It might be stereotypical to suggest that women push for intimacy and men push for sex. Yet, there is some truth behind this. In romantic relationships, there is a pull and push dance that happens between intimacy and sex. To understand how this plays out in a relationship, let’s first let’s define what intimacy is.
Intimacy is . . .
- Emotional – sharing thoughts and feelings (aka vulnerability) and receiving empathy
- Physical – reaching for the other for closeness and reassurance, not to initiate sex
- Sexual – Yes, that means actual sex (as defined by each partner)
Men and Women Define Intimacy Differently
While I’m referring to the stereotypical male/female roles here, note that any gender could play either role. However, for the most part, women want and need an emotional connection with their partner to feel loved and secure. When they feel emotionally connected and safe enough, they will want physical closeness. When all that’s flowing, sex is a natural progression because of a desire for an even deeper closeness.
Men? Well, most men struggle to talk about their feelings. Hugs, hand holding, snuggles, and cuddles aren’t always easy to ask for or comfortable to do. Yet, men know how to ask for sex! When a man receives sex from their partner, they get a huge whopping dose of acceptance. Ah, good. This means everything is okay! Right? No. Herein lies the problem.
The Cycle of Neglect and Rejection
If she doesn’t feel emotionally connected, she will rebuff the man’s attempts to initiate sex. Why? She does not want to communicate that everything is okay! She’ll reject the kiss, avoid closeness, and be emotionally prickly – all attempting to communicate that everything is not okay. Most men do not cultivate the emotional safety and connection that women need in order to either want sex or want to give sex to them.
What happens next? The man feels rejected, pulls away and doesn’t cultivate emotional connection (and thus emotional safety). She feels ignored or abandoned and therefore hurt. Then when his libido builds and he attempts to initiate sex again, because he has been distant instead of focusing on connection, guess what happens? He’ll get rejected again! She’ll then trust his efforts to connect less and less.
This neglect and reject pattern quickly creates resentment in each partner and needs addressing.
How to Solve the Sex vs. Intimacy Puzzle
If sex is a problem in your relationship, start working to ensure the emotional connection is secure. Learn to share your thoughts and feelings. Learn to be an empathetic listener – empathy is the ‘magic lube’ of relationships! Be a kind and attentive partner. Be a devoted partner. This may not fix everything and it won’t be a fast fix. However, I’m sure if you do this, you’ll be in a far better place to work on the physical closeness and sex in your relationship.
Marlon Familton, MA LMHC is a relationship counselor working to help couples navigate the choppy waters of love and romance. Author of the book, “Fix Your Partner in 10 Easy Steps or Less!”
Contact Marlon at Bellevue Family Counseling in Bellevue, Washington.Learn More