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On Intimacy Culture

BY ROSEWELL 

JOURNAL / LIVING

October 2020

Journal / Living

Issue 01

When you hear the word intimacy, what comes to mind?

Intimacy is a subjective experience, its definition is simply feelings of closeness, connectedness and bondedness with others. It’s designed to leave a lot of room for variability in lived experience. Were sexual acts among your first thoughts?

When Rosewell anonymously conducted a survey asking about intimacy, the overwhelming majority of explanations related to sexual acts. All of these experiences are valid. There are, however, many ways humans can relate to each other across the spectrum of their relationships – from platonic friendship to, of course, romantic love. Where does this tendency to equate intimacy with sexual behaviours come from?

Sexuality is an essential part of being human. As a part of our shared humanity, it follows that our cultures shape our sexuality in ways both obvious and inadvertent. From movies to music, to advertising, sex is everywhere. Try to count the number of sexual references or sexualised messaging in one day, and you will soon lose count, give up, or both. Sex is promoted as both the key to vitality and a continuing source of societal taboo. Now, not only can we be too sexual, it’s possible to feel ashamed for not being sexual enough.

In a time of unprecedented sexual freedom, the emphasis we place on sex in cultural messaging and in our daily lives seems to miss the point, that sex is just one part of being human. Just one part of the many ways we relate to others. It can be important, but it isn’t always important. Contrast this to intimacy. Research has only recently uncovered that babies cannot thrive without intimacy. In some cases, babies deprived of physical intimacy can stop growing. While sex isn’t always important, intimacy is essential to human relationships. Search “is intimacy is essential” and we’re told a different story:

Being intimate with another is about deeply knowing them. Their thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears, emotions, ambitions, in the good times and the bad. It’s how they like and don’t like to be touched or held. How they view themselves and the world and the interactions between the two. It can be all of these things or none of them. To get there, it requires being vulnerable, opening up, expressing our thoughts and feelings and saying what we really mean. These are the essential elements of any close connection. They also can relate to sex.

While sex can involve intimacy, it’s not requisite. Intimacy, on the other hand, is much more than just sex. The very fact that we tend to equate intimacy with sex suggests that we still have a lot of work to do repair our relationship with sex. Rather than constant sources of contradiction, maybe true sexual liberation exists when sex in all its forms is just part of life. It can be important, but it isn’t always important.