Feeling connected to another person through sex can be one of the most fulfilling and satisfying experiences that this weird, wonderful human existence has to offer. But sometimes, despite longing for more closeness in our lives, we find ourselves struggling to experience truly intimate sex. Whether it's due to stress or exhaustion or losing touch with ourselves and our partners, sometimes we need a little help finding our path back to the intimacy that can live at the heart of sex.
What is intimate sex?
Intimate sex is any sexual encounter involving a lot of intimacy between the partners involved. Rather than using sex as a closed-off means for pure gratification of the self, all partners are completely present in creating a shared experience of mutual pleasure.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to what counts as "intimate," since sexual and emotional variance between people is unimaginably large. One person's intimacy is the intensity of being flogged and humiliated by their lover, while another's is oral sex with the lights on. The key connecting factor is trust, security, and openness. When you feel completely able to open up to your partner and show them the private side of yourself that is usually hidden from the world, you engender a bond of trust from which intimacy can grow.
Importantly, intimate sex isn't exclusive to long-term, monogamous lovers. A beautiful amount of trust and thereby intimacy can also be cultivated by a relaxed, shame-free atmosphere in which all parties are honest about their needs and desires. (Here's more on cultivating intimacy in a new relationship.)
Tips for more intimate sex:
Treat sex as an art, not a science.
"We have to change the way we think about sex. We think of sex as a science, wanting to watch YouTube videos or read books to show us exactly what to do. But sex is an art, not a science," sex and relationship coach Prandhara Prem, M.A., tells mbg. "So these tips help, but what is important is not to try to follow these tips as if they were gold. Be open to experience sex in different ways, understanding that it will always look different or may not be what you imagined."
Touch each other more.
Try to incorporate more touch outside the bedroom, Prem recommends. "Especially now, we are more touch-deprived than ever. Don't just touch when you want to have sex. Touch throughout the day. Touch while talking or sitting and watching a movie. It can be a light touch as you laugh at something, or pinkie fingers touching. It can even be holding hands or hugging while watching TV or a movie or while walking."
When you touch your lover frequently, you become more attuned to reading their body and their reactions. Which touches cause them to melt? Which ones are ticklish? All this information can give you more ease with each other's bodies, which helps increase intimacy during sex.
"Mutual masturbation can be a great way to enhance connection with a partner. It takes a pretty high level of vulnerability to share oneself with another in that way. It also allows an opportunity for both partners to learn from each other about how, when, and where they most like to be touched," says licensed therapist Anna Dow, LMFT.
Explicitly showing your partner how you like to get off is not just a hot way to be vulnerable and therefore increase trust, but it is also useful in giving your partner a road map for your body. With this confidence, they can feel empowered and therefore more comfortable, which can only increase your sexual connection.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
In the current pandemic, many people are cooped up with lovers and partners in ways that can feel stultifying. Dow recommends that partners "mix things up by adding in a bit of space. Sharing sexual intimacy at a distance through remotely controlled sex toys, phone sex, or video sex can be a good way to shift into exploring a new type of connection together."
While leaning into space might seem "antithetical to the goal of fostering intimacy, it's important to remember that fires need fuel and air to burn," she notes. "Sometimes spending too much time together and/or getting bogged down by routines can actually be stifling to intimate connections."
Experiment with anal play.
Dow recommends anal sex as a good way to promote intimacy. "Anal play requires us to go slowly and tends to encourage even more frequent communication than other types of sexual play. That process can deepen intimacy for people in unexpected ways—attuning partners together in a vulnerable and delicate way."
(If you're looking to explore anal, then the second essential after communication is lube. A silicone-based lube is perfect for anal play because it's thicker than water-based lube and can therefore better protect the delicate lining of your anus, which can't produce its own lubricant in the same way the vagina can. Just remember that silicone-based lube shouldn't be used with silicone dildos or butt plugs, as it can degrade the material.)
Try tantric sex.
Tantric sex is an approach to sexuality that's grounded in nurturing a deep, spiritual connection between partners through breathwork, energy movement, and slower forms of touch. Anyone interested in intimate sex can benefit from incorporating basic tantric principles and techniques into their sexual repertoire.
Talk about what you want and don't want.
Part of intimate sex is being able to have conversations about the sex you're having.
