The agenda of what we are about to discuss couldn’t be clearer or more direct – we discuss how to increase physical intimacy in a relationship. But the answers are not as direct as the question at hand. Intimacy is a nuanced word. Intimacies or closeness, are of varied kinds, and they all work in tandem with each other.
Physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, experiential intimacy and spiritual intimacy are all portals to feel closer and connected to your partner. Holding hands with your partner feels more intimate while admiring a sunset. Imagine doing that post an arduous hike to the clifftop. This could be followed by a long discussion about how the giant mountains and mighty nature made you feel emotions of peaceful surrender.
You see, physical intimacy of holding hands, or kissing under the stars, or making love back home, feels stronger when it is compounded with other intimacies. Some of those could be the spiritual intimacy of wondering about the meaning of life, an intellectual intimacy of sharing lines of a poem, or experiential intimacy of completing an adventure together.
Our expert, relationship and intimacy coach Shivanya Yogmayaa (internationally certified in the therapeutic modalities of EFT, NLP, CBT, REBT), who specializes in different forms of couples counseling, takes cues from such varying shades of emotions behind physical intimacy. She addresses the question “How does physical intimacy affect relationships?” and gives us tips on how to increase physical intimacy in a relationship. She also busts myths and false limitations imposed around the idea of physical intimacy.
What Is Physical Intimacy In A Relationship?
Physical intimacy is often misconstrued or even used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Shivanya sets the record straight. She says, “Physical intimacy is not just plain sex or pure intercourse. It is a means of connection and involves the emotion of consent, safety, trust and transparency. For one to feel physical closeness and comfort, there has to be a groundwork of several layers of understanding, communication and connection.”
Sex and physical intimacy are not one and the same thing. While sex is a form of physical intimacy, it is not limited by it. Sexual touch, sensual touch and physical touch are not interchangeable. For example, a public display of affection such as holding hands is a physical touch. But it can be initiated as a result of different intentions. It can also instigate different reactions in a person.
To someone, it can cause sexual passion and the desire to express sexual intimacy. To another, it may cause sensual pleasure. They may find the touch comforting, soothing, and pleasurable but it may not necessarily make them want to have sex. For someone else, the act of holding hands in public can cause an emotional reaction. They may feel accepted by their partner and confident and secure in a relationship they were previously unsure of. This emotion may not initiate sensual nor sexual pleasure but only a spiritual sense of joy and peace. Regardless, holding hands in public is still a form of physical intimacy.
What this simply means is that physical intimacy can not be seen bereft of other aspects that a couple shares with each other. While it is true that physical intimacy is holding hands, kissing, appreciating the experience of physical touch and sexual intercourse, the closeness experienced in such acts depends on the other types of intimacies the couple shares. It is true that a kiss can bring two people closer. But a kiss shared by two people who also regularly connect over future dreams and goals, sharing of fears and aspirations, will bring them even closer.
Similarly, it works the other way around too. Physical intimacy also works as a tool to cement other forms of intimacies. Which is why it holds the kind of importance it does in a relationship and makes the question “How to increase physical intimacy in a relationship?” a recurring concern.
Related Reading: 55 Intimate Questions To Ask Your Partner
Why Is It Important To Foster Physical Intimacy In A Relationship?
Shivanya says, “It is the most innate desire in every human to be touched, to be hugged, to be desired. Both in a sexual way and non-sexual way. A hug, for example, can communicate so much without the need to say anything.”
We often hear about the health benefits of sex, but it is also important to note the physiological needs of our body that respond to physical touch, sexual or non-sexual. Physical touch releases the oxytocin hormone which triggers the brain’s pleasure centers and reduces stress. This is not limited to sex or sexual touch. The body responds positively to any consensual desirable touch.
Shivanya adds, “If we pay attention to what happens when physical intimacy is denied in a relationship, we would understand how does physical intimacy affect relationships. Speaking through my experience of dealing with clients, both men and women, who have had issues with physical intimacy, I can say that the amount of stress this lack causes is massive.”
