The 6 Types of Intimacy Every Relationship Needs

Man and woman face to face practicing intimacy

You broke up with your ex two months ago, and last night they called you, complaining about something or other (You can’t even remember since you already had a few glasses of wine). The next thing you recall is waking up in the same oversized Phillies T-shirt you used to wear when you were dating.

We’ve all been there. Sleeping with an ex after a breakup is more common than you think. Usually, when you “come back for seconds,” the sex is amazing. However, when it’s over, you might feel like you still need the closure you previously sought. Or are you falling into the same pattern you had when you were both together? And considering they’re the ex, that didn’t work out too well for ya, huh?

Getting back into a sexual relationship with your ex can be tricky, especially if you are still trying to get over your breakup, so here are some do’s and don’ts when hooking up with your ex post-breakup.

What Is Intimacy?

Everyone more than likely has their own preconceived notions of what intimacy is and how they would like to receive it. Because intimacy is so intimate and personal to everyone, it’s essential to know and acknowledge that there are multiple forms of intimacy. There are the most popularized forms, the ones you usually hear the most about: sexual and physical, but there are also intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and experiential.

At its heart, intimacy is all about mutual vulnerability, openness, and love that you share with your loved ones. 

Why Do We Need Intimacy in Our Relationships?

While the answer to this question might seem obvious, it’s not as clear-cut as many think. People need intimacy in their relationships for many different reasons. 

Elizabeth Earnshaw tells Brit+Co, “Often, couples do not have the language to express what they desire. When we understand that intimacy goes beyond sex, we can communicate about what we believe is going well, what is missing, and how to get our needs for connection met.”

While physical closeness is a key pillar in the six different forms of intimacy, it’s worth noting that it’s not necessarily the most important form. And the more ways you and your partner can practice intimacy, the more your relationship will grow.

Another critical factor to note about intimacy is the desire to be intimate with your partner can come in stages. When you first get into a relationship, you’ll likely want to be intimate with them all the time. This time is usually referred to as the honeymoon stage, and it’s a wonderful time to get to know your partner on a newer and more profound level. This is also the best time to explore all the various types of intimacy. Still, physical intimacy is usually the main player during this time of your relationship.

But as the honeymoon stage phases out, so does most of the intentionality that people need in order to have intimacy. People and couples stop scheduling time for intimacy, and it gets shoved to the side in relationships. 

The reason why it’s integral for you and your partner to explore all of the different types of intimacy is that they introduce new ways to learn about each other. Intimacy breeds intentionality, which all relationships need. 

What Is Experiential Intimacy?

Experiential intimacy is another word for the connect you feel after you and your loved one participate in an activity that bonds you. These activities can be anything from working out together to seeing a concert to going bowling. In the most basic terms, it’s anything that adds excitement to your relationships and breaks the regular pattern.

Experiential intimacy is one of the forms of intimacy that can be shared in most relationships. A father and son might have experiential intimacy when they work together to build something. You and your partner might experience it when you go on a trip or even during your morning walks. 

If you and your partner are finding it difficult to think of an experience you can both share in and enjoy equally, remember that this might be a section of intimacy that you both have to compromise in just a bit. If you don’t have any shared interests, maybe switch off which partner gets to pick which activity to try every week. Odds are, you’ll both find something you’ll like. 

Couple practicing experiential intimacy

What Is Intellectual Intimacy?

Intellectual intimacy is another form of intimacy you will most likely experience with multiple different types of people in your life. This is a form of intimacy brought on by the feeling of closeness we often experience after learning new things with someone else. This could be learning something in a class, during a lecture, watching the news, or reading a book. Another definition of intellectual intimacy is “When people feel comfortable sharing ideas and opinions, even when they disagree. 

Something to note with this form of intimacy is that the two people involved don’t need to have the same opinions, thoughts, or beliefs in order to feel this intimacy. In fact, it might be better if the two of you have opposing views, so you could both learn something new by the end of your lesson, debate, or discussion.

Elizabeth Earnshaw shares some questions you might want to ask your significant other to explore intellectual intimacy.

  • Do you think/feel like you can share your opinions with me?
  • Do you think I understand what you are thinking? Do you wish we talked more about your thoughts?
  • Do you feel intellectually stimulated in our relationship? If yes, what helps that? If not, what can we do?

What Is Spiritual Intimacy?

Spiritual intimacy comes from sharing a spiritual connection with someone. This connection doesn’t necessarily have to be religious; it can be a moment when you share a sense of wonder, awe, gratitude, faith, or understanding. 

Just like with intellectual intimacy, you don’t have to have the same or similar beliefs to connect over spiritual intimacy. Earnshaw says, “Spiritual intimacy is not built through sameness, rather than through respecting and valuing the other person’s belief around spirituality and being open to experiencing spiritual moments with them.”

