The Four Faces of Intimacy

By December 16, 2011 February 19th, 2017 Health, Healthy Living, Living

Last updated on February 19th, 2017 at 01:54 pm

Intimacy among animals It started with what seemed like a simple question I asked myself. That question, not surprisingly for anyone who knows me, led to a series of additional questions. Somehow, I wasn’t getting clear answers for myself, so I started asking people I came in contact with the same questions. The results were fascinating to me and I wanted to explore the topic more fully. The basic question: “What does intimacy mean to you?

The range of responses was wide and varied. I included both men and women, different ages, some were in relationships and others were not. Most people had to stop for a moment to really think about and put into words what intimacy meant to them. As I looked more deeply at the topic, I found that there are in fact four key types of intimacy.

What Does Intimacy Mean to You?

The people I asked generally started with the most common of the four types of intimacy: Sexual. This wasn’t too much of a surprise because sexual intimacy is probably the most stereotypical and most familiar definition of the word in modern society. Having sex, however, often has less to do with intimacy than with a physical act between people. As it ended up, the people I talked to wanted more than just the act of sex — they wanted some depth. They wanted to feel safe while being vulnerable, wanting to be seen by his/her partner. That made sense, as this form of intimacy also includes a wide range of sensuous activity and sensual expression, so it’s much more than having intercourse.

It’s interesting that the word intercourse is also defined as an “exchange especially of thoughts or feelings.” It’s curious why intimacy is challenging to people in their relationships. I continued to look further.

Connecting Emotionally

The next of the four faces of intimacy is emotional intimacy.This happens when two people feel comfortable sharing their feelings with each other. The goal is to try to be aware and understand the other person’s emotional side. My guess is that women have an easier time with this in very close female friendships, but I’d like to believe that men too are becoming more comfortable experiencing emotional intimacy. This form of intimacy I’ve become comfortable with and see as a healthy part of the give-and-take in all relationships, whether female or male.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D, refers to the fears people have in relation to emotional intimacy. She says, “Many people have two major fears that may cause them to avoid intimacy: the fear of rejection (of losing the other person), and the fear of engulfment (of being invaded, controlled, and losing oneself).” This made some sense to me.

Love and Intimacy

However, if we believe that there are only two major energies we humans experience, love and fear (or an absence of love), then I find it interesting that in this area of intimacy, it seems people have moved from their hearts and love to an energy that stops them from experiencing their true essence and what they often yearn for the most. Love and intimacy.

In her book A Return to Love, the brilliant Marianne Williamson says it most eloquently:

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we have learned here. The spiritual journey is the relinquishment or unlearning of fear and the acceptance of love back into our hearts. Love is our ultimate reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life.”

Even the Bible says, “There is no fear where love exists.” Of course I believe that love and intimacy are highly spiritual. In her book Love for No Reason, Marci Shimoff states, “Love for no reason is your natural state.” She also tells a wonderful story about a spiritual teacher who once said to her, “I love you and it’s no concern of yours.” To love, from your heart, just to love. As I talked about in my piece on what makes a good relationship, my ideal is definitely a loving spiritual partnership.

True Intimacy

I kept wondering if true intimacy could be as simple as a matter of moving back to loving ourselves first? To rediscovering the unconditional love we all were born with? The idea of self-intimacy and self-love is a fascinating concept. I’ll leave these as open-ended questions for you to ask yourselves for now. I was curious to look more closely at the other two types of intimacy.Intellectual Intimacy_conversation between men

The next, intellectual intimacy, is something I personally have the most comfort with. This one is about communication, and as someone who lives and breathes words, it’s extremely familiar to me. The ability to share ideas in an open and comfortable way can lead to a very intimate relationship indeed, as I’m fortunate to discover quite frequently. As someone who engages in this type of interaction all the time, it offers me a wonderful and fulfilling form of intimacy. I wondered if this was my strongest area of intimacy.

Experiential Intimacy

The fourth kind of intimacy is experiential intimacy, an intimacy of activity. I realized I experience this every time I get together with a group to create art in a silent process. It’s about letting the art unfold, by working together in co-operation. The essence of this intimate activity is that very little is said to each other, it’s not a verbal sharing of thoughts or feelings, but it’s more about involving yourself in the activity and feeling an intimacy from this involvement.

