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What is Intimacy?

Intimacy is a word thrown around quite often by Christian authors and speakers regarding marriage and sexuality. Anytime you choose a word, you hope its meaning is agreed upon by both speaker and audience so that you can effectively convey an idea. Do we agree on what intimacy is?

The Merriam-Webster definition of intimate includes “belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature,” “marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity,” and “of a very personal or private nature.” None of that specifically denotes sex.

Indeed, wives focus on those words “deepest,” “close,” “association,” “familiarity.” Intimacy describes a connection they feel, or want to feel, with their husbands, which they can often get through conversation and affection.

Meanwhile, when you mention the word intimacy to husbands, plenty of them hear boom-chicka-bow-now in their heads and fixate immediately on SEX. “You want intimacy, wife? Great! Here’s the bedroom!”

Who’s right? What is this elusive concept of intimacy? How would God define it? What does intimacy look like in a marriage?

I believe that husbands and wives are describing different parts of the elephant. If you’re not familiar with that analogy, an Indian fable tells of six blind men who wanted to know what an elephant was. One man feeling the elephant’s side described it as a wall, another feeling the tusk declared it like a spear, yet another feeling the trunk said it was like a snake, one more feeling the leg swore it was like a tree, another feeling its ear claimed it was like a fan, and the final one feeling its tail said it was like a rope. They argued who was right. The moral of the story is that they were all correct but failed to merge their images into one complete picture.

By Jan Gillbank for the English for the Australian Curriculum website, via Wikimedia Commons

Like that elephant, intimacy can be described from different vantage points — mental, emotional, recreational, physical, spiritual and sexual. Intimacy is knowing someone at a deep level.

Marital intimacy is special, however, in that it can include all of these perspectives. In an ideal marriage, a couple shares their thoughts, hopes, dreams, emotions, happiness, and disappointments. They have a mental and emotional connection. They spend time together doing things and touching affectionately so that they have recreational and physical connections. They foster one another’s walk of faith, attending church and praying together, sharing their spiritual struggles and joys and challenging each other toward greater closeness with God. But while we can have intimate friendships with emotional or spiritual connection, it is only with one’s spouse that we are physically fully revealed and connected.

And while you can have a good marriage and be missing a component or two of those listed, if you want a GREAT marriage, you must nurture all of them, including sexuality.

Moreover, sexuality experienced as God intended has all of these elements within it:

Mental. Your minds are focused entirely on one another as you come together. 

Emotional. Your time together reflects your feelings of love and desire for one another. 

Recreational. Sexual encounters should be pleasurable and fun for both spouses.

Physical. Marital sexuality requires physical effort and attention to physical arousal.

Spiritual. Healthy sexuality in marriage becomes transcendent in some ways, as you experience a connectedness that is blessed by the Father himself. A sexual climax can feel like a peek at heaven in some ways. I don’t want to overstate this because of course I don’t know what heaven is like, and eternity with God will surpass anything we experience here on earth. But that sense of connection and complete pleasure does smack of what I expect to experience one day. Surely, some of you relate to this sensation.

So when I and others discuss marital intimacy, I hope that you hear more than simply sex or connection because it goes beyond that. “Marital intimacy” goes beyond regular “intimacy” because it happens within the bonds of marriage as God intended, and it goes beyond “marital sex” which may or may not involve deeper connectedness with your mate. Intimacy is a deep knowledge of your spouse that encompasses several aspects, builds your marriage, and honors the Creator.

How do you define intimacy in your marriage? What makes you feel intimate with your spouse? Do you feel that sense of intimacy when you make love in your marriage? How does sexuality have a mental, emotional, recreational, physical, or spiritual component for you?

2 thoughts on “What is Intimacy?”

  1. Whether you are talking about spiritual, emotional or physical intimacy, I use the same definition: “being fully known, and completely loved.”

  2. What an excellent, thought provoking post. I love the story of the elephant – how true this is. After blogging about marriage for nearly three years, we’ve heard it all. But here you’ve put intimacy all together as one amazing gift from God. We can have a good marriage missing some components, but a GREAT marriage will consist of all of them. I love that!

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