She drives our attention to another side-effect of a sexless marriage or the lack of physical intimacy in a relationship. She says, “This stress and the non-release of the feel-good hormones may cause low self-esteem. ‘I am not worthy’, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am not desirable’ and other similar negative ideas are often caused by a lack of physical intimacy in a relationship. This means, being physically desirable to your partner is related to the boost of one’s confidence and self-image.” These reasons should be enough to highlight the importance of physical intimacy in a relationship.
Expert Tips On How To Increase Physical Intimacy In A Relationship
It is clear that intimacy is something humans crave as it provides them with the most basic need of fulfillment, pleasure, self-worth, sense of connection and a feeling of trust in the bond they create. How to increase physical intimacy in a relationship should be one of our major intentions when nurturing relationships. But how does one do that effectively and in a healthy way?
Here are a few things that our expert advises to help you increase physical intimacy in your relationship. Prioritizing these will not only help you bring physically closer to your partner, but each of these tips also promotes love and mutual respect and, as a result a deeper connection with your partner.
1. Be mindful of consent
No conversation around how to increase physical intimacy in a relationship should begin without understanding the role of consent and the assurance of consent. Shivanya says, “Physical intimacy must be a mutual act, which means it has to have consent of the partners involved, married or unmarried. Never force physical intimacy on your partner.” It is very important to be mindful of your partner’s boundaries.
It is important to confirm and reconfirm your partner’s consent in respect to both physical intimacy in a new relationship as well as in an old one. People tend to do things they don’t want in a new relationship because of trust issues. In an old relationship, people tend to be set in the ways of the relationship and feel awkward objecting to the set ways. Be mindful that people’s boundaries can change over the course of time. Therefore, it is not all right to assume consent of your partner if it was given to you once.
This sensitivity is great for a relationship. If at all, the care that you show for your partner by respecting their boundaries has a better chance of allowing them to gradually open up to you to share their concerns and issues. This might lead to the resolution of the issues, eventually improving physical intimacy in your relationship.
On the other hand, by forcing yourself on them, you might think you have received your share of intimacy but do know you are engaging in abuse. This is irrespective of your marital status or the duration of the relationship. Forcing doesn’t just include forcing physically in the literal sense of the word. Emotionally manipulating your partner, or blackmailing them into increasing physical intimacy are also abusive behaviors.
2. Communicate effectively
If one had to pick out the most important quality that is a constant in a healthy joyful relationship, it would be communication. Learning ways to improve communication is the key to improving all aspects of a relationship. In one form or the other, it has a constant spot in all discussions surrounding love. For physical intimacy, Shivanya says, “Communicating your physical needs is extremely crucial for having a physical connection with your partner. Communicate your needs and desires otherwise as well as in the act. What feels pleasurable, what doesn’t, what is hurtful. What turns you on and turns you off.”
Even for non-sexual touch, partners should often talk about how much touch each person likes. Not everyone likes to be caught by surprise and hugged from behind. Not everyone likes to be tickled. Instead, someone might appreciate gentle hand-holding more than a full body hug. Additionally, one’s immediate response to your touch is feedback that you should be ready to notice. Similarly, responding clearly when you like or dislike a physical gesture from your partner is another form of communication. It works as a feedback to communicate to your partner what you liked.
Shivanya says, “Communicating these things, and talking about them also creates a spiritual and emotional closeness with your partner. So, the benefits are many fold.” So, instead of just wondering all by yourself or googling your concern, your best bet could simply be to ask your partner their opinion on how to increase physical intimacy in a relationship.
3. Build a safe space for communication
We know how necessary it is for the communication channel between two partners to be free and open. But real sincere communication is possible only when both partners feel that they will be listened to without any judgment or fear of backlash from their partner. This is especially noteworthy when wanting to share one’s desires and fantasies. Physical intimacy in a new relationship can be nurtured by talking about these emotions from the very beginning.
Shivanya says, “Physical intimacy increases with effective communication of desires and fantasies. It allows the improvement of intimacy beyond the limits of the physical aspect. It nurtures respect in the relationship. That is why we advise to have a safe space for communication of these without the fear of judgment from the partner.”
Be aware of the emotions that surface when your partner shares their fantasies. Instead of judging your partner for it, and expressing it in the form of anger, disappointment, judgment, passive-aggression and sarcasm, notice your own feelings closely. Why are you reacting the way you are? Did it make you feel jealous or insecure, or excited or happy?
