If you hear the word intimacy, most people have an instant association with sex—that if you’re talking about intimacy, then you’re talking about sex. But that’s not the case. Intimacy and sex and two different things.

Intimacy is described by Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D., as something that has seven elements. Those seven elements include things like care, trust, and commitment.

Basically, intimacy is an emotional closeness, an emotional connection, in which each person cares for and is committed to both that connection and the happiness of the other person.

Sex is, well, sex. It’s a physical connection, a physical act. Emotional closeness is not required for humans to have sex.

So, sex can occur in the presence of intimacy, but sex also can occur without intimacy. And intimacy can occur without sex.

One could argue that sex is improved by intimacy or even that intimacy is improved by sex, but that’s debatable and a very personal question that each individual can decide for his or herself.

Empty intimacy would be a lack of that emotional closeness, and especially noticing that lack and feeling like it’s missing—with or without sex. Often those lacking in intimacy seek out sex to fulfill that void. The problem is that all the sex in the world does not cure a lack of intimacy because they are two different things, and you can’t substitute one for the other.

Research shows that long-term couples with higher levels of intimacy, appear to have a greater desire for sex. And further, the high levels of intimacy are correlated with higher odds and greater frequency of sex.

If more intimacy correlates with more sex, then it sounds like it might be useful to cultivate intimacy in relationships. Intimacy likely has profound effects on many parts of our relationships.


Liz Coleman, RTC, is a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor based in Surrey, BC. She specializes in anxiety, anger, insecurity, and relationship problems. If you have any questions about this article or would like to schedule an appointment, please call Ms. Coleman at (604) 809-8947 or use the convenient form on her Contact page.