Intimacy is a close and effective connection with another person. Research shows that intimate relationships are essential not only to an individual’s psychological health but to their physical health, as well. While sexual intimacy may be the first that comes to mind, there are other types of intimacy that are necessary for the development of healthy connections with others.
Most psychology professionals, scholars, and researchers identify intimacy as one of four types: physical, emotional, cognitive, and experiential. However, studies show that these types change from one social stage to another, which may have positive or negative impacts on the relationship and the individuals. As society changes over time, so do people’s expectations and definitions of what each type of intimacy entails.
Touching, sensual proximity, and being inside someone’s personal space are all components of physical intimacy. This type of intimacy does not necessarily need to be sexual or romantic. While intimate touching is important in a sexual relationship, studies show that there are important benefits to non-sexual touch as well, such as stress reduction and relaxation. Researchers determined that there were benefits for both the individual receiving the touch and for the one providing it.
Once two people have established trust, they generally develop emotional intimacy. This allows both individuals to let their guard down and share intimate or highly personal details without the fear of the other person judging them negatively. Studies show that women are more likely than men to terminate a relationship due to a lack of emotional intimacy.
When two people exchange ideas and thoughts, then discover through the exchange that they have similar opinions or room for respectful debate, they may find cognitive or intellectual intimacy. To establish a mutually beneficial level of cognitive intimacy, both people must feel they can share their intellectual observations and concepts with the other person without the fear of ridicule or condemnation.
People establish experiential intimacy through shared activities. They may participate in a yoga class together, be fans of the same television show, attend the same place of worship, or both be members of a book club. With experiential intimacy, the individuals establish the relationship based on a common activity, not through the sharing of thoughts or feelings.
Some researchers believe spiritual intimacy can serve as a foundation for intimate connections with others. A 2016 study found that connecting a marital relationship to a relationship with a higher power can contribute to the overall well-being of a couple. But, it can also damage the intimacy of a relationship if one person is imposing their beliefs on the other.
A study published in 2018 found that both male and female partners in romantic, long-term relationships with higher levels of intimacy also had higher levels of sexual desire. Researchers also identified intimacy as a precursor to sexual desire. Couples exhibited patterns of increased intimacy in the late afternoon, evening, and early morning.
Online and mobile communication technology has changed how humans interact socially. Earlier research found that intimate, online relationships could be just as stable, intimate, and meaningful as conventional ones. A 2020 study of dating app technology uncovered a new and unexpected type of intimacy, not between the potential sexual partners, but the women who use the apps. These women developed a sense of intimacy with each other based on conversations about their shared experiences and app usage.
Individuals who have difficulty forming close relationships may have a fear of intimacy. They avoid getting emotionally or physically close to another individual because they want to avoid rejection. In a majority of studies, researchers have determined that psychological defenses formed during childhood act as barriers in adulthood and prevent close intimate relationships. Fear of intimacy has ties to depressive symptoms, especially among women.
Humans have a strong urge to connect with other humans, but intimacy takes time and effort. Learning to communicate and be vulnerable are essential first steps. Additionally, people in the relationship need to show each other acceptance, safety, honesty, trust, compassion, understanding, and affection to create a foundation for healthy intimacy.
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