When we hear the word intimacy, we often think of sex. And while sex is certainly a very intimate encounter, it is not the only kind. Turns out there are actually 12 different types of intimacy.
These all directly affect not just our level of sexual intimacy, but also our overall feeling of connection with our partner.
I spoke with Dr. Kristie Overstreet, a clinical sexologist, psychotherapist, author, and consultant to learn more about each type of intimacy and how we can explore and enhance them in our relationships.
Foster These 12 Different Types of Intimacy With Your Partner:
This type of intimacy is just as it sounds. Dr. Overstreet defines recreational intimacy as you and your partner finding hobbies or interests that you share as a way of further bonding and connecting. When this aspect is missing in a relationship, it can start to feel monotonous.
Between the logistics and finances of life, fun can easily get pushed aside. But shifting how we view play – from a luxury to an important part of our larger intimate relationship – can help us move it to the top of the priority list.
But, Dr. Overstreet points out that it is equally important to have your own individual hobbies and interests.
“When you allow space for both people to have their individual interests, you create the opportunity to come back and connect together,” she says. That’s when recreational intimacy is built.
This type of intimacy is connecting on an intellectual level. It can be discussing a book, an idea, or even what can often be controversial topics like politics or religion.
It is a truly intimate experience because it takes trust and vulnerability to share your thoughts and ideas with your partner without fear of ridicule or an argument.
It requires the space for each person to have their own thoughts, and the desire to share and discuss them with their partner no matter how different they may be.
Dr. Overstreet emphasizes that intellectual intimacy is not about IQ or how well someone comprehends something, but rather how you respect each others’ minds and thought processes.
This isn’t work in the traditional career sense. Work intimacy is work within the relationship. It involves both partners equally contributing to their life together, from responsibilities around the house and taking care of children to keeping the family calendar and making plans.
“Work intimacy is one of the biggest areas that keeps couples from being connected physically,” explains Dr. Overstreet. “If you’ve got one partner who’s doing the bulk of the work, they may not want to physically connect with their partner because they don’t feel like they’re being respected, helped out, or that things are equal.”
She also points out that it is unrealistic to think things will be equal all the time. Life happens, work happens, and things get in the way.
She says the most important thing is communication – checking in with your partner, thanking them for everything they’re doing, and asking how you can help even things back out. When this doesn’t happen, it creates a breeding ground for anger and resentment. And that, she warns, will drive couples apart.
Commitment intimacy is more than continuously choosing to be committed to your partner within the relationship. As Dr. Overstreet explains, it is a mutual commitment to shared goals, values, or working together toward something.
It will look different for every couple. Perhaps it is working together toward buying a dream house, raising children, or building a business. Or, perhaps it is a commitment to continuously work on the relationship and grow together in all these different types of intimacy.
Simply put, commitment is working together toward a common goal.
Aesthetic intimacy is sharing an experience of beauty together that creates more connectedness. This also will look different for different couples. Perhaps it’s nature, music, art, or theater.
Dr. Overstreet explains that this also requires collaboration and communication because like recreational intimacy, interests can vary. Aesthetic intimacy requires individuals to compromise and to take turns supporting each other’s interests so they can be experienced together.
Whether it be watching a sunset, listening to live music, or visiting a museum, find a way to experience beauty together.
As you now know, communication is key in many of the other types of intimacy. “The hard part about communication intimacy is that you have to be honest,” explains Dr. Overstreet.
In order to work on any relationship, you must be able to share your needs, your feelings, and your concerns with your partner in a way that is constructive and doesn’t arm their defenses.
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Communication intimacy is learning how to communicate with your partner so that they fully understand what you need from them without feeling threatened or degraded, as well as receiving feedback from them in an open and loving way.
Dr. Overstreet also points out that you cannot make your partner communicate more, so when trying to build more communication intimacy, start with yourself. As you communicate more honestly, it will build trust and connection, which will begin to spill out into other aspects of the relationship.
Emotional intimacy is another big one. Life and relationships come with an array of emotions and you need to be able to share significant feelings with your partner.
Similar to sharing your thoughts in intellectual intimacy, sharing your feelings with another requires vulnerability. As Dr. Overstreet explains, when you show that vulnerability to your partner and they don’t react negatively, trust is built.
But she also emphasizes the importance of being realistic with your emotional needs and expectations, as individuals express them differently and not everyone is (or needs to be) very emotional.
“It is important that you know your emotional self, you’re able to see your partner share their emotions, and you’re able to connect in that process,” she says.
This is not necessarily taking an art class together or doing something creative in the traditional sense. Instead, it is helping one another to create the best version of each other.
“You are not trying to fix or change them,” explains Dr. Overstreet. “You’re trying to help them grow in whatever way they’re wanting to.”
This can involve making future plans, goal setting, or making a bucket list together. It is intentionally creating a life together where both individuals feel they can be their best selves.
Now, the obvious type of intimacy – physical or sexual intimacy. But there is actually more to it than simply the act of sex.
Dr. Overstreet explains sexual intimacy includes sharing fantasies, desires, and discussing what you like and what you don’t like without fear of being ignored or attacked. She explains that sexual intimacy is rooted in feeling safe. This is another type of intimacy that is heavily dependent on vulnerability.
There are a lot of fears and insecurities surrounding sex. People often worry they will be shot down by their partner if they bring up a new idea or feel inadequate or rejected for expressing their needs.
Sexual intimacy allows both individuals to communicate their needs and desires knowing they will be received with an open mind.
Whether you encounter a small or large crisis, this type of intimacy means it brings you closer. Dr. Overstreet explains that when this intimacy is strong, you empathize with each other and support one another through difficult situations.
There will, of course, be a healing process after any crisis, but crisis intimacy ensures you come out of it wanting to help one another more, wanting to show and express your love for each other, and feeling more connected overall.
This will look different for different people. It does not need to be based around a religion or church. Spiritual intimacy can simply mean discussing the meaning of life. “It doesn’t mean you see everything the same way all the time,” explains Dr. Overstreet.
“But it means that you can have these discussions in a safe way.”
This type of intimacy allows you to discuss your spiritual beliefs without feeling judged, and without someone having to be right. Again, it does not have to be rooted in religion, but discussions surrounding the deeper meanings of life are an important building block for intimacy within a relationship.
Conflict intimacy means you can have arguments within the relationship and those arguments actually help the relationship because of how you work through them.
Dr. Overstreet says it’s completely normal to argue, but it’s how the argument is handled and worked through that matters. Conflict intimacy allows for both individuals to make mistakes and be wrong, and it ensures reactions are always fair.
And remember, while you cannot change your partner, you can always change yourself. She points out to always start by asking yourself what you can do differently to have better conflict intimacy. Changes in you and your behavior will impact the relationship.
The Takeaway on the 12 Different Types of Intimacy
The main takeaway is that intimacy is connection in every sense of the word and in every aspect of life. In order to enjoy true sexual intimacy, we must be connected on all levels. It takes awareness, honesty, and intentional work.
And we won’t be perfect in all categories at all times. We must remain patient with ourselves, our partner, and our relationship.
But the reward is a healthy, fulfilling, fun, thought-provoking, and passionate relationship. And in my humble opinion, that’s totally worth it!