During a recent encounter I had at a contact improv jam, I realized was actually this form of intimacy. I interacted with a young man, letting our body energy lead the dance, with no eye contact and no words, just movement in a sensual and open, if not dramatic, dance. So, I understood that this experiential intimacy is also, somewhat surprisingly, in my intimacy vocabulary.Intimacy_experiential

Joining and Separating

Rick Hanson, Ph.D says that having intimacy in our lives requires a natural balance of two great themes — joining and separation — that are in fact central to human life. Almost everyone wants both of them, to varying degrees. He goes on to say, “In other words: individuality and relationship, autonomy and intimacy, separation and joining support each other. They are often seen at odds with each other, but this is so not the case!” This also made perfect sense to me. Yin and yang. Light and dark. All the polarities we live in life, lead to a balance.

My understanding and curiosity were greatly expanded after exploring the four faces of intimacy. Maybe this awareness might make it easier to find your own perfect personal balance between them all. For me, it comes down to our willingness to explore intimacy in all its forms. It’s not necessary that every intimate relationship includes all the different types of intimacy. Ultimately it is each individual’s choice.

What I learned, makes me believe that with some balance in these areas, we might find a deeper connection and understanding of the relationships in our life. I also fully recognize that we all have different definitions of intimacy. Are men and women’s definitions dramatically different? It is a fascinating conversation to continue to explore.

Soul Intimacy

Then, as often happens with perfect synchronicity, I received my daily Gaping Void email by Hugh MacLeod with the subject: Has your soul been seen lately? It went on to say, “I saw your soul today and it made me want to cry with joy and thanks.” The topic was intimacy. What followed was a beautiful way to end my piece.

“Intimacy isn’t strictly about romantic relationships, or even relations with family — sometimes it happens quickly, and often times in ways we hardly notice.

I’m talking about that moment when someone allows the world to see what’s inside… what they are really about. It’s about seeing someone for who and what they are and that the glimpse was offered either voluntarily or without the person’s knowledge. This is an incredible moment where our existence suddenly makes sense and all comes together in a singular place.

For those of you who have experienced this, it’s something that never gets lost in memory or time. It’s like a little mirror we take out every now and then to remember a time when something so complex became so inconceivably simple. It’s pretty incredible.”

This is the essence of what intimacy is really all about. Dare to be vulnerable, dare to be seen.

Intimacy is Key to Being Healthy and Vital

Dr. Christiane Northrup in her newest book “Goddesses Never Age”, tells us that intimacy is an important part of life regardless of age. As she shares, “Age is just a number, and agelessness means not buying into the idea that a number determines everything from your state of health to your attractiveness to your value.” As a member of Team Northrup, a team whose mission is to support people to live their most vital and healthy lives, I invite you to a complimentary health and vitality consultation.

Before we talk to customize a plan for you, find out how healthy you are with the True Health Assessment. The three-part report, identifies your top health risk factors, maps out a recommended lifestyle plan that identifies ways you can improve your health and provides you with individualized nutrition recommendations based on your specific assessment answers.

Now let me ask you my starting question: What does intimacy mean to you?

Beverley Golden

About Beverley Golden

Beverley Golden is a writer, storyteller, peacenik and health & vitality consultant, who loves testing unconventional ways to shift paradigms in the playing fields of health and wellness, storytelling and creativity as a path to world peace. Her passion is turning the “impossible” into the possible, using her own experiences with a lifetime of health issues, to inspire and support others to live their life to the fullest.

You're invited to a Complimentary Health Consultation, starting with the True Health Assessment that offers a customized personalized snapshot of how healthy you are in the areas of lifestyle, heredity and nutrition. Contact me to get started!

