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Does Intimacy Make for Good Sex? 

The beginning of a relationship is filled with excitement and possibility. Getting to know a new person and allowing them to get to know you is thrilling and daunting at the same time. Passion, excitement and curiosity swirl at this stage. However, this period is unlikely to last very long. Slowly, as the relationship progresses, familiarity, routine and a sense of security begins to set in. Intimacy, often defined as knowing the other and being known, begins to grow.  

Esther Perel, in her book, Mating in Captivity, suggests that what makes for good intimacy does not always make for good sex. Good intimacy often involves the feeling of being emotionally “close”, such as with deep conversations, growing familiarity, and self-disclosure. Emotional closeness and physical intimacy do not always directly correlate and may have a more complex relationship.  

According to Perel, in order for connection to happen, there needs to be an implied separateness. We cannot move closer together if we are already wrapped up in one another. Eroticism is movement toward the other, but we often seek to eliminate otherness in our close relationships by focusing solely on how we are similar and involving each other in every aspect of our lives.  

In other words, being separate is a requirement for actually being close. We are usually uncomfortable with this separateness and experience anxiety and insecurity. But this very discomfort is a what helps to maintain our interest and sexual desire. Fire needs air. Desire needs mystery. 

So, how do you keep desire alive? 

  1. Develop and cultivate your own “secret garden”. Perel suggests that rather than considering separateness as pulling away from the other, consider it to be the development of personal intimacy. Get to know yourself, your unique interests, hobbies, talents and dreams and go after them! 
  2. Recognize and allow for the ways your partner remains mysterious to you. Instead of, at the end of the day, pressing for every detail that filled the preceding hours when you were apart, allow for the “space between” the two of you to exist. Additionally, appreciate the ways your partner, though he or she may be similar to you in some ways, thinks and acts and sees the world differently than you do.  

Maintaining love and desire in committed relationships involves finding the balance between surrendering to the “other” and maintaining autonomy and a sense of self.  This is both a challenging and exciting journey! 

Perel, Esther. (2007). Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.

Contributed by

Tamara Tatum, LMFT-Associate

Supervised by Amy Fuller, PhD, LMFT-S

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