We often refer to sex as “intimacy” or “getting intimate” in conversations with family or doctors. But sex and intimacy don’t always go together.
You can have sex without intimacy. Can you be intimate without sex?
Can You Have Intimacy without Sex?
Intimacy means being close. A close emotional connection can be between lovers, family members, friends, and any other kind of relationship. Sexual expression can be part of intimacy, but in and of itself, sex is not always emotional and not always emotionally bonding.
Lovers can have a deep intimate connection over no more than a kiss, or they can be lacking intimacy even if they are having constant sex. In relationships where sex is not appropriate or not present, there can be deep intimacy. Sex doesn’t always mean intimate bonding, and intimacy doesn’t necessarily involve sex.
Some psychologists describe stages or degrees of intimacy to give a framework for talking about interpersonal connections and relationship. These stages are often described as emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical, and sometimes experiential.
All friendships and romantic relationships, among other bonds, have their own unique characteristics and flavors, depending on the needs, desires, interests and chemistry of those involved. But using a loose framework to think about intimacy can help gauge levels of trust or closeness. Intimacy essentially implies closeness and the feeling of being “known” and accepted.
Most people need close human relationships. You can have a lot of friends and connections and still not be close to anyone. Loneliness comes not just from a lack of human contact but from lack of close or meaningful human relationships.
There are lots of reasons why people have sex without intimacy. But why would anyone, especially someone in the polyamory community want intimacy without sex?
Sex is just one way to establish intimacy. And there are many reasons why someone may choose not to have sex, for a short time or a longer time, and sometimes, permanently. This includes polyamorous people.
Someone may need time to recharge their batteries. They may experience a drop in libido. They may be recovering from a sexual wound. They may be practicing a form of spirituality that has asked for a break or cessation of sex. They may be working on arrangements and boundaries with another partner. They may be physically ill. They may be taking precautions to avoid the risk of STIs or infectious diseases.
There are many ways to pursue intimacy without sex. Whether a relationship was sexual or not, non-sexual intimacy can benefit that relationship, and others.
Getting intimate without sex can mean physical closeness and connection, even romantically. Some people are open to kissing and touching as long as it doesn’t lead to sexual intercourse. And lots of relationships have physical closeness, because humans need touch, including non-sexual touching, such as hugging, holding hands, carrying a child, or cuddling with someone who is sick.
Other kinds of non-sexual intimacy avoid physical contact, but focus on getting closer emotionally to another person and opening up in a deeper way in the relationship.
10 Non-Sexual Intimacy Ideas
1. Share a Loving Touch
If touching is fine, periods without sex are amazing for discovering or rediscovering touch. Practice and make it a habit to communicate through non-sexual touch. Touching can affirm closeness and heal emotional wounds and even physical disease. Being touched can help us feel loved.
Touch in the usual ways—hugging, holding hands, shaking hands, snuggling during a movie, kissing goodbye. But think beyond the expected. Brush each other’s hair, wash each other, enjoy a foot massage or pedicure.
2. Be Quiet Together
One of the most uncomfortable things for many people is silence when they are around others. It can be extremely awkward to be with other people if no one is filling the space with small talk.
Comfortable silence is deep non-sexual intimacy.
3. Do Different Things, Together
Doing different things at the same time in the same space means sharing space without being in the same frame of mind. This is not easy. Something as simple as reading different books together or one doing a crossword or email while the other is watching a program can feel disjointing.
Make an effort to spend more time together even if you are working or playing in a different way.
4. Cook Together
Spending time together while preparing nourishment is an age old act of intimacy, with recipes and techniques passed from elder to youngest, and family bonds and traditions tied by cultural and family foods.
Cooking together can also be sensual, handling beautiful vegetables and earthy breads and meats. Wine can be a relaxing part of cooking. Chopping up foods in preparation and puzzling out recipes together can give space to deep conversation or allow couples time to laugh together.
5. Eat Together
Eating is a profound and sacred act—without it, we die. It is a drive stronger than sex! We don’t usually think of it this way, we just enjoy it. But both romantic and family bonds are formed around the table.
Cooking together is one aspect of non-sexual intimacy, and eating together is a natural follow-up. You can even feed each other for an intense and sensual intimacy with sex.
6. Share Music Together
We often feel that music expresses our experiences and even our true essence. Open up to each other through music. Don’t just play it in the background, or argue over preferences.
Try to really listen to your partner’s favorites and share your own deeply personal and meaningful songs. Tell each other why the songs matter and what it is that moves you. You can create a back and forth playlist to listen to while cooking or relaxing, or have a song exchange each day.
7. Dance Together
Dance beside a fountain, sway to soft jazz on your balcony, or go out dancing. Take ballroom or tango lessons.
8. Meditate, Do yoga, or Pray Together
Whatever your spiritual practices, “spiritual intimacy” is one of the kinds of intimacy and many consider it equally or more important than sexual or physical intimacy.
If you share a belief or practice, practice together. Attend services and ceremonies together. If you don’t share spiritual beliefs, be open to sharing each other’s rituals, or finding a common ground to practice occasionally. Even if you aren’t particularly devout, adding a few prayers or relaxing yoga to your routine can increase your sense of well being and connectedness to the “big picture” and each other.
9. Share New Experiences Together
Travel to a dream destination, take in a play or a museum, or drive to the next town and find a new bookstore or park to enjoy together. Routines are stabilizing but also boring, and new experiences, however small, build connection and non-sexual intimacy.
10. Go for Long Walks
Take long morning or evening walks together and simply talk and share the events of the day, or look at the sky. Walks are a wonderful way to give a purposeful activity that is still leisure, with space to talk and be silent.
How do you practice non-sexual intimacy?