When we think of intimacy, we often think of sex. However, there are at least four types of intimacy that don't involve sex or touch at all—but are just as impactful in a romantic partnership.
What is intimacy?
Intimacy is the feeling of closeness and interconnectedness with another person, and it's the bedrock of a strong, long-lasting relationship. Intimacy can exist in all types of relationships, from friendships to family relationships to romantic ones.
While people associate intimacy in a relationship with sex, that's truly just one type of intimacy: the physical kind. Sex can be an important part of committed relationships, but they also require sustainable rapport beyond just chemistry in the bedroom.
The 5 types of intimacy in a relationship
Intimacy and sex are widely considered synonymous, and it makes sense why: Intimacy is about closeness, and intercourse is about as close as possible to another human that we can physically get.
Physical intimacy is about creating feelings of closeness and connection through using your bodies and physical touch, which can include sex as well as non-sexual touch, such as kissing, various types of hugs, and just cuddling.
Emotional intimacy involves candid, authentic sharing of thoughts and feelings. It involves being able to tell each other your deepest fears, dreams, disappointments, and most complicated emotions, as well as feeling seen and understood when you do. Emotional intimacy means both you and your partner feel safe and comfortable with this type of uninhibited expression around each other. This "safe space" is cultivated by each person refraining from judgment or contempt when the other is sharing.
We confide in people whom we trust. That doesn't mean they always tell us what we want to hear, but we believe they won't repeat anything we share in confidence. We also don't expect them to embarrass or belittle us.
Comfort with communicating beliefs and viewpoints without worrying about potential conflicts creates intellectual intimacy. Each person in the relationship has the freedom to think for themselves and believes that their opinions are valued—instead of feeling pressured to agree. This atmosphere encourages stimulating conversation. You feel closer to the person who cares for you independent of differences and respects your voice.
Shared experiences lead to inside jokes and private memories that can intensify a connection. The act of teamwork and moving in unison toward a common goal while creating an experience also establishes a feeling of closeness. This bond is the result of experiential intimacy.
Religious practice isn't necessary for spiritual intimacy, though it can serve the purpose. This closeness forms when you share poignant moments with your partner. Though praying and worshiping as a couple could qualify as one such moment, there are many other examples of spiritual intimacy.
If the vulnerability required to achieve intimacy feels scary or foreign, you're not alone. Fear of intimacy holds a purpose, and most likely it's protection, but all that means is that you need alternative ways of feeling safe.