Sex Vs Intimacy

In seeking marriage help, a common complaint of couples is that the husband wants sex for sex’s sake and is not interested in, or is afraid of, intimacy. Sex and intimacy are two different things, although so many people use them interchangeably.  The ideal marriage for many couples would be an intimate relationship marked by vulnerability and good sex.  In such a relationship, the partners are open and share their deepest feelings and desires. Unfortunately, this is uncomfortable for many men in marriage.

Sex is simpler to men than intimacy. Sex is something one can have by oneself or with another person. It does not necessarily include sexual penetration or intercourse when with your partner.  It is giving bodily pleasure, usually for the purpose of achieving orgasm.  On a purely physical level, a man is satisfied with sex.  And yet there is still part of him, even if he doesn’t recognize or acknowledge it, that desires intimacy as well.

Intimacy is much harder to achieve than physical gratification. Intimacy means deeply knowing another person and feeling deeply known. It involves letting Couple in relationship discussionyourself be known—your hopes, desires, fears, and foibles—and knowing and accepting another person inside and out. This is not achieved in the early stages of a relationship, but has to grow and evolve.

Intimacy by its very nature, requires us to be vulnerable. The late Dr. Stan Dale defined “into-me-see.”  Our spouse can know us to our very core, sometimes better than we know ourselves, and that can make any of us feel totally exposed. Intimacy can be intimidating. Men will sometimes interpret the vulnerability and exposure as being weak. However, it is an amazingly freeing experience when you can be completely who you are with a spouse that you totally trust.

Signs of the Fear of Intimacy

Fear of intimacy is often marked by these signs, among others:

  • Low self esteem
  • Trust issues
  • Outburst of anger
  • Difficulty in forming close relationships
  • History of unstable relationships
  • Inability to share feelings or express emotion
  • An insatiable sex drive

The last sign, an insatiable sex drive, is ironically indicative of a fear of emotional transparency and vulnerability.  Sex is often the way in which a man feels loved, and therefore he is comforted and reassured when he can have sex.  He needs to make love to feel loved. (Conversely, a woman most often needs to feel loved to make love!)

Causes of Fear of Intimacy

Fear of intimacy may be rooted in a fear of being rejected. This fear of rejection can prevent a husband from lowering his walls and taking the risks associated with vulnerability and intimacy.   It could be that he was rejected and hurt by a previous lover, or that he has seen it happen to others and he doesn’t want to experience that kind of pain – ever!

Closely related to the fear of being rejected is the fear of abandonment. It could be that he is worried that once he’s in an intimate relationship, you will leave him.  This can be rooted in something that happened in childhood, such as the death of or separation from a parent or other close adult.  It could also be because of the abandonment of a former spouse or lover.

Another fear that can cause a fear of intimacy is a fear of engulfment.  Those who have a fear of engulfment are afraid of being controlled, dominated, or “losing themselves” in a relationship, and this sometimes stems from growing up in a family in which they had no separate identity as their own person.

Often the roots of a fear of intimacy can be traced back to childhood.  Verbal, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, a parent’s substance abuse, a parent’s illness – physical or mental- all can put that person at risk for a fear of intimacy.

What do you do?

Seek to understand, not condemn. Seek to understand your husband by learning all that you can about his childhood and youth, paying attention to factors that may have put him at risk for a fear of intimacy.

Have compassion. Although his advances for sex may be a turn off, do your best not to view him as disgusting.  He may be seeking to feel loved in the only way that he knows how at this point. Rejection will only fuel his insecurity and increase his fear of intimacy.

Examine yourself. Are you sending him signals that you don’t want him or that you might leave him?  Does he perceive you as seeking to control him and his life?

Have the conversation. When conditions are right, bring up the subject of your relationship and what you want so that your sex life and intimacy can be fulfilling for you both. Don’t do this in an angry or accusatory manner.  Happy young couple in bed smilingAsk him what he would like as well, and if he is amenable, discuss what you each can do to make it happen.

Present options.  It could be that the subject is too much of a hot button for you to be able to discuss together.  In this case, it is suggested that you get marriage help by attending a marriage seminar or by engaging a marriage coach or counselor.  Once he, and you, are healed from any past baggage or damage that you are carrying, you will be able to experience real intimacy and the deeper love that you’ve always dreamed of.