48 Comments

  • A very interesting and nice article. And intimacy is a complex subject, to be able to bear your soul to another person also takes courage. And I think many people does not have the courage for intimacy out of fear of being judged or of fear of showing who they really are. As it is a bit of ripping off a mask,…during the French Revolution the demasking was used to reveal a traitor. Which is a completely other context, but still sometimes I think it is a bit the same, that one feels like needing to rip off a mask in front of another person, not to be revealed as a traitor, but rather to show ones real self.;-)
    Katarina Andersson recently posted…5 Social Media Tools for Social TranslatorsMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for your comment and support Katarina! Yes, intimacy is a very complex subject and seems to really resonate in different ways with whoever is reading it. I like your point about people not having the courage to be completely “naked” and authentic with others, and I think there is a fear of being judged perhaps. I appreciate your reference to the French Revolution and the practice of demasking…as yes, that does relate to what being vulnerable asks of us. It’s curious how humans have such a deep seated fear of revealing themselves and yet without doing that, it is very hard to find true intimacy with someone else.

  • To me, intimacy means connection with another. It means not having fear, but love, to share. I haven’t found it very often in this life, but when I have, it’s exhilarating!
    Carol Rundle recently posted…5 Apps to Help You Get and Stay HealthyMy Profile

    • Thanks for expressing your experience of true intimacy Carol! I think it is rare too, however, like you said, it is certainly exhilarating. To be able to be yourself with no fear, just sharing who you are. Worth aspiring too for us all!

  • Karen says:

    Intimacy to me is a deep connection and it can be in any way. Your four faces of intimacy all put together is the best form of intimacy. Thank goodness I share that with my husband. By the way, I love Dr. Christianne Northrups’s book. I do believe that people think intimacy can decline as we age, but I think it is all the more important, and I have more time to develop deep intimacy with someone.

    • Thanks for sharing your understanding of the importance of having all the four faces of intimacy balanced in a relationship. It is wonderful to hear that you have this with your husband. Yes, Dr. Northrup is doing a great service to women, she is a pioneer in health and wellness on so many different levels. She is definitely ahead of the curve when it comes to the importance of pleasure and intimacy regardless of our age. Appereciate your contribution to this intimacy conversation, Karen!

      • Norma says:

        I have a close man friend. He is much younger than me but we seem to have some type of bond. He tells me he loves me to pieces. We are just friends and yet it seems more than friends. There is no physical intimacy and yet we talk a lot visit one another a lot and telephone each other a lot.
        Would you call this an intimate relationship.

        • Hi Norma. It sounds like you and your friend have a relationship based on emotional and intellectual intimacy. It sounds like it works for both of you very well.

  • Beverley, this is just what I needed to read today. Thanks. I was trying to explain to my partner, after a big argument last night that a hug from him was more important – and more intimate than words or make-up sex. Intimacy of girlfriends is very important to me too. Somehow they seem more non-judgmental and can just let go with anything than with your guy.
    Diane Topkis recently posted…Hiring Secrets of 11 CEO’sMy Profile

    • Happy that this post came at a great time for you, Diane. It is interesting how men and women develop their intimacy faces in such different ways. The intimacy we have with close female friends is often so different than what we experience in opposite sex friendships. I alway like to believe that men are becoming more understanding of emotional intimacy, although it does depend on the generation they were raised in. It sounds like you and your partner have great communication though and that you feel open to express yourself. I like to believe that with communication, all things become possible and that your partner will move closer to understanding your perspective on why a hug is more intimate than conversation or make-up sex.

  • THIS piece was lovely and took the four faces of intimacy and explained them well. The fear of intimacy love is a choice. I was inspired, yet felt in my other relationships that love is a seperate entity then “Intimacy” .
    This piece of brilliant feelings especially Dr. Rick Hanson P.H.D is so externally felt through my soul that love is chosen and we are not be afraid of rejection.

    • Thanks so much Lori! I am delighted you enjoyed this piece and found some new inspiration about intimacy and how it relates to you in your own life! Dr. Hanson is wonderful and shares a wealth of information to help us all understand the dynamics of love and intimacy in relation to ourselves and to others.

  • Hi Beverley,

    I did not realize that there were 4 different kinds of intimacy. Thanks so much for clearing defining each one. I too love how you make it so easy to understand while I am reading…enjoy your writing too!

    Great post and share!!
    Joan M Harrington recently posted…6 Powerful Social Media Persuasion TechniquesMy Profile

    • Thanks so much Joan! I’m always happy to give people “food for thought” when it comes to looking at themselves and the world differently. I appreciate hearing that this piece brought you some new insights into the different faces of intimacy!