If you or your partner aren’t necessarily spiritual or that term makes one or both of you uncomfortable, try redefining it as discovering and discussing what gives you purpose and meaning in life.

It’s also important to note that you and your partner could be on the same page entirely with all of your beliefs and still share no spiritual intimacy. Spiritual intimacy is all about curiosity and respect, and, as with every other form of intimacy, it requires effort. 

What Is Physical Intimacy?

People often think about physical intimacy when they envision the word “intimacy.” In short, physical intimacy is the connection your partner may feel when they’re getting their physical needs met or exceeded. 

It is important to note that some people have a very low threshold for physical intimacy. In contrast, others have a very high threshold. As you’re exploring intimacy together with your partner, begin to take note of how much physical intimacy they seem to desire and adjust to a level that respects and honors them. It’s also important to remember that the need for physical intimacy might often die down a bit after the honeymoon phase. This doesn’t mean that you and your partner shouldn’t still make time and space for physical intimacy, just that it might not always be the go-to form of intimacy in your relationship.

Physical intimacy creates connection and a sense of closeness that can help reduce stress and bond you and your partner together.

While many people define physical intimacy as sex, sexual intimacy and physical intimacy are often two different sections. While sexual intimacy and touch are essential to any relationship, non-sexual touch can be just as, if not more important to solidify your bond. 

What Is Sexual Intimacy?

Sexual intimacy is the closeness and connection you and your partner or lover feel during sexual or sensual interactions. Sexual intimacy doesn’t only occur during sex. This form of intimacy is experienced when you feel present and known by your partner. 

Just like with physical intimacy, everyone’s threshold for sexual intimacy may differ. It’s integral for you to acknowledge each other’s needs and desires regarding sexual intimacy. 

What Is Emotional Intimacy?

Out of all the forms of intimacy, emotional intimacy is the most long-lasting but also the hardest to obtain. Emotional intimacy comes when you and your partner (or friend, parent, child, etc.) feel deeply known and cared for by the other person. Emotional intimacy happens when you have become each other’s safe place and person. Usually, this form of intimacy is the kind that is both the scariest, yet also the most rewarding.

Because this form of intimacy is so deep and vulnerable, it often requires you and your partner to be vulnerable and raw with the other person. This can be challenging for many people and uncomfortable for most couples. That being said, once you are emotionally intimate with your partner, there is no better feeling in the world.   

How do I Get Over a Fear of Intimacy?

As stated above, finding someone you want to be intimate with in all six different ways can be challenging. It can also be difficult for some people to be intimate in some ways, depending on their background. Closeness doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time, energy, and effort to build intimacy with your partner. It’s an investment that is well worth your time, but it can be a bit nerve-wracking. 

Many people can struggle with intimacy and find it hard to connect with others on a deep level. While there are many reasons for not wanting to be intimate, there are some common threads.  

Many people fear abandonment, and when they become intimate and vulnerable with someone, that fear can often grow. Also, once they open up to someone and show them their deepest, darkest selves, many people’s fears of abandonment grow exponentially, as they’re concerned no one will love them for their true selves.

Woman getting over fear of intimacy by being embraced by man
If you’re in a relationship with someone who fears abandonment, don’t brush off their feelings. Instead, acknowledge and honor them, but assure them that you won’t leave.

Another reason why people fear intimacy is because they have a fear of rejection. These people might want to be intimate with you but are hesitant to say so, just in case you don’t feel the same way. Similar to those who have abandonment issues, people who fear ejection might also be concerned that you won’t want to be with them when they show you their authentic selves. 

People might also avoid intimacy because the act forces them to give up control. If someone thrives off of having control of the narrative of how people see them or how much they connect with others, they’ll know that intimacy forces them to give up that control. They also might fear losing their independence and becoming too emotionally attached to someone. 

And finally, people might be weary of intimacy because they were hurt in the past. While seeking professional health is the best way to treat any form of abuse, receiving understanding and patience from their partner is also necessary for their healing process. 

Practicing intimacy is difficult for everyone, but if someone you love has been burned in the past, it can be exponentially more challenging for them to put themselves out there again.

How to Build Intimacy in a Relationship

This is the perfect place to start as you and your partner explore and build intimacy. Begin thinking about all the different types of intimacy and working to see which areas you and your partner excel in and which areas need help and attention. 

Make sure to keep an open and honest form of communication throughout the process and always check in with each other’s comfort levels. Intimacy can be uncomfortable, so be patient and always keep love and respect at the forefront of your mind and actions.

Abigail Langton
Abigail Langton

Abigail Langton spends her time deep diving into the facts readers want to know about current dating apps online. You'll find her breaking down the latest price points and how to stay secure dating online.