There are people in all different stages and seasons of a relationship. During each phase or season in a relationship, the needs of the couple, or at least one person in the relationship, may change. These changes often come in the form of changes in intimacy needs.
Although many people see intimacy and sex as interchangeable terms, there are five defined types of intimacy in a relationship.
They include physical/sexual, emotional, intellectual, experiential and spiritual, and all are present to some degree, but not an equal degree, in a positive, healthy and balanced relationship.
Physical intimacy is much more than just having sex. It is about physical touch, comfort, support and connection.
Understanding the physical intimacy hormone issue
In most relationships, physical intimacy is most important to the couple in the initial stages of the relationship.
There are hormonal changes that occur in the brain that trigger a sense of bonding and needing to be with each other. In a study completed in 2004 and published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers found that people newly in love, which was defined as six months or less, had higher levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
After 12 to 24 months in the relationship, these hormones were again naturally lowered to normal levels.
At the same time, women in the early stages of relationships had higher testosterone levels than in the test one to two years later, and men had slightly lower testosterone levels. Interestingly, these hormonal changes, including higher aggression in women and lower aggression in men, tend to result in each seeing partners as more positive and a match as opposed to seeing faults or potential mismatches in the relationship.
As the relationship progresses, the transient changes in hormones change, which results in less of a sexual drive for both partners over time.
The need for physical intimacy may decrease on average, but at the same time, the need for emotional, intellectual (sharing ideas) and experiential (sharing experiences) tends to increase.
Spiritual intimacy, which includes sharing in spiritual events such as being in nature, religious worship or deeply meaningful activities and events is also seen as more important as the relationship evolves through time.
Why physical intimacy is not enough
While physical intimacy is important for couples and partners, it is not on its own the key to a good relationship. Physical intimacy can occur in a one night stand or in an abusive or co-dependent relationship. In many cases, in abusive relationships, physical intimacy becomes a weapon to be used against the person being victimized.
The connection between all of the various forms of intimacy as a couple is the key indicator of relationship success.
As noted in, The Marriage and Relationship Junkie, relationships without emotional intimacy are at risk of self-destructing, which is why this issue comes into play so often in codependency.
In a healthy relationship there will be a balance, but not an equal representation in all forms of intimacy. Over time the physical intimacy may change in form and move from less sexual to more comforting and supportive, but the physical side of the relationship is always present.