"Communicating about sexpectations is the key to increasing intimacy," says AASECT-certified sex therapist Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW. "By being open and clear about what your preferences are, the better chance your partner will know how to engage with you. Being vulnerable about likes and dislikes while practicing acceptance promotes emotional safety, an essential quality for elevating intimacy."
That is to say, there are no easy cheats when it comes to cultivating intimacy. If you can't be direct with your partner, you close off the potential for a true union between you.
Get into exploration mode together.
While it's very helpful if you already have an idea about the kind of stimulation you want or need that you can share with your partner, it can also be extremely intimate to be able to come to this knowledge together.
"Think of ways you can explore some new pleasure territory. Trying out new kinks, sex toys, or positions can be a great way to enhance presence through awakening your beginner's mind," says Dow. "The possibilities of ways people can experience pleasure are too varied and vast for anyone to have explored them all. I encourage you to open up conversations with your partner(s) about potential new things they may want to explore."
Invite your sense of wonder into the room.
"It can be helpful to imagine how you interact with new lovers," Dow says. "Early in relationships, we tend to be more curious and experimental. We try out different types of touch and remain more curious about how they feel to our partners."
If you can dig into this sense of curiosity and approach your partner's body as something that can offer new and exciting alleys of pleasure, you open up a sense of joint playfulness that can feel extremely transformative.
Intimate sex positions:
The Eye-Gazing Straddle
Eye gazing refers to silently staring into a partner's eyes for a long, uninterrupted period. "Eye gazing can promote feelings of safety and attunement," Brito says. She recommends incorporating it into a seated straddle position. Here are her instructions:
- Use pillows to prop yourself up and lean against your bed frame.
- Apply lube around your genitals. Go on top of your partner in a sitting position, wrap your legs around them, and rub your genitals against your partner's genitals gently.
- If you have a sex toy or a penis and want to engage in intercourse, insert the penis/sex toy and do not thrust.
- Pause, and gaze at each other. Say something sweet to each other.
- Then slowly thrust, if you desire, or rub against each other while practicing eye gazing at each other.
Pillow Under the Pelvis
"To increase intimacy, or intensity, place a pillow under your pelvis, while you raise your legs up. Have your partner lean against you, using lube to rub against your genitals. Take your time to notice your body's response while having your partner's genitals against you and resting their shoulders on you," Brito says.
"If you want to engage in intercourse, slowly insert your penis/sex toy, taking your time not to rush but to appreciate your interaction. Pause to notice texture, temperature, and pressure, and share what you notice with each other."
By taking the time to slow down the pace of your sexual encounters and engaging in positions such as this one, which allow a large amount of body-on-body contact, you give space for a shared sense of appreciation of the other.
Edge of the Bed
This position, recommended by Brito, enables your partner to luxuriate in your hands on them and gives you the chance to marvel at their body moving against you as they pleasure themselves. Supporting your partner as they explore their body can feel extremely intimate.
Here are Brito's instructions:
- With this position, use your legs and feet to find support, as you sit at the edge of the bed. Invite your partner to rest on your genitals, as they face away from you.
- Use lotion to lather their back, buttocks, arms, all while taking your time.
- While you stroke their body, invite your partner to use a vibrator or other sex toy on their genitals, all while letting you know how much they appreciate your touch.
The Yab Yum
Also called the lotus sex position, Prem recommends this tantric sex position as a surefire connection catalyst. Follow the instructions for the Eye Gazing Straddle, but then begin to engage in "circular breathing." This is where when one person breathes in, the other breathes out, and vice versa.
"This creates a circular flow going and allows you to exchange energy," Prem explains. "Being in yab yum allows you to connect the heart chakras. The other breathing that you can do is breathing together in and out at the same pace. This gets your heart to beat at the same rate, thereby allowing you to be more empathetic with each other and know what the other is feeling."
Whichever pathways you choose to explore on your path to more intimate sex, just remember that the key to any type of intimacy is openness and honesty. Intimacy cannot be built on false pretenses, so don't be afraid to be real with your partner(s) about what you want.
Kesiena Boom, M.S., is a sociologist, writer, and poet. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Manchester and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from Lund University. Her work has been featured at Slate, Buzzfeed, Vice, Autostraddle, and elsewhere. Her writing focuses on sex, pleasure, queer experience and community, feminist theory and practice, and race and anti-racism.