  • Kimberly says:

    Lovely article! I have not thought about there being different types of intimacy, but that is interesting and something I will look for now. I have a good friend who recently called me out (kindly!) for my walls, and asked me to trust her more to be a confidant. It has had me thinking about this a lot lately, and deciding to open up more to people I love and trust. It is timely for me – thanks for writing this!
    Kimberly recently posted…Ideas to Help Choose Colors for Your HomeMy Profile

    • It’s wonderful that you have such a close friend who will call you out and who will offer you a new perspective of yourself Kimberly! It is a gift to have someone who is willing to mirror that to you. Throughout our lives we are growing and changing, so it sounds like this came at a great time to support you as you re-look at how you are in the world. You’re welcome too!

  • This was great Bev… intimacy is like a soul mate.. someone you can share everything with who knows your deep inner thinking and is there for you no matter what…. it’s a great feeling for sure.
    Kristen Wilson recently posted…A Quick Tip on your Click to Tweet Plugin – You Might be Doing it Wrong!My Profile

    • Great way to describe intimacy Kristen! It sounds like you are experiencing that and know how wonderful it feels.

  • Beverley – Thank you for this article. As I’ve aged, I’ve definitely re-thought what intimacy means for me. When my husband became disabled as the result of an auto-immune disease, our lives were turned upside down. Ann Landers used to say “Would you be better off with him or without him?” Well, I’ve learned that intimacy has little to do with sex and has nothing to do with the business decision Ann Landers seemed to promote. Some of my thoughts on this seem contradictory, I know, but here goes (sorry for the disorganized randomness of the thoughts): Sometimes, I think, love (& intimacy) is a decision. For instance, when a couple adopts a new child. Other times, I think that it is dictated by mother nature. For instance, between sisters, mother & child, husband & wife. When I see an aging spouse taking care of a partner with Alzheimers, only a certain portion of that is a decision. Another portion is that the spouse couldn’t be held back! I remember watching a 100+ year old man giving his senile wife a drink of water – I remember his hands shook and the water dribbled down her white chin hairs … I almost felt that I’d observed something so personal, so intimate, that I had intruded! Hope this makes sense, and thanks again for the article.
    Joan Potter recently posted…I came, I saw, I wentMy Profile

    • Thanks for this very tender and heart-felt comment, Joan. I am reading your words and attempting to understand what life is like for you and how that change in your relationship would have you re-look at what intimacy means to you. Love is a choice, and how we look at what is intimate, also is a choice. The examples you give are such beautiful examples of experiential and emotional intimacy. Both of these are not so easy for some people. To witness true unspoken tenderness like you described you felt you were “intruding” on, is a beautiful observation of two other people’s personal experience. You sound like you are very sensitive and truly see the world around you as it is happening. It all makes sense and I appreciate you being so open and vulnerable and sharing it here for all of us who read it.

  • Millen says:

    Wonderful thought provoking article, Beverley! For me intimacy is a rare and precious feeling of soul-level connection – with nature, friends, my husband… Self-love and self-intimacy are super important topics… I agree with you that intimacy is so much deeper than just the physical aspect of it…. It’s a soulful experience, really…

    • Thanks for your reflection on this big topic of intimacy, Millen. You truly express your experiences with it so eloquently and I love how you also see it as a soul experience. Love that nature, friends and your husband are among your intimate soul-level experiences. Thanks for bringing up self-love and self-intimacy as linked as well. Appreciate hearing that you found this a thought provoking piece. It means a lot to hear that.

  • Provocative read. I had no idea there were that many kinds of identified intimacies, but they all make sense. I have “Goddesses Never Age,” but I confess I have not finished it. I think intimacy — in some form or another — is vital for our well-being on all levels.

    • Thanks Jackie! I am happy to hear you found this post provocative for you. The topic of intimacy seems to allow people to do their own personal reflection and often, they haven’t thought about intimacy and what it means to them. Yes, I also think intimacy is very vital for humans, as it connects us on a deeper level than we often experience in our day-to-day life. Hope you enjoy “Goddesses Never Age” when you do finish it. Dr. Northrup is truly a pioneer for women. I’m always amazed at the cutting edge info she offers on our monthly calls.

