7 Truths About The Link Between Emotional & Sexual Intimacy, From A Therapist
When was the last time you felt connected with your partner? That feeling of safety and security in your relationship?
If it's been a while, know that intimacy is the bedrock of a healthy relationship—including both sexual and emotional intimacy. Here are the seven things you need to know about the connection between emotional and sexual intimacy and how to improve both in your relationship:
Intimacy goes beyond sex.
When you hear the word intimacy, what comes to mind? Often people immediately think of sex or physical closeness when they hear the word, but in reality, that's just one narrow definition.
Intimacy is vast and is defined differently by everyone. The best way to describe intimacy is to think of it as a connection. If you want to be intimate in some way, you want to connect.
There are many types of intimacy.
Below are 12 types of intimacy—each one is a way we can connect and build trust with our partners, which is what intimacy really is:
- Emotional intimacy
- Sexual or physical intimacy
- Crisis intimacy
- Recreational intimacy
- Communication intimacy
- Aesthetic intimacy
- Work intimacy
- Commitment intimacy
- Creative intimacy
- Conflict intimacy
- Spiritual intimacy
- Intellectual intimacy
Regardless of how you like to connect, there is an area of intimacy that you and your partner can focus on to build your relationship.
There's a connection between emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy.
Two of the most powerful types of intimacy are emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy.
Emotional intimacy is being able to share your feelings. Being emotionally intimate with another person means being vulnerable and knowing that you're not going to be hurt by them. This ability to share your emotions, outlook, and feelings grows your connection as a couple.
Sexual intimacy is being able to connect sexually with your partner in an emotionally and physically safe way. Sexual intimacy improves when two people can openly discuss needs, wants, or desires, creating a safe space where both individuals can communicate their physical and sexual needs without being judged.
When you get your emotional needs met and feel emotionally connected to your partner (that is, you have emotional intimacy), then you're often more able and willing to connect sexually. In other words, emotional intimacy often bolsters sexual intimacy.
(Here's how to know if you have an emotional connection with someone, plus some ways to emotionally connect with your partner.)
It's important to recognize when there are different definitions of intimacy within a relationship.
You and your partner may define intimacy differently, and that's OK. Everyone sees intimacy differently because we have experienced it differently. Our past behavior, experience, and relationships are the lenses through which we view the world. These affect how we experience intimacy.
Even two people in a relationship can view intimacy differently. For example, you may want to connect with them by spending time alone where you both can relax and talk. On the other hand, your partner wants to connect with you, too, but they see having sex as the way to be close to you.
Both of you want intimacy, but it looks very different. Neither of you is wrong with how you see intimacy, but you each have different intimate needs.
By meeting one another's intimacy needs, you're showing each other that you're committed to listening and acting on their needs.
It's important for you to know your own emotional and sexual intimacy needs.
We don't have a guidebook to tell us our emotional and sexual intimacy needs, so it's up to us to figure them out along the way.
Start by writing out your emotional needs. Think about what actions and words you use with your partner to feel emotionally connected. Examine your thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and actions from the past to see what helped you feel connected. Then write out what actions or words your partner can take or say that help you feel emotionally connected to them.
Next, write out your sexual needs. Think about what you want more of, less of, your desires, turn-offs, and turn-ons. Then identify which of these you want to see improve or change.
After you've listed your needs, ask your partner to do the same. Then, from a place of nonjudgment and open-mindedness, discuss the needs of both of you so you both have a better understanding of the needs within the relationship.
There's a connection between trust and intimacy.
Trust—that is, feeling safe with your partner and confident that they'll treat you well, keep their promises, and care for the relationship—is closely tied to intimacy. When intimacy (aka connection) improves, trust also improves. Trust and intimacy move in tandem. When one is down, so is the other. You can't have one without the other.
When trust is really good in your relationship, you feel emotionally connected to them. Trust is high, so therefore intimacy is high—often both emotionally and sexually.
But the opposite can also happen. When trust in your partner changes, so does your connection with them, both emotionally and sexually. When there is a decrease in trust, your emotional and sexual intimacy decreases.
Improving trust improves intimacy.
Trust and intimacy move together in a relationship, meaning if there is a decrease in trust, then there is a decrease in intimacy. That means working on building trust in a relationship is a key part of fostering more intimacy between you.
To do that, start with accepting that trust isn't an all-or-nothing thing. Think of it like this: Trust moves up and down a scale of zero to 10 throughout the day. If you're feeling connected to your partner and things are going well, your trust level is on the higher end. If your partner says or does something that doesn't feel good to you, your trust goes down on the scale at the moment.
Some people make the mistake of saying they don't trust their partner. However, they're still in a relationship with them. If you are in a relationship, your trust in them is at least a one on the scale, or you wouldn't be with them.
To improve trust, your goal is to act and say things that enhance trust in your relationship. Ask your partner if they need help with anything or if you can do anything to support them. Your willingness to offer help shows how much you care about them. Showing genuine care and support is what improves trust.
The bottom line.
There's a powerful connection between emotional and sexual intimacy, and both are closely tied to trust in the relationship. Additionally, creating the relationship you deserve requires you to examine your definition of intimacy and your personal intimacy needs, in addition to your partner's, and find ways to meet those needs together.
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, is a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist with 12 years of clinical experience. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a certified sex therapist, certified addiction professional, and president of the Therapy Department, a private practice in Orange County that provides counseling, coaching, training, speaking, and consulting services throughout the United States.
Overstreet holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology and a master's degree in Professional Counseling. Known as the real-world relationship expert, she teaches people to improve their connection with themselves and others. She has given a TEDx talk on healthcare and also serves as a national contributor to CNN, Psychology Today, Readers Digest, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and various other media.