I have long term couples coming to see me worried that because they are no longer having regular sex they are scared about losing their sense of intimacy. They think sex is intimacy and they are wrong. Intimacy is a mind thing. Relationships are more than sex or the lack of it, they are more about friendship and companionship. These latter qualities are vastly underrated and under valued I reckon. True friendship and companionship requires above all, honesty.
True human intimacy is having the feeling that part of me is part of another and knowing part of them is within you. It is this mental understanding which is difficult to put into words. We all know we can have sex as a physical need without intimacy. Casual sex is like that where we can enjoy sex for the moment with no strings attached but deep down crave intimacy, especially when loneliness is felt afterwards.
Many gay couples that have been together for a long time allow themselves to have sex outside the relationship provided no intimacy is involved. This means limiting sex times with others or some other restrictions to ensure that their own intimacy is not threatened. It works well for some couples, for others not so much. Honesty is the saviour.
Some couples also feel they have lost a sense of intimacy even though they still have regular sex. They still feel a sense of loneliness after sex. So how do you work on creating intimacy? Well maintaining secrets or telling lies is one great way to destroy intimacy. It might make one person feel in control by keeping secrets but in the end and over time intimacy will be lost and loneliness will set in – for both partners.
It is very possible for couples, or anyone, to create a clean slate and stop keeping secrets. It is also time to share vulnerabilities. It isn’t going to be easy at first but a break through will happen one way or the other. Loneliness has to be challenged. It is this sense of mental sharing again that allows part of one person to feel part of the other. We already know that our most precious relationships with family, friends or lovers are the ones where we can be ourselves and also let the other be the same. Now that is intimacy, it is not sex.
Without intimacy people feel alone – on their own in the world even though surrounded by people all day. To break this loneliness first requires acknowledging it as such and then working on ways to be open, honest and authentic with people.
Of course for those who are in relationships where sex and intimacy are together they have the best of all worlds. Good on them. So sex is not intimacy by itself. The cornerstones of an excellent relationship are like the 3 corners of the gay triangle, trust (no secrets), being vulnerable and having dreams in life for each other and for themselves together.
Gerry North is a gay couples counsellor and treats depression and anxiety • Email: [email protected] • www.gaycounselling.vpweb.com.au