  • Hi Beverley,

    You ask what is intimacy to me? I witnessed a beautiful expression of that in a small group this morning. We were all being so vulnerable with each other; we had amazing transparency and vulnerability. I felt the intimacy of that, of realizing as we were exposing our fears and had our inner wisdom witnessed, the connection that develops when we’re willing to show up in that way, and the realization that we all have the fears, we all have the wisdom, and we’re all in it together.

    I am feeling super grateful to you for writing this beautiful post today.
    RACHEL LAVERN recently posted…The Three Types of PeopleMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful experience of emotional (and experiential) intimacy Rachel. I can almost feel the vulnerability and transparency through your words. It is so important to have these kinds of intimate experience in our lives and it sounds like you are mentoring and facilitating this for the people you work with. What a great gift you are giving them and how fortunate for you to also be on the receiving end!

  • Christy says:

    Intimacy is critical to staying emotionally healthy. I think there is little doubt that we desire a human connection where we feel special. I love the idea of soul intimacy.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this very personal topic of intimacy Christy! Yes, we all desire human connection and when we “see” someone’s soul, we are getting an intimate glimpse at who they are!

  • Wow – what a topic! i am flooded with thoughts and it might take a while to organize them. Your post brought up memories for me of my dear friend Gary, who passed away far too young, at the age of 45 to a brain tumor – he had such a gift of friendship, which was really a gift of intimacy. In his presence, you just knew that he loved you, in a way that (for me) was not romantic, but so very precious. How did he do it? I’m not quite sure, but so many of his friends, male and female, felt that special love and cherished it. Thanks for tackling this topic – I love the different nuances and ‘faces’ of intimacy that you found. Blessings, Reba

    • Thank you so much for sharing your memories of your friend Gary and how you see his gift of friendship as a great form of intimacy, Reba. Beautiful! It is so amazing to think about what intimacy means to us, as so often it is not what you would expect on first thought. The love you felt from your friend is very precious and my first thought was, “wouldn’t our world be wonderful if we had that more often in our lives?” Thanks for your support of me and this topic, as I appreciate hearing that my posts provoke thinking in others and bring new ideas and perspectives into conversation. xo

  • I’m so glad you wrote this post, Beverley. So many people think of intimacy in terms of sexual whereas there are so many facets to it. Intimacy for me means being comfortable enough in my own skin to share how I feel with people whom I feel safe enough to talk to about what’s going on in my life.
    Vatsala Shukla recently posted…Money matters: Are you really on top of your finance game?My Profile

    • I love your idea of what intimacy is for you, Vatsala. I agree that feeling comfortable enough to say and do whatever you want to with the other person, is something I have with my daughter and aspire to with everyone. This is a big topic and it seems that it really asks people to think about what intimacy is for them, which is what inspired me to write this post in the first place. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as each person is adding so much to the intimacy conversation.

  • Teresa says:

    You may have ended with “I saw your soul today and it made me want to cry with joy and thanks, and I will start by reflecting that back to you and saying THANK YOU! Lovely piece…
    Teresa recently posted…Fearless Women Do 7 Things DifferentlyMy Profile

    • It’s always so interesting to hear what pops for people when they read my posts, Teresa, so I thank you for sharing that the Gaping Void quote struck you in the same way it struck me. I love that and it arrived in my inbox at the most perfect of times. Thank you for your lovely words and your support!

      • Teresa & Beverley – That was the quote that really hit me, too. Since my husband is disabled, I sometimes fear that people don’t value his worth. But he is the kindest, gentlest man, & I see his soul everyday, & it makes me want to cry with joy and thanks. When I saw that sentence, it hit me SO HARD – I did cry (rare for me).
        Joan Potter recently posted…I came, I saw, I wentMy Profile

        • Thanks so much for adding this for myself and Teresa, Joan! I think that quote hits the three of us so hard, is that we really “feel” the world that way. Of course your husband has great worth and the way you describe him is very loving and how beautiful to know that you look past the exterior and see his soul. This really is the way we are meant to experience each other…on a soul level. I’m happy this so resonated with you that it brought you to tears. That is good for the soul as well. Thank you so much for your vulnerability and for sharing your soul!