Have a conversation with your partner. Share how you feel. Chances are talking it out with them will only bring the two of you closer emotionally and spiritually. It will increase mutual love and empathy. Allow your partner the space to share their deepest thoughts. Seek the same from them. The trust that there will not be an adverse reaction will work wonders for your relationship in other areas as well.
4. Foster emotional intimacy
Like we discussed earlier, intimacy is a compound concept. No intimacy works in isolation. Physical intimacy can be nurtured when emotional intimacy between two partners is fostered. People tend to put in all their energy to improve physical intimacy in a marriage or the lack of it. But they do not consider what is the state of the emotional connection they have with their partner. The lack of emotional connection may make the touch of a person feel alien and uncomfortable. When unwanted touch is forced upon a person for too long, the mind forces one to become desensitized to it to avoid pain. This can make physical touch feel very ordinary and unspecial.
Shivanya gets straight to the point, “Nobody reacts well to physical touch when there is a lack of emotional intimacy. But some people feel more shut down than others. A touch from someone else can feel extremely intrusive and unwanted in that case.” A simple example of it would be a person complaining that their partner always jumps into the act but refuses to take time out to do other things together or even simply talk about their day.
If you want physical intimacy to feel more intimate, for it to be filled with emotions of excitement, pleasure and satisfaction, do not ignore emotional intimacy. Moreover, emotional intimacy allows for all of the other things on this list, or any list like this one, to be realized. After all, how does one communicate their desires and fears without emotional intimacy? If you are physically away from your partner, this could be a great opportunity to increase intimacy in the face of long-distance relationship problems by focusing your attention on other portals of intimacy.
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5. Be respectful of your partner’s and your bodies
When thinking of how to increase physical intimacy in a relationship, we often do not stop to consider another most obvious concern – our physicality or body image. “We shouldn’t feel judged for our bodies. The color of our skin, the shape of our body, the appearance of the genitalia. If one does, it is going to come in the way of physical intimacy. Conscious effort must be made to appreciate each other’s body,” says Shivanya.
In fact, we would go on to say that not judging one’s body isn’t enough. If one were to feel proud of their physicality and find it easy to love their bodies, it would open a completely new channel of physical connection between partners. For this too, open communication and development of emotional intimacy by sharing insecurities with each other will be of immense help. It is important to reassure your partner of your admiration for them, for their body. There can never be enough number of times to tell someone how much you like everything about them. Make praising each other a habit. Afterall, feeling accepted is the basic desire one has from their relationship.
Shivanya especially advises to seek professional help for issues like vaginismus, erectile dysfunction, premature or delayed ejaculation. Help should also be sought of sexual incompatibility issues. They are often dealt with in a secretive tone but are very real, very common issues that are often easy to treat with clear diagnosis and treatment by a medical professional. What a shame it would be if the resolution to your issues was just a doctor’s visit away, and you unnecessarily spend your precious days worrying about it and dealing with it all alone.
6. Consider childhood traumas
“Sometimes people in a relationship that lacks physical intimacy wonder why their partner is not responding to their touch. Or why do they go frigid when touched. Or why are they less interested or why do they shy away. Here you think of all the things that are wrong with you when struggling to resolve the question of how to increase physical intimacy in your relationship. On the other hand, deep-seated childhood wounds might be the reason behind these issues,” says Shivanya.
Many physical intimacy issues stem from sexual abuse traumas. Sexual, physical, mental, emotional traumas experienced in childhood can hugely affect the relation a person has with their own body. As well as physical intimacy with another human being. Coming to this realization happens when two partners share their feelings surrounding physical touch. Communication enables the emotions to surface.
This allows one to feel empathy for their partner and not take the issue personally. It also develops sensitivity and helps in understanding each other’s boundaries. “In this case too, you see, physical intimacy can be enabled only with emotional intimacy,” says Shivanya. If you or your sex therapist finds that your issues are more deep seated they may recommend you to try trauma focused therapy. Consult a skilled therapist to get to the root of these issues. They may be affecting much more in your lives than just physical intimacy.
