Emotional and physical intimacy are part of every relationship. But it turns out the deeper your emotional connection, the better the physical connection might be, too.
A lot of us have experienced relationships with a high degree of physical intimacy without an emotional connection. These relationships may occur through a one night stand, a friend with benefits, or another arrangement that's based primarily on sexual satisfaction. And there is nothing wrong with these relationships. Sex can help us deal with stress, release mood-enhancing endorphins, and even provide some cardio exercise. Plus, sex is fun and it feels good. But relationships based primarily on physical satisfaction are unlikely to last very long. For long-lasting relationships, emotional intimacy is key.
And it turns out, emotional intimacy can actually help heighten physical attraction. Some people, regardless of gender, only develop feelings of physical attraction once they've connected with another person emotionally. That could be a connection based on anything from a shared experience to similar interests. But until they have that emotional connection, the physical part isn't happening. And for some people, it may be the opposite. A relationship may start through physical attraction and an emotional connection develops later. It's different for everyone, and everyone responds to the emotions of sex in different ways.
According to Self magazine, 96% of people in a survey said that "the best sex is had with someone with whom they are emotionally connected." So there is no denying that for most of us, sex is linked with emotion. But how does that lead to better sex?
So What Is Emotional Intimacy, Exactly?
Emotional intimacy varies from relationship to relationship. You may experience a deep emotional connection with one partner and a less intense connection in another. But there is no right or wrong level of emotional intimacy; it's about what works for you both. However, increasing the connection you feel with your partner can have some amazing benefits, in and out of the bedroom. Relationships with strong emotional intimacy share some similar aspects, such as:
- Trusting each other. It's tough to have emotional intimacy if you don't completely trust your partner. Trust is easily broken and hard to rebuild. But earning and keeping your partner's trust (in the big things as well as the small ones) can help strengthen your emotional bond.
- Knowing they have your back. When you know you can depend on your partner, that can help strengthen your bond with each other. Having each other's backs builds trust as well as deepens your connection.
- Being able to communicate. When you have an emotional bond with another person, you know you can talk to them about anything. That can help clear up misunderstandings and open up avenues to new adventures together.
Emotional intimacy will naturally wax and wane during the course of a long-term relationship. You may feel less emotionally connected when stressed at work, have young children at home, or are experiencing other outside pressures. So you shouldn't panic if it feels like you and your partner aren't as connected as you used to be. The good thing about emotional intimacy is that you can strengthen the connection over and over again, as long as both partners are willing to work on it.
The types of intimacy you need may change over the years, too. At the beginning of your relationship, you may find that your need for physical intimacy is off the scales. That's pretty normal; a lot of relationships start off based on physical attraction, especially during our 20s and 30s. But as the lust fades away, your need for emotional intimacy may increase. Again, there is no right or wrong here. The important thing is being honest with your partner about what you need and working together to achieve it.
Why Emotional Intimacy Matters in Sex
So what does emotional intimacy have to do with making sex better? The emotional bond actually increases your pleasure on both a psychological and physical level. It can also help you get over rough patches in your relationship and stick it out for the long haul.
Your Brain Already Links Sex and Emotion
Your body experiences all sorts of yummy sensations when you have good sex. One of the biggest is the release of oxytocin after an orgasm. Oxytocin is the "feel good" hormone. It's responsible for increasing your feelings of love and affection. When we have sex with someone who we connect with on an emotional level, that hormone also helps to bond us to them. And that feels good on all sorts of levels.
Studies also show that the connection between our emotions and sex may be stronger within the brain than we originally thought. A study in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences found links between the brain circuits responsible for sex and the ones responsible for emotions. The study also highlighted the role of an appropriately-named hormone, Kisspeptin, "in the modulation of sexual and emotional brain processing." It turns out, that hormone is managing both our emotions and our sexual responses from the same area of the brain.
That means your brain is already linking sex and emotion, so strengthening one could strengthen the other.
The Biggest Benefits In the Bedroom
But it's not all brain chemistry benefits when it comes to emotional intimacy in the bedroom. There are also a lot of benefits that couples experience when they share a deep connection.
One of the biggest benefits of emotional intimacy in the bedroom is being able to communicate. Good sex doesn't usually just happen. Partners need to be able to talk about what they want as well as new things they'd like to try. When partners have a history of good communication outside the bedroom, it's a lot easier for them to communicate about their wants and needs inside the bedroom, too. Emotional intimacy means you feel comfortable talking about what you want and need without worrying about your partner shaming you. You can get some more tips about how to ask for what you want in bed on our blog. Being able to fulfill those desires for each other can lead to more mind-blowing sex.
Emotional intimacy can also help you get past a dry spell in the bedroom. Most relationships aren't all sex all the time. You might go for weeks, months, and even years where sex just isn't a priority. That's natural, but it's also something you'll want to get past. According to a survey conducted by Superdrug, the best way to get past a dry spell is to talk to your partner. 40% of the men and women in the survey said a good old fashioned conversation about the dry spell was the best way to end it. The second best way to end a dry spell? Trying out a new sex position. Both of which are easier to do when you are already sharing a deeper level of emotional intimacy.
And emotional intimacy can help you relax and enjoy your sexual experiences more. Great sex happens when our needs are being met and we feel safe and comfortable with our partners. When you've achieved a certain level of emotional intimacy, you are more likely to be able to relax and focus completely on the experience. You'll be able to take in the sights, tastes, sounds, and smells of sex and create a total sensory experience for each other. You can limit distractions and concerns that they think you are too flabby or you aren't good at giving head. Emotional connections allow us to feel safe. You'll know they love you, care about your needs, and are here to experience the joys of sex with you.
How to Increase Your Emotional Intimacy
Where is your current relationship at with emotional intimacy? It's something that couples will need to work on together their entire relationship. The good news is that building emotional intimacy can be fun. Really fun. Along with these five sensory activities, try these suggestions:
- Talk about your sexual fantasies. Displaying this level of vulnerability with another person is a great way to connect emotionally. Talk about something you've always wanted to try in the bedroom. Tell them what turns you on. You could even discuss introducing sex toys into your playtime or look up new positions together. Be open and honest about what you want. Who knows where it could lead in the bedroom?
- Stay in touch throughout the day. Sending texts and calling each other at lunchtime can help you feel more emotionally connected with each other even when you are apart. Plus, it's an excuse to sext each other instead of just talking about the boring day-to-day business of being an adult.
- Do things you enjoy together. It seems like a simple idea, but it's one we often neglect as our calendars fill up with work and social obligations. But carve out time to do things you enjoy together. It might be gardening, kayaking down the river, or even playing a board game at home. Creating shared experiences increases your connection.
Being vulnerable with another human being is one of the bravest things we can do. But the rewards--in and out of the bedroom--are definitely worth it.