  • Tamuria says:

    You really have a knack for making people stop and think Beverley. Intimacy is something I think we take for granted sometimes. I remember when my beautiful neighbour Lin still lived next door and I would give her a hug in greeting. She told me it meant so much as she barely touched anyone anymore. Her words, and not the actual touching, was what was intimate, I guess because she was showing a vulnerable side. I agree that sex can be intimate, or not, but it’s often in the little moments – the arm squeeze that speaks of trust and support – that the real intimacy is found. A beautiful, thought-provoking, post.
    Tamuria recently posted…HOW TO MAKE WONDERFUL WIRE BIRDSMy Profile

    • Thanks for such a wonderful compliment, Tami! I strive to have people stop and think when they read my “musings”, so it makes me happy to hear my intention has been fulfilled. I love your examples of true intimacy, as so often we overlook these very simple human interactions we all crave and need. Your next door neighbour Lin was very fortunate to have you as her friend and I agree that the verbal exchange, as well as the physical touch, is one of the ways we are most intimate with each other. The little moments are where intimacy happens and it is usually the moments where we are open to being seen and being vulnerable. I so appreciate your support and how you “get” what I am sharing!

  • My first reaction to “What does intimacy mean to you?” was actually visual rather than words. I see myself and my husband sitting quietly together, no words, enjoying a sunny afternoon, or a lazying about on our boat, or doing some gardening in our yard. I see myself with my daughters laughing and being completely ourselves because there is no wondering how the other will react to what we say or do. And with this pictures in my mind I feel a total sense of peace, of happiness, of warmth. That to me is intimacy. Wonderfully thought provoking post Beverley!
    Lisa Swanson recently posted…Spring Cleaning For Your Body & SoulMy Profile

    • Love that you were able to “see” what intimacy looks like in your life, Lisa. As a highly visual person, I could really feel each of these scenarios, especially the one with your daughters, as I have the same intimacy with mine. It is so beautiful and something I wish for everyone somewhere in their lives.

      Your world is filled with rich and fuelling intimacy and I can see why it brings you a total sense of peace, happiness and warmth. Lovely! Appreciate your kind words about the thought-provoking aspect of this post as well.

  • I have to agree with Joyce Hansen when I say your ideas force me to read more carefully & think. I do find myself rereading sections.
    I did ask myself as I read to relate this to myself & I do believe I have and & create all types of intimacy described.

    I was feeling that underlying all of them & probably harder to reveal for many than intimacy is vulnerability & then you touched upon it. I believe without vulnerability you cannot really achieve intimacy.

    • I appreciate hearing that my articles invite the reader to question themselves and to read and reread to explore who they are in the conversation. In this case on intimacy. Yes, many of us are much more comfortable with one form of intimacy than others, yet the goal is to live a balance of them all. Congrats on seeing that you do Roslyn. And yes, intimacy does require vulnerability and often in our society, people hide and have a deep-seated fear of showing their vulnerability. Thanks for being someone who goes deeper within themselves and asks questions, which I believe is so important in life. To continue exploring who we are. It always precedes growth and change.

  • What a lovely post, Beverley. I have to stew on the topic a bit longer than I have today. But, for me intimacy means being vulnerable with a person you trust. I am in the process of reading “Daring Greatly” By Brena Brown and it is so powerful, I will have to read it again. Did you ever read her book? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…How To Quickly Improve Your Online WritingMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing more about where you are at on the intimacy topic, Sabrina. I have read “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown and know she is doing us all a wonderful service by brining up our fear of being vulnerable, which is really necessary for true intimacy. Enjoy the read and for being in this important conversation.

  • I love and respect you as a writer Beverly for delving into a topic so deeply. Most of us scan quickly but you force us to read with thought..

    • Thanks so much for your very kind words about my writing Joyce! It really means a lot to know that all the thought, research and imagination I pour into my pieces, is appreciated and actually read.

  • Michelle Ross says:

    What a wonderful piece Beverley. This article has seriously moved me. I’m going to take this article and really let it sink in. I know that I can apply this article to my daily life.

    • Thanks so much Michelle for reading the piece and taking the time to comment. I am delighted to hear that it offered some info that you can bring into your daily life!

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