HomeEmotional aspects of sexualityNon-sexual intimacyUnderstanding the value of non-sexual intimacy

Understanding the value of non-sexual intimacy

Sexuality is about our emotions and how we feel loved in our relationships with others. Although sex is often described in terms of eroticism, many people also look for emotional rewards. If we grow up within a family, we have a sense of connection with those around us. Children need their parents to care for them and to take an interest in them. When adults love someone, that sense of emotional connection has to be generated from zero. Men feel loved because they enjoy regular intercourse. Men’s post-coital gratitude makes a woman feel needed. Women assume that men respond as they do.

Everyone has emotions but the sexes express their feelings in different ways. Most women cry when they are upset, angry or frustrated. Female responses are considered weak or effeminate (because of the debilitating effect women’s emotions have on them) and are disapproved of in a man. For many men, facing fear can be exhilarating because of the adrenaline rush. Women are more likely to be paralysed by fear rather than be propelled into action. Men can live quite happily in functional environments devoid of emotional attachments. But women’s lives focus on their relationships. Most women want to share their lives with people they care about. This is why women are often less motivated to work in paid employment than men are.

Women enjoy non-sexual intimacy with a lover, which has nothing to do with nudity or genital stimulation. It relates to the companionable time a couple spends together sharing platonic interests and demonstrating caring behaviours. When we care about another person, we have their interests at heart. We make effort for them and we consider their feelings. We feel valued when they give us what we need emotionally. Men’s obsession with sex, means they rarely relate to these aspects of relationships because their sexual needs swamp all other concerns. Naturally men assume women must respond just as they do. The result is that neither sex understands the other.

Men talk about work, sport and women (as objects of arousal). Women talk about family, fashion and relationship issues. Men talk for strategic reasons. Men meet up to network, create business contacts and opportunities and to find out information. Of course, some women also do this but most women get together for emotional reasons. They look for reassurance from others, comfort and support. Most men do not relate to this kind of communication.

To many women, communicating about their feelings is natural when they are intimate with someone. But men are often uncomfortable about sharing their feelings. This is an instinct based on competition between men. Men instinctively avoid showing weakness and thereby opening themselves up to attack. For this reason, many heterosexual men dislike discussing emotions.

Men tend to put work priorities before the demands of a relationship. In women’s eyes, this is not love as they experience it. To a woman, love involves wanting to spend every moment with someone. But women accept men’s different priorities because of the need to support the family. To men, work represents a means of competing with other men for status as well as a means of attracting a woman (as a result of their ability to support a family). A man feels justified in working all day or all week before turning up at home and expecting his wife to be instantly amenable to sex. A man’s emotional needs are satisfied within minutes. Men mistakenly assume that by satisfying their own sexual needs, they have also satisfied a woman’s emotional needs.

Sex is a much more emotional experience for a woman than it ever is for a man. Women have a strong sense of personal privacy because they are not aroused. Sex involves a woman giving up this autonomy over her own body. Men find this difficult to understand because they want a lover to stimulate them. A woman offers sex for decades because she recognises that regular sexual activity is important to a man. This is what many women in long-term relationships call love. Women have to give through sex. Men need to give back in other non-sexual ways. Women’s emotional needs are much subtler than male sex drive. A man needs to understand what is important to a woman. A woman hopes that a man cares about her enough to please her.

Just as a man has no control over what arouses him, a woman has no conscious control over the factors that cause her to feel an emotional attachment. Both responses arise subconsciously. So we can decide that it would be sensible to be attracted to someone who is rich, talented or good-looking. But attraction is based on factors that are most advantageous for successful reproduction and survival. They have evolved over millennia. We are attracted to people who fulfil our emotional needs. Men look for rewarding sexual activity while women like to feel protected and cared for.

Men are primarily attracted by a person whose anatomy and behaviour arouses them. Men may come to love those who interact with them sexually because of the erotic rewards of intercourse. Women are attracted to someone who reassures them emotionally by being physically strong (even aggressive), a good provider or just a kind person. Women come to love those who support them and care about their welfare. The love we feel comes from the reassurance that we obtain either from sex (for men) or from feeling that a lover cares about us in a wider sense than sex (for women). Women want affectionate companionship, communication and support.

… it’s time to talk about what most men could initiate more of, and that is non-sexual intimacy. … It involves any kind of intimacy that isn’t centered around sex. It can include making time to talk, cuddling, engaging in fun activities together, and so on. (Stephan Labossiere)

Excerpt from Learn About Sexuality (ISBN 978-0956-894748)