author and lecturer. Her syndicated sex and relationship column "Ask Isadora" ran in alternative weekly papers worldwide for 25+ years. Web surfers can find her columns on her online free interactive Sexuality Forum (link is external). She is the author of two collections of Q & A's from columns: Let's Talk Sex and Ask Isadora, as well as Sex Information, May I Help You?, a peek behind the scenes of a sex help phone line which still flourishes in San Francisco today. Doing It: Real People Having Really Good Sex is a collection of helpful hints and titillating tidbits culled from column readers and Forum web site users. Her novel Bluebirds of Impossible Paradises: A Sexual Odyssey of the 70's is out in paperback on She has also contributed chapters to several books including Herotica (Down There Press), Dick For A Day (Villard NY), The Moment Of Truth (Seal Press) and Single Woman Of A Certain Age (Inner Ocean Publishing, Inc.) Isadora has been a talk show host and frequent TV and radio talk show guest, and a lecturer and workshop leader on a variety of communications topics. She conducts her private psychotherapy practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.