Sex Without Intimacy and Intimacy Without Sex
by Kevin B. Burk

(The following is an excerpt from The Relationship Handbook: How to
Understand and Improve Every Relationship in Your Life by Kevin B.

We no longer feel the social pressure to confine sex to committed
relationships. In fact, we’re free to explore our sexuality with just about
anyone we like. Sex is now an accepted recreational activity. What we
often don’t realize, however, is that even casual, recreational sex still
involves intimacy. We may have overcome our fear and shame about
sex, but many of us still have issues regarding intimacy. If we experience
more intimacy than we can handle, we will feel threatened; our safety
checklist will be triggered. No matter how “safe” we make sex, sex may
not be safe to us.

When we experience an orgasm, we reveal ourselves more completely
and more honestly than at any other time. We let our egos die for a
moment, and we have the chance to experience a true connection with
another person. Then the ego comes back into the picture, and we’re hit
with the fear of separation, and all of our old patterns. If we don’t have
enough trust or enough safety, we will feel threatened, guilty, and
generally unsafe. No matter how much society’s beliefs about sex have
evolved in our lifetime, our core conditioning tells us that there’s no such
thing as no-strings sex. We still equate sex with love, and love with
commitment. And we equate love and commitment with vulnerability,
responsibility, and the fear that our needs will not be met.

Sex is very easy to come by in today’s society. What most of us crave,
however, is not sex, but intimacy. The challenge is that the only model
most of us have for expressing or experiencing intimacy is sex. Intimacy
requires trust, and trust takes time. It’s very difficult to experience true
intimacy through casual sex.

The level of intimacy we experience through sex can be threatening to
many of us, particularly if the sex occurs early in the relationship. Safety
is essential in the early stages of a relationship—even the smallest
safety violation can mark the end of a budding romance. As we get to
know our partners over time, we create a foundation of trust and
familiarity. We can keep minor safety violations in perspective. This is not
the case when we have truly casual sex with someone.

When we become sexual with a person we’ve just met, even the
smallest safety violation will be enough to stop our getting to know each
other. One of the challenges is that it’s not usually appropriate or
possible to have a Relationship Definition Talk with a person we’ve
known less than six hours. There is no real relationship to discuss.
While we both may have wanted to pursue a romantic relationship
before we had sex, we often find we’re less interested the next morning,
because we feel unsafe. We experienced too much intimacy too quickly,
and we need to create some distance, some space, and to put up some
walls so that we can recover. These walls, however, block the emotional
and spiritual connections we experienced that made us want to get to
know each other in the first place. Since we don’t really know our partner,
we wonder if there was ever a genuine connection between us. We often
end up with the awkward “morning after” where one of us promises to
call the other, and neither of us believes the phone will actually ring.
Two popular television shows demonstrate our current approaches to
sex without intimacy and intimacy without sex.

HBO’s television series, “Sex and the City,” follows the loves and lives of
four single women living in New York City. The show has become a
cultural touchstone because it explores sexuality from the woman’s point
of view in frank, funny, and honest ways. The four main characters are
smart, independent, decent, professional, attractive women. They each
have a different approach to sex, love and relationships, and between
them they cover a broad spectrum of expectations and attitudes towards
sex. The main characters have become so much a part of popular
culture that many women use them as reference points to describe their
own patterns and feelings about sex. So do many gay men.
For those of you not familiar with the series (and even for those of us
who are), I’ll provide a brief description of each of the main characters to
illustrate their attitudes towards sex.

Samantha Jones takes the most stereotypically male approach to sex.
She truly enjoys sex, and for the most part, she’s content to have a
healthy sex life with multiple partners. She has no guilt or shame
associated with sex. Sex for Samantha does not require any kind of
emotional commitment, nor does it imply any kind of relationship. She
enjoys sex for the sake of sex. Samantha is largely self-sufficient, and is
able to meet her validation needs through her close friendships.
Although Samantha had three significant romantic relationships during
the run of the show (including a lesbian relationship), she has never set
out to find a relationship.

Carrie Bradshaw has a healthy appreciation for casual sex as well.
Carrie, however, is looking for something more than just sex—she is
looking for a relationship. While Carrie is less likely than Samantha to
simply hook up with an attractive stranger, she doesn’t need to feel like
she’s in a committed relationship before she will have sex. Sex is a part
of casual dating for Carrie.

Miranda Hobbes is more interested in finding a romantic relationship
than she admits. For Miranda, sex is more than just sex—it implies
some kind of commitment, and requires some kind of emotional
connection. The few times Miranda has indulged in strictly casual sex,
she’s been disappointed. Miranda needs to feel that sex is a part of a
relationship—and she has, in the past, used sex as a way to try to initiate
a relationship. Once she has sex with someone, she immediately
begins to see him as a potential long-term romantic partner.

If Samantha is the most stereotypically masculine in her approach to
sex, Charlotte York is the most stereotypically feminine. Although she
doesn’t like to admit it, Charlotte is uncomfortable with the idea of casual
sex. For Charlotte, sex should only be part of a committed relationship.
Charlotte sets the most boundaries with respect to her sex life—how far
she’s willing to go sexually has a direct relation to how strong a
commitment she receives from her partner. Of course this did backfire
on her—she made her first husband wait until they were married before
she would have sex with him, and then discovered that he couldn’t.

“Sex and the City” mainly focuses on sex. If we want to find a model for
an intimate relationship, we have to look to another popular television
show: “Will & Grace.” Will Truman and Grace Adler share a tremendous
amount of love, trust and intimacy in their relationship. They validate and
support each other, and they share the kind of emotional connections
that most of us truly crave in our lives. Ironically, the only reason that they
manage to do this is that sex can never be a part of their relationship,
since Will is gay. Women and gay men have always shared a special
bond. In many ways, relationships between women and gay men are the
only ones where we can experience true intimacy without involving sex.
But sex and intimacy are still connected. The more intimate we become
with someone, the more important it will be that we are able to express
that intimacy through sex. Our objective in our romantic relationships is
to feel loved. Ultimately, love involves a balance of sex and intimacy. But
for many of us, the choice seems to be either having intimacy without
sex, or sex without intimacy. We’ve all but forgotten how to combine the

Kevin B. Burk is the author of
The Relationship Handbook:
How to Understand and
Improve Every Relationship in
Your Life. Visit

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