Emotional Intimacy and Security: The Foundations of Sexual Intimacy

Building Emotional Intimacy

Great sex involves much more than physical attraction; and a fulfilling sex life goes way beyond good sexual technique. It’s not that physical attraction and technique aren’t important–they are, of course, but they are only part of the sexual puzzle.

Meet Joan, a wife who didn’t want sex with her husband

Joan and her husband Andy came in for couples counseling because of “problems with intimacy.” What became quickly apparent was that Joan and Andy’s once passionate marriage of six years had morphed into a painfully sexless marriage. With his head down, Andy whispered, “She doesn’t want me anymore… She’s never in the mood, and I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve stopped asking for sex.”

There are several explanations why someone’s sexual desire vanishes. But it turned out that Joan did feel sexual, she had a rich fantasy life and wanted to explore her sexuality in greater depth. The problem that emerged in counseling was that Joan did not feel emotionally close to Andy. In fact, she found herself pulling away in an effort to protect herself emotionally. And as a result, she stopped feeling sexual toward him (while still feeling sexual in general).

Sex in marriage (and long-term relationships) that is rewarding and passionate is built upon a foundation of trust and emotional security. It is this foundation that allows us to take emotional risks with our spouse/partner; and it is this foundation that allows for the openness and vulnerability that is inherent to both emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy. When emotional intimacy suffers outside the bedroom, for many, sexual intimacy is going to take a big hit.

Sexual Intimacy Truism: What happens outside the bedroom has a dramatic impact on the quality of a couple’s sex life.

If we had to reduce this to an equation for you and your partner to follow, it might look something like this:

Emotional Security + Emotional Intimacy = A Greater Potential for Sexual Intimacy

When we no longer feel emotionally secure in our relationship (whether because of a recent or ongoing conflict or because we are questioning our partner’s loyalty or commitment to the relationship), we cannot give of ourselves openly and freely. Emotional distance that is the result of an underlying marriage or relationship problem makes it difficult, if not impossible, to feel sexual and to get aroused sexually.

Joan was experiencing this firsthand with Andy. She complained that he didn’t want to share his emotional experiences with her. For instance, when she asked how his day at work went, he’d often tersely reply, “Fine.” And just as problematic, from Joan’s perspective, Andy appeared uninterested when she wanted to talk about her day. As she described, “I feel so emotionally shut down with him. I have work friends that I feel closer to, and that’s a real problem. So why would I want to have sex with him? I’m not some impersonal outlet for his sexual release.”

For over a year Joan had been experiencing her husband as being unresponsive to her emotional needs. And she added, “Even the few times I felt bad for him and had sex, nothing changed. He didn’t become more communicative. So why bother?”

In the case of Joan and Andy, their sexual problems were a symptom of a larger picture involving communication problems and a lack of willingness to put in the time and effort all relationships need.

Sexual Intimacy Action Step:

Here are a few questions for you and your partner to reflect on together:

  • What leads you to feel greater emotional closeness in your marriage/relationship?
  • How important is this closeness in relation to your sex life?
  • What causes you both to feel more distant emotionally from one another?
  • What is one small change you each can make immediately to foster greater emotional intimacy?

Featured (top)  image credit:Couple” by Tom Godber under CC BY-SA 2.0