Many couples struggle with blending eroticism and intimacy in their committed relationship. Many couples report the sexual honeymoon stage of their relationship fizzling after a few months of dating and after years of cultivating a more emotional and intimate relationship, they struggle with feeling sexual desire and excitement.
Before we dive into the causes of this, I would like to elaborate on my definitions of “eroticism and intimacy” so you understand what I am referring. When I say “eroticism” I am referring to desire and excitement. This can include fetishes, fantasies or kinks. It can also include playfulness and allowing yourself to be open minded during sex, rather than stuck in your head. Eroticism requires you to know what you like sexually or at least be open to exploring; it requires sexual expression and confidence. Eroticism does not always coincide with emotions or love, but it can.
Actually, we often see eroticism as an opposite of love, which is part of the problem.
Now, when I refer to “intimacy” in this article, I am referring to emotional closeness. Everyone experiences intimacy differently. Maybe you find yourselves feeling really emotionally close to each other when you talk deeply about fears, dreams and insecurities. Maybe you feel really emotionally close when you have had to rely on your partner and they supported you; or maybe you feel emotionally close to them when they touch you non-sexually and give you a loving compliment. Intimacy does not mean sex, although it can be a experienced during sex.
It’s common for my clients to describe eroticism as “porn sex.” Almost like an outlet for people who are just sexual to experiment with each other only for the purpose of arousal and orgasm. Many of my clients struggle with bringing that concept and level of desire and excitement into the bedroom with their long term partner, because they are afraid of “disrespecting them,” or afraid of expressing themselves in a way that may lead to judgement.
Sometimes, my clients report only experiencing “porn-like sex” with each other and crave a more emotional, intimate connection during sex and after sex.
Again, eroticism and intimacy can be a challenging gap to bridge.
So why does this happen?
How is it that you can feel so emotionally close to your partner, but not sexually erotic or sexually open with them? Or how is it that you can feel so sexually connected with your partner, but struggle with feeling emotionally secure? How is it that one of these does not automatically translate to the other?
In my professional opinion, experiencing difficulty blending eroticism and intimacy is a very common dilemma that can be caused by a few different factors:
1: You’ve stopped nurturing the creative, sexual component of your relationship because you prioritize other things, (such as work, home life, children, etc).
2: You have convinced yourselves that the “honeymoon stage” of your relationship is long gone and it will never come back or have the same level of intensity. You’re comfortable being good companions and the hot sex was just a phase.
3. You are subconsciously or consciously afraid of being sexually and/or emotionally vulnerable.
4. You don’t know how to be sexually vulnerable or erotic; you have no idea what your sexual desires or fantasies are and the thought may intimate you.
5. You have sex mostly to satisfy your partner and to feel loved by them, but you don’t experience orgasm or much physical pleasure during it.
6. You don’t know how to initiate intimate conversations around sex with your partner.
7. You lack self confidence.
8. You’re overwhelmed and/or stressed in your personal life.
9. You and your partner are not connecting in an emotionally intimate way, and/or you are too connected emotionally that you don’t leave much room to expand on the physical intimacy.
10. You struggle with letting your partner completely in emotionally.
11. You struggle with trust, letting go of control and/or being vulnerable.
12. You’ve never experienced eroticism and emotional closeness with a partner and have no idea what that would look like.
Of course these aren’t the only causes that affect your relationship, but here is a good starting point. If you find yourself relating to any of these, then you may ask yourself immediately, “Now, what can I do to change it?”
Well to start, please take a deep breath and kindly reassure yourself that nothing is wrong with you! Blending sexual eroticism and emotional intimacy can be challenging for most of us, simply because sex and emotions are complex. It’s difficult to expose all of our vulnerable pieces to one person. It’s can be scary!
Start by asking yourselves the following questions:
- What does sex represent to me?
- What does emotional intimacy represent to me?
- What messages did I learn about sex and gender related sexual roles at the different stages of my life? (Childhood, teenage years, college life, “love” partners, etc). Where did these messages come from? (Community, religion, parents, partners, peers, internet?) How authentic are they to my own beliefs?
- What does being “sexual” look like? Are their any negative emotions that are associated with this?
- What does being “emotionally close” look like? Are their any negative emotions that are associated with this?
- Where do I tend to go (mentally) during sex? Am I present, am I stuck in my insecurities and/or thoughts? Why?
- Do I preform during sex because I assume my partner needs or wants something from me? If so, how may this be negatively impacting my ability to be authentic sexually, with myself and my partner?
- Do I know what I like sexually? If so, do I have any negative feelings toward acting them out and/or expressing them?
- What are my insecurities or fears around sex?
- If the sexual honeymoon stage of my relationship has changed, can I identify why?
- Do feel emotionally intimate with my partner when we are having sex? Why or why not?
- List off all sexual expectations you have of yourself and your relationship. How many of these are pressured filled and cause anxiety and/or avoidance?
- Does sex make me uncomfortable in any way? If so, how?
Once you start understanding yourself better, you can have more insight as to the personal setbacks you may have and what direction you can go to start exploring the emergence of eroticism and intimacy in your relationship. Ultimately, what this all come down to regardless of your own personal insecurities, fears and/or beliefs, is vulnerability.
I often discuss vulnerability in my articles, because it is the core of many of our behaviors, protections and defensives. It subconsciously motivates us to push people or experiences away in fear of exposing it. Vulnerability also has the potential to support us in ways that help us feel extremely safe and secure once we have exposed it and find acceptance and nurturing. Bridging intimacy and eroticism is extremely complicated, but it does in fact require vulnerability, because each part requires openness.
Without openness we cannot be vulnerable.
Without vulnerability, we cannot explore what we like sexually in order to be erotic.
Without vulnerability, we cannot explore our emotions and connect with our partner intimately.
So what we can start doing is working on being more open and mindful around our insecurities, assumptions and expectations of ourselves and our partner.