Are Sex and Intimacy the Same Thing?

Ask a group of women this question, and you’ll get a resounding, “No!”; at least that’s the answer my wife received from a number of women exiting our local mall. However, when I asked a number of men the same question that afternoon, the few who didn’t glare at me were very candid about the two being linked. In fact, my even asking the question seemed to bring into question my own gender identity or sexual preference.

But that had to be the “non-Christian” men I interviewed, right? Wrong. Or at least that’s what I found in a group of Christian men who gathered to discuss the topic of intimacy. I’m sure that the nachos, chicken wings and upcoming bowl game had nothing to do with the perfect attendance of all six men I asked to meet. However, in spite of the thinly disguised bribery, their answers to several questions were a window into the two different relational worlds men and women share.

What is intimacy to a man?

I had thought about starting with a safer question after my lack of luck at the local mall, but I decided to jump right into the discussion. And after a long pause, Jim, a computer whiz finally asked, “Are we talking about physical intimacy?”

What we quickly came to see was that there was a struggle to think of any other kind.

Without exception, the first thing each man thought of when the word intimacy came up was the sexual act. In fact, Brian, one of the more reflective men in the group summed up most of the comments when he said, “I think when the average man thinks about intimacy, what he’s really thinking about is frequency!”

How, then would your wife define intimacy?

Here’s where the conversation began to heat up. Everyone had an opinion about what their wife meant by this word, and it soon became apparent that their wife’s definition and their own were worlds apart.

“I can’t explain it,” said Alan an upper management person, “But for Cindy, intimacy is directly linked to how I treat the kids. For example, I initiated the idea and took my oldest daughter on an overnight business trip with me a few weeks ago. And when I got home, you’d have thought I’d had taken Cindy to Hawaii by her response!”

“Talk, talk, talk.” Said James, a high school teacher. “I could sum up what Janet thinks intimacy is in one word; communication.” Several of the men agree with communication being on or near the top of their wife’s list of “intimate” activities. Unfortunately, as the discussion progressed, it became obvious that initiating meaningful communication was as difficult for the husbands, as initiating sexual involvement was for the wives.

“For Evylin, I guess it’s the small things.” said Ron, another management type. ” It’s opening the door for her. Calling her from work. Taking time to pray with her before we go to bed instead of just turning off the light. Giving her a kiss the first thing when I get home. Things like that.”

While a number of specifics were mentioned, we boiled down our woman’s “intimacy” list into three main areas; communication (taking the time to listen to her instead of lecturing her, calling her on the phone at her work or from our work), security in the relationship, (how secure the wife felt in her husband’s love was considered a major factor in her being responsive) and romantic expressions (cards, notes, flowers, hugs, etc.). Not one of these had come in at the top spot in the guys list.

What problems can having such different definitions of intimacy cause in a home?

James shared a common thought when he said, “I think Janet thinks I’m coming home to talk with her. But honestly, what I want to do at night is come home to rest! Then she get’s disappointed that we’re not communicating enough and pulls away and it makes me want to talk to her that much less.”

One of the most insightful comments came from the up-to-now quiet Pat, an associate pastor at a growing church. “I know Bev and I look at intimacy differently. For example, the other day I stayed home from a meeting specifically so that I could spend time with her. We were in the same room for hours, with me reading and her grading papers. I thought that being near her was enough… remember I’d canceled my meeting just to be with her. I thought I was a hero that night, but later she told me that the evening had just been “OK.” because we hadn’t really talked.”

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“That’s nothing,” said Brian. “Last anniversary I set everything up and kidnapped my wife for the weekend. I had all the major bases covered, like the kids. But she’s such a detail person, all she could think about the entire weekend were the things I’d forgotten to do. I thought it would be the worlds most intimate weekend but it wasn’t.”

At this point in the evening, the mood was getting kind of somber and the game was getting close to kickoff. It was obvious that we had all felt like Pat and Brian at times engaging in mind-reading when it came to the area of intimacy.

We all knew that there were major differences in the way we looked at intimacy and our wives did — and it was obvious that those differences could cause real problems. And that’s when we all decided to do something that could make a positive difference instead of just reflecting the problem.

As a way of closing our discussion, we all agreed to sit down with our wife and ask what intimacy was to her. We had two days to gather that information, and then we’d meet outside our enrichment hour class at church that Sunday and share what we’d learned.

Five out of six showed up at class that Sunday and when everyone else went inside, we stayed outside for a few minutes to talk about what we’d discovered.

What’s the most important thing you learned in talking with your wife about intimacy?

Pat was first to say, “I learned that we need to add a forth element to our definition of intimacy to a woman. My wife agreed with the communication, security and romance. But she added touching — without an ulterior motive — as a forth. For her, if we’d been sitting on the couch together that night I stayed home from my meeting, it would have made the evening much more meaningful for her.” Several of the men had learned the same thing in their conversations.

“I learned a lot.” Said Jim. “Mainly, I saw how my wife is a lot like the Black and Decker iron we have with the automatic shut off switch.” (Remember, he’s our computer friend who thinks of everything in terms of electronic connections). “What warms her up is all the stuff we talked about, communication, flowers, all that. The more I do them, the more the iron heats up. And when I don’t do those things, it’s like the kill switch triggers and she gets cool to the kind of intimacy I’m looking for.” Jim’s word picture made perfect sense to him, and in our own way, we could all relate to what he was talking about.

Communication experts say that the least talked about subjects by men and women are death and intimacy. By opening the door to talk about this subject in a group of men, and then with our wives, we’d all learned much. But not as much as Ron.

“I asked my Evylin what an intimate time would be for her and she said, ‘Taking me for a walk along the beach at sunset, just the two of us, and talking for hours.’ And then before I could go any further, she said, ‘But you’d ruin it if you brought your fishing pole along!’

“How’s she know I was thinking that?” asked Brian as we slipped into the class that had already started.

Copyright © John Trent, Ph.D., StrongFamilies.com, used with permission.

Dr. John Trent is President of Encouraging Words and StrongFamilies.com, a ministry committed to strengthening marriage and family relationships worldwide. John teaches and is invited to speak at conferences on across the country. Over the past five years alone, John has spoken to over 100,000 people in over 65 major cities at his seminars, as well as speaking to over 500,000 men at Promise Keepers conferences!

In addition to speaking, he has authored and co-authored more than a dozen award winning and best-selling books. There are more than 2,100,000 copies of these adult and children’s books in print, in eleven different languages!

Read more from John at strongfamilies.com.

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