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Affection, Emotional and Sexual Intimacy: by Assad Malik

I. Definitions:

Intimacy involves a  feeling of connection and familiarity between two parties.   With emotional  intimacy,   two people are able to share their feelings, as well as thoughts.    In some relationships,  not only are there  the sharing of feelings, but of sincere affections as well.

For instance, I have had friends that I had slept with. ( Now, when I say I slept with my friends,  by no means did we have sexual relations, but rather we mutually decided to share the same bed.)  David and I would talk to each other throughout the late hours of  the night and fall asleep in each others arms, breathing harmoniously.  With Susan,  I would be resting my  head on her lap as she softly ran her fingers through my hair.  What made these experiences great was the ability of us (two friends) to be able to bond and accept our mutual love towards one other.  One characteristic that made these experiences so rewarding was the fact there were no sexual relations.  There is a great source of joy and comfort when another person likes you for who you are. The foundation emotional intimacy requires time, patience,  and commitment.

When two people connect in a sexual manner,  they are being sexually intimate.  Sexual intimacy ranges from one night stands to friends to lovers.  What distinguishes friends and lovers from one night stands is that emotional intimacy has already been established.   It  is the building block of relations with close friends, family, and significant others.

II. The Problem

The problem is how  affection,  emotional  and sexual intimacy have been lumped together,  as if the only possible result will lead to romantic love.  Although a relationship with emotional intimacy could possibly lead to sexual intimacy,  not all relationships point into that direction.  Now we need to examine general attitudes toward affection, love, and intimacy.

In American culture, displays of affection such as hand holding, walking arm in arm, or an arm around  another's shoulder are restricted to romantical/sexual relationships.  Phrases such as "you complete me" "without you, I am nothing” create misleading notions of romantic love.   Although the word relationship is defined broadly (a developed association between two people),  in conversation,  it is understood to have a specific meaning (romantical relationship).       With these social rules on affection and ideas concerning romantic love, it’s no wonder people strongly yearn for a mate.  That one person supposedly  meets  all their needs for connection and attachment.  Consequently,  this belief system doesn't work.  Take a look at how men interact.

Since men most men don't have emotionally intimate relationships with other men and women, They tend to pair their needs for connection and attachment (emotional intimacy),  affection, and their desires of sexual intimacy with their girlfriend/wife.  The problem occurs when the wife becomes the only emotional conduit for the man to express his feelings.  As a result,  it may put a serious strain on their relationship.  Furthermore, by men viewing the "opposite sex" as "potential date",  they limit themselves to possibilities of developing other types of relationships women.  For instance,  Shila, my close friend of ten years,  and I shared a closeness where we could be physical demonstrative of our genuine (nonsexual) affections (holding hands and holding each other).  We cried and laughed in each others presence.  I was her big brother and she, my little sister.  One of my intentions (in our relationship) was to restore her faith in men, by showing her that it was possible for a man to love a woman for who she is, not by how she looks.  She learned that decent men do exist.  What I learned from Shila  were two things:

1.  How to trust another woman with my feelings.
2.  That there are quite a number of women out there who desire and need (big brother type)
     loving, nurturing relationship with men.

In addition, men's reluctance to reach out to other men whether it be a fear of being perceived"weak" or homophobia,  leads to shallow, unsatisfying relationships.  However, heterosexual men are not the only who suffer with this pairing of intimacies.

Gay men also tend to pair affection and emotional intimacy with  sexual intimacy.  Since men are not affectionate with one another in the American mainstream culture,  many gay men perceive any act of affection from another man as  an invitation to sex.   Because gay men were raised the same way as heterosexual guys,  many learn to get all their needs met through sex.  Everytime they yearn for comfort and closeness, they sexualize it.  Unless Gay men notice the pattern and break away from it, they too close themselves to the possibilities of developing a wide variety of relationships.  Although women are not perfect,  they have a better understanding  of intimacy.

III A step in the right direction.

Most women have close friendships where they can seek nurturance and comfort  and have romantical relationships.  Since they have been socialized to be the facilitator of (all different type of relationships), they are more likely to understand how all these  relationships meet their different needs. As a result, they nurture their relationships.  It is important to note that some women do sexualize,  any affection or interest from a guy since they were socialized this way.  The same holds true especially to sexually abused/molested girls because they associate any sexual attention with love.

Instead making emotional  intimacy and sexual intimacy to be mutually exclusive or mutually inclusive,  people need to understand that they are overlapping circles where the intimacy resides in the intersecting region of the two different circles.

We need to understand how different types of  intimacy and relationships fulfill our different needs.  In order to do this, we need to acknowledge that romantic love is not the only love.  For love appears in many forms,  meeting a variety of needs.  Althougth the  love  you have for your  partner,  your mother,  and God  are different,  it does share a common basic purpose.

Genuine love for another person doesn't involve the satisfaction of your needs foremost, but rather realizing their needs first  and if  capable,  placing a higher priority on the other person's needs than yours.  When doing  this act of love, your needs become indirectly met  and the  spiritual fulfillment is measureless.

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