Here’s the truth: Sex can be intimate, but it doesn’t have to be. Intimacy can be sexual, but it can be so much more. People often use the two terms interchangeably, but intimacy goes way beyond just sex and it’s time we appreciate intimacy in all its forms.
Plenty of Fish surveyed 2,900 single or casually dating Americans and found them to be doing just that – prioritizing other forms of intimacy beyond the physical. We’re talking emotional, intellectual, and beyond.
This is good news for everyone really. Intimacy intersects with every facet of our identities, interactions, and relationships. Whether it’s online, at the table, or in the bedroom, intimacy drives connection. Period.
If now you’re thinking “okay, so what are these other types of intimacy you keep talking about, and how do I get on board?” keep on reading. You can up your intimacy game for more meaningful connections by using the strategies below for cultivating five different types of intimacy.
1. Emotional Intimacy
Emotional intimacy is what really lays the groundwork for all other types of intimacy. Whether you’re in a casual fling or a long-term relationship, emotional intimacy matters. Why? Because every human interaction involves an emotional exchange of some kind. When you feel emotionally close, you’re more likely to feel heard, appreciated, understood, and cared for. You’re also more likely to feel supported and safe when you run into conflict or challenge.
To cultivate emotional intimacy, start by opening up and sharing your more vulnerable feelings. Admit when you feel unsure, insecure, nervous, anxious, and/or jealous. This will, hopefully, help create space for a date or partner to do the same.
Using prompts can be helpful to better understand a (potential) partner as a way of fostering an emotional connection.
You might ask about their early years:
“If you could go back to your teen years, what would you change?”
Or ask about uplifting experiences:
“What are you most proud of?”
Of course, you can also ask about vulnerable experiences or beliefs:
“What are you most afraid of?”
You don’t always need to purposefully reach for this emotional intimacy, but by staying open to conversations and emotions that go deeper than mad, sad, and glad, you’ll likely find that your connections are more authentic and meaningful in both the short and long term.
2. Digital Intimacy
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s the relevance of digital intimacy. Often underrated, tons of singles and casual daters say it’s here to stay. Empathy, attraction, chemistry, excitement, passion, and love can all be experienced online just like they can IRL, and yes, they can still mean just as much. To level up your digital connections, try experimenting with a bunch of different mediums and you might find your sweet spot along the way.
For audial connections, make those calls and send those voice notes. Voice notes are a super valuable and underused tool. Audial learners are also audial daters, which pretty much just means they love the sound of your voice, so let it out! Pro-tip: Plenty of Fish has an audio chat feature that can help you live your audio date dreams.
For visual connections, send photos or memes, prerecord videos, join live streams, and/or chat over video. Don’t feel pressure to do it all. If you’re not ready for a live one-on-one video chat, prerecord a quick video and send it when they least expect it. The beauty of digital intimacy is you can find what works for your comfort level.
For written connections, chat privately, share links/articles, comment on their photos and posts, and play around with unpredictability to build anticipation.
You can always spice things up with sexier digital connections too— phone sex, sexting, and saucy video chats have become the norm, and it’s time to lean into them because the data says they’re here to stay! 66% of surveyed singles and casual daters are going to keep on gettin’ it on virtually even post-pandemic.
3. Sexual Intimacy
Sexual intimacy is probably top of mind when we think about intimate encounters, but sex means different things to different people. For some people, sex is a way to express love and devotion and for others, it’s an act of pleasure. Most of us, of course, fall somewhere in between. Truthfully, there’s really no universal definition of sexual intimacy.
Personally, I see sexual intimacy as a willingness to be open about your desires and welcoming of your partner’s (or whoever you’re sharing the experience with). This can mean getting into any fantasies you might have, or specific sex acts you’d be into trying, but it also means chatting about the values you attach to sex. Because everyone’s values are so unique, I always recommend you talk about your sexual values right from the get-go.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can ask things like:
- What does sex mean to you?
- What types of sex do you enjoy?
- What types of sex are you curious about?
- What types of sex are off-limits?
- What are the emotional elements you attach to sex?
- What are the relational components you associate with sex?
- How do you want to feel before, during, and after sex?
You don’t have to answer every question in one conversation and these prompts are just the start. If you really want to cultivate sexual intimacy, you’ll want to make sure these conversations are open and ongoing.
4. Romantic Intimacy
Romantic intimacy usually refers to closeness cultivated through romantic interactions. Of course, expectations of romance vary from person to person and culture to culture, but a lot of people associate romance with passion and excitement.
To cultivate passion and excitement, look for ways to bring novelty, unpredictability, and mystery into your interactions (even as you’re getting to know one another and growing closer).
- Take turns planning dates so you can surprise one another.
- Try an activity that’s new for one or both of you.
- Don’t over-plan; do something like meeting in the park and seeing where the afternoon takes you.
- Gamify your dates by picking a theme or challenge (e.g. You can only spend $7 each to create a romantic picnic).
- Play two truths and a lie each time you meet up and see where the conversation takes you.
However you view romance, remember that it isn’t necessarily something you find, but it can be cultivated with effort and sharing (and adjusting) your expectations.
5. Relational Intimacy
Relational intimacy means those feelings of closeness in a relationship. This might be rooted in trust, companionship, and love, but in the earlier days of dating, it can be connected to shared experiences and understanding.
If you’ve just met, you might feel intimately connected if you share backgrounds in common (ie through work, family, or culture). By listing some of these items in your online dating profile, you give potential partners the opportunity to identify these shared experiences before you even start chatting!
You might also opt to talk in more detail about your relational values when you start connecting with someone:
- What type of relationship are you looking for?
- What does a fulfilling relationship look like?
- What makes a relationship work?
- What do you tend to do well in relationships?
- Why do you want to be in a relationship?
Obviously, you’re not staging an interview and you probably don’t want it to come across that way, but asking a question or two can help lay the groundwork for relational intimacy as the connection develops.
At the end of the day, there are no universal definitions of intimacy and there are certainly more than five types! Keep an open mind as you explore your own meanings — all in the name of more exciting and fulfilling connections.