7. Do not limit intimacy to the bedroom
Do you wonder what to do to increase intimacy in a relationship? And then do you make a list and try everything when hitting the sheets? That might not be very effective. Physical intimacy, after all, has to feel organic. It can not be rushed or forced. It also cannot be limited to a certain time of the day or room in the house. Physical intimacy cannot be tied to the fringes of your life where it is only dealt with in a hush-hush tone, with a sense of shame or guilt attached to it. Physical intimacy is synonymous with affection – sexual or non-sexual.
Shivanya advises, “Do not limit physical intimacy to the bedroom and to night time. Make your affection felt through the day, through other physical gestures such as a squeeze of the hand, a back rub, a forehead kiss. You don’t have to wait for the night to get on with it. Think of all the ways you can tell them you love them without saying it.”
Change the limiting definition of foreplay. Foreplay is not a preset few minutes of lovemaking done in a mechanical way. Anything that brings a couple together and makes them desire each other is foreplay. It should not be set within the limitations of a predefined mode, space and time. A deep conversation about love in the morning can be foreplay, so can flirty texting done with your partner when they are at work. Physical intimacy in a long-distance relationship is a challenge in itself. But this attitude can work wonders for people in such relationships.
8. Make deliberate effort to tackle predictability
Trust, safety and comfort are of paramount importance in a healthy relationship. The feeling that one knows their partner inside-out can be joyous and peaceful. A small side-effect of this level of connection and trust is predictability. While it is a small price to pay for the ease of a great relationship, there are things that can be done to tackle predictability.
“If you are wondering what to do to increase intimacy in a relationship directly, well, try things that break routine,” advises Shivanya. “The physical act can get very mundane and very predictable. Consider adding elements of surprise – getaways; being playful or getting kinky – your darkest fantasies, roleplays; massages – body massage, genital massage, use of props like, sex toys, feathers, roses, candles etc.” But one has to feel secure in the knowledge that they will not be judged. Only then can one share their deepest thoughts. Another possible way to learn how to increase physical intimacy in a relationship, is to change patterns of initiating physical intimacy.
Tackling predictability to improve physical intimacy in a marriage is a special challenge. Predictability and routine has its own place in a marriage. After all, the couple is living their life together, possibly with more people under their roof, and managing all of them is possible only through routine. When faced with real world challenges, being able to predict the action or reaction of your partner to work as a team is a huge help. This kind of intimacy shared by partners in a long-term relationship comes from a level of comfort that is not ordinary.
But extraordinary situations create unique problems that call for unique solutions. Figure out your own! The key is to stop, evaluate and see what you can do differently that would be exciting for the both of you. Think of intimacy as an evolving thing when trying to answer the “How to increase physical intimacy in a relationship” question in your relationship.
Related Reading: How Masturbation Helps In Long-Distance Relationships
Bonus tip: Kissology
Coined by Shivanya, Kissology is a technique where one partner receives kisses from the other partner all over their body. Think of all the health benefits of kissing compounded several times over. “The idea behind Kissology is –,” says Shivanya, “when we were infants or even as kids, our mothers would kiss our bodies often, kissing the palm, kissing the sole of the feet. But then that stops as we grow up. So, Kissology involves giving kisses to your partner all over their body. Small butterfly kisses from head to toe. Both partners can do it to each other. There is nothing else on the agenda. It is a dedicated kiss time.”
You would never think of this when wondering about how to increase physical intimacy in a relationship but Kissology sounds like such a tender act that makes each part of the body feel loved. It is taking intentional time out to give physical love. “Often all the attention goes to the most erogenous areas of the body, but Kissology brings attention to new found places on the body. And that’s why I love it and recommend it,” says Shivanya.
9. Seek support from professionals
If how to increase physical intimacy in a relationship seems like too overwhelming a question, or if you feel that your issues seem too much to handle, consider seeking support from a skilled sex therapist. It is possible that you realize the lack of physical intimacy is an issue that is now beyond the possibility of self-management, or intimacy has been lost for so long that you do not know where and how to begin. Similarly, if the issues that surface seem much more complex than you had expected, approaching a skilled professional could be the best recourse for you.
If you do not know where to begin, Bonobology’s panel of skilled experts are here to help you.