Just Get Physical! Understanding the Connection between Sex and Intimacy

Understanding the Connection between Sex and Intimacy

Sex and sexual contact is a healthy and natural part of any relationship. Some engage in it casually, others prefer to wait until marriage to engage in sexual activity. In the present day society, it is not unusual for the question to arise sooner in a relationship rather than later. No matter where a person is on the spectrum, however, it is important to understand the connection between sex and intimacy and why one does not exist without the other. Understanding this connection can provide a wealth of knowledge about how to create a long-lasting and healthy bond with your partner.

The link between sex and intimacy was, for many years, one that went largely undiscussed in social circles. Sure, there was the occasional conversation that hinted of sexual activity, but from an outside point of view, most conversation about sex and sexual contact was muted or subversive. Our present day society, however, is more open to discussion about these topics, some even openly give tips or advice about how to receive a better and more satisfying experience. The first thing to clarify is that yes, sex and intimacy go hand in hand. But the experience of each of these varies greatly depending upon the person.

Gender variations on the issue of sex

Women are emotional creatures, and they tend to engage in sexual activity when there is some sort of emotional connection to the other person purely on the basis of attraction. Many who report engaging in sex mainly out of attraction to the other person become dissatisfied with the experience due to the lack of connection resulting from this most intimate form of physical closeness. While they may not regret the action, many of these women find themselves seeking further connection rather than being momentarily content with the experience.

Men, on the other hand, are more drawn to physical attraction. Having sex outside of a long-term relationship is not difficult, and many do not suffer the same kind of desire for repeated connection. The act of sex itself is less connected to emotions as it is to physical pleasure. This does not mean the experiences of men and women fall completely in line with these descriptions. But for the most part, each gender tends to experience sex in similar ways.


here are many possible benefits that come as a result of sex and sexual contact. These can present both individually and as a couple. First, and perhaps the most obvious, is the increase in physical closeness. Whether sex is actually occurring or not, physical closeness promotes emotional intimacy and increases a positive connection between two people. Sex, then, is simply an enhanced version of physical closeness. Second, and again rather obvious, is the fun and enjoyment! During sexual intercourse or pleasure, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the brain. This “happy drug” gives your brain and body a natural rush and feeling of ecstasy. It is amazing how fluidly the brain and body work together to make an enjoyable experience even better! This pleasure, if associated with significant other or spouse, can increase the emotional connection that already exists. It does not replace the work you must do to maintain emotional intimacy in other ways, but it certainly works to improve and enhance it! Third, the act of sex can build on the attraction you feel toward your partner. You were attracted to the person enough in body and mind to engage in a relationship of some sort. How much more might you be attracted to that person if you know what you are doing together is a pleasurable experience on both the accounts?

Keep in mind, sex and sexual activity does not replace the need for other skills to maintain emotional intimacy. Rather, it is one piece of a larger puzzle. Regular physical interaction and closeness with your partner can provide a safe place for each of you to explore and experience one another in new and adventurous ways. There is no textbook plan or checklist for how your physical relationship with your partner should look. Pay attention to the needs of one another. Talk about what you like or dislike. Be open and willing to communicate about something so intimate can create healthy communication and open the door for other, more difficult conversations. And never underestimate the power of physical closeness in an effort to increase emotional intimacy and connectedness!

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Elizabeth McCormick is a Licensed Social Worker and mental health counselor at the University of Evansville. She has worked for several years with children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families and has pursued continued education in the fields of suicide prevention and community awareness. She is an advocate for learning and has had the opportunity to teach college courses in the fields of Human Services, Sociology, and Communication Studies.

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