Sex and Intimacy; What’s the Difference?

Sex: Physical activity in which people touch each other’s bodies, kiss each other, etc. : physical activity that is related to and often includes sexual intercourse

Intimacy: close familiarity or friendship; closeness.
an intimate act, especially sexual intercourse.

Definitions of these two words pulled from the Internet, respectively Merriam-Webster’s website and would indicate that the two are likely to be synonymous. However, dear readers, I beg to differ. Certainly the two are close cousins and can be the same thing, but they can also be completely separate and unrelated acts. Those actions may be perceived to an outside observer as sexual in nature whether or not that is actually the case.

Sex, by the very nature of the vulnerability that it engenders is seen as an intimate act by many people. But I have had sex that totally lacked any intimacy at all, even with a long term partner. It was just sex and it didn’t have passion or love or any form of closeness associated with it. It was just an act of intercourse. And that can be true for couples, FWBs, or one night stands, just as much as it can not be true for all of the same people listed above. It can be true for anyone having sex at all.

In my current relationship, I experience intimacy every day, all day in a million little ways. And sex isn’t always part of those million ways; sometimes not at all, sometimes…well…sometimes I’ve been known to wake the neighbors exploring sex and intimacy with my partner. Oops! Not only do we share sexual intimacy, but other little things as I mentioned. Like cooking together in a tiny kitchen where we can’t move without bumping into one another. It makes us mindful of our actions as we cook together and mindful of each other. And it is something that feels very close and loving, even though it is such a mundane activity. Obviously, cooking does NOT equal sex, although my partner can make french toast that is nearly orgasm inducing. Random fact; it once caused someone to actually propose to my partner because their french toast is that tasty.

But I digress; so what’s the difference between the two?

Sex is an act in and of itself. It can be for pleasure, for procreation, for both of those things at once or separately. It can be consensual, it can be (sadly) forced, or vanilla or kinky or any number of ways and things and times and events. But that doesn’t always make it intimate. It can lack the closeness and familiarity that is the very definition of intimacy. That alone tells us that it isn’t the same as intimacy, despite the term “being intimate” as common slang for a sexual act of any kind. Conversely, it can be incredibly intimate.

However, intimacy is something that I find to be much greater than just sex and more than the sum of those parts. Intimacy is a shared private joke, touch (of all kinds; a flogging can be intimate without being sexual), doing everyday activities together, date nights, a hug, and too many things to really list here.

Two of my favorite things in my own relationship that I find to be incredibly intimate is that my partner will come wash my hair for me in the shower. Now that might seem silly or juvenile because I’m clearly capable of washing my own hair, but when my partner does it for me then we get to be close and enjoy a small intimacy together that is very tactile and feels very good to me. On that same note, my partner dislikes anyone else washing their hair but lets me comb it out after a shower and that too is an intimate act, one that takes time and patience as their hair tangles easily. My other favorite (that is just for me in some ways) is on nights when I can’t sleep sometimes my partner will join me in the bedroom, dip their fingers in coconut oil, and very gently rub and massage my mons and vulva with oil covered fingers. And I know that this may sound sexual and like something I might get off to, but in reality it is soothing and relaxing. My orgasm isn’t even a goal here, although if it happens, then it happens. The goal is to be close to someone, to be safe and wanted, and to gently be petted into relaxation that leads to some much needed sleep. And that is intimacy in my life. Sex is something entirely different as I mentioned above.

Two closely related words, two very different meanings and outcomes for how they work both alone and together. TO achieve both of these things in a relation ship, communication is key. Talk to your partner(s!) And for anyone who is curious about the intimacy of petting, I dare you to give it a try!



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