What Is Real Intimacy? And What Does Sex Have to Do With It?

by | Feb 14, 2020 | intimacy | 26 comments

What is Real Intimacy in Marriage? How Sex plays a part

What is real intimacy?

Is it friendship? Sex? Or more?

I met my husband while I was in university. We became best friends quite quickly and were soon spending all our time together, telling each other everything. It was wonderful.

About a year and a half into that friendship I realized that I actually liked him “that way”. And soon after we started dating. Again, I told him everything.

We could sit for hours and just talk–about important stuff, about not so important stuff, about anything.

When we got married I believed that’s what intimacy was–that ability to talk about anything, and still feel as if the other person heard you.

Keith and Sheila wedding

But somehow over the course of the first few years of our marriage we lost that. When you’re friends, it’s easy to feel intimacy because you don’t have expectations on the person in the same way, and so it’s harder for them to let you down. It’s easier to feel, “we’re total soul mates”.

But in marriage, expectations come to play. Maybe you have different ideas of who will do the dishes, or of how hard both of you will work outside the home, or of how much you’ll make love.

And these things take a long time sorting out when we get married. Quite often couples never do entirely sort them out.

Real Intimacy in Marriage--Keith and Sheila

When we’d have a particularly bad time in our marriage, I often would think back to those dating days, and wish that I could get back to “real intimacy”. If only we could just talk for hours again, we’d feel close.

I now realize that I was wrong.

Talking and sharing your heart is a wonderful PART of real intimacy, but it is only a part.

And in marriage, it isn’t really enough.

In marriage, real intimacy should also involves making love. I think sometimes we pigeonhole sex into being something that he “needs” biologically, and so we sort of look down on sex, like it’s a baser thing, while talking is a higher thing. But perhaps that comes from a misunderstanding about sex.

We tend to think that sex is all about the physical–it’s about getting release. So sex is only about pleasure–and often only about his pleasure.

But it’s so much more than that!

The way that God made it requires deeper and deeper levels of intimacy to make it wonderful.

We’re naked together, which is intimate. In order to relax and really let go and feel good, we have to become vulnerable. We have to tell him what we like, and we have to literally and figuratively let him in. Literally because that’s how sex works, and figuratively because for women, sex is mostly in our heads. We can’t get aroused unless we DECIDE that we’re going to enjoy it. For us it’s largely a mental experience. And that means that we need to make the decision to embrace him–that we’re not just going to “lie there”, but we’re actually going to have a good time.

Making love, when it works the way that God designed it, truly should be intimate.

And when we don’t make love, or when we only make love rarely, intimacy in our marriage is hindered.

We feel like there’s something wrong. We long to talk, but somehow it never quite brings that heart connection that we want. And when we feel distant, we often start snapping, because we don’t want to feel guilty about it. So we tend to frame him as the one in the wrong. It’s a vicious circle.

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Real intimacy in marriage is about sharing something with your spouse that you don’t share with anybody else.

It’s letting him in. It’s laughing together. And it’s also feeling that deep hunger for each other. Somewhat ironically, when we feel that way, we’re often more drawn to pray together, because we’ve already become vulnerable with each other. We’ve let down all the pretences. That’s also why when we pray together first, it often makes sex even more intense.

When we’re married, intimacy encompasses all of that–your body, your heart, your mind. And it’s a truly beautiful thing. This is why I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex–to show everything that sex was supposed to be, and help people experience real intimacy in the bedroom in every way (emotionally, spiritually, AND physically).

Maybe you don’t have that kind of real intimacy.

Perhaps sex has always been difficult for you because you’re an abuse survivor, or because you did things before you’re married that you’re not proud of. Maybe he’s the one with no libido, and you feel really alone. Maybe sex has just fallen off your radar screen because you’re so busy and so tired and everyone’s hanging off of you all day already. Maybe your marriage has underlying problems where you can’t feel safe–and it’s emotionally dangerous (and honestly–this needs to be dealt with first!). Or maybe you just feel really distant from your husband in general.

I’m not saying that getting your sex life right will fix all of these problems (and it certainly can’t fix emotionally destructive marriages). I know that some things are far more deep seated.

But I also know that when we are connecting physically, it makes it so much easier to tackle some of the other problems in our marriage–communication, finances, parenting techniques, whatever.

Often we women think that we need to get those things sorted out first before we can have a great sex life. Those are the things holding us back. Or we figure we need to create this super close friendship again first.

But can I make a suggestion?

Understand that it can also work the other way. If your spouse is the one with the higher libido, then they likely see sex as a way of checking in on the relationship. Having sex is their way of knowing, “everything’s okay. We’re close. We’re good.”  If they feel close and secure, then the rest of these issues become much easier to deal with.

Many (not all) women need to feel loved in order to make love. And many (not all) men make love to feel loved. If you’re waiting to feel loved to make love, you could be waiting a long time.

But if you can tell yourself all the benefits of sex for you and for the relationship–and jump in–you may find that your needs get met, too. Plus you get to feel awesome!

After all, sex tends to make you sleep better. Have sex lots, and you tend to get fewer colds and fewer forms of some mental illnesses. You feel more relaxed. You feel closer. You laugh more. It’s all good!

What if sex doesn’t feel very good for you, though? That’s okay. It takes a while for many women. But you can make it into a great research project you do with your husband, because you were meant to feel awesome. Don’t give up!

Today is Valentine’s Day.

I don’t know where you are in your marriage today; maybe you’re angry, or resentful, or just lonely. Maybe you just feel blah. But try to focus on doing what you can to feel more intimate in every way–including in the bedroom. And if you do prioritize the bedroom, you just may find that a lot of these other problems are much more easily solved.

When I started doing that in my marriage, I suddenly got my best friend back again.

Anniversary Trip to Ireland

And now, whenever we start to feel distant, I often find that before we really talk about why, we need to make love. It increases the goodwill between us so that we can tackle these problems.

So don’t think that your marriage would be better if only he’d become your best friend again. Instead, focus on how to be his lover, and you just may find you have your best friend, too!

Want to figure out more how to experience this kind of intimacy in your marriage?

If you’re really struggling, please pick up The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. It will help change your attitude towards sex, so that it won’t be an obligation or something tedious, but will instead become something wonderful that you were meant to enjoy.

Or if you understand this, but things have gotten stale, or you want something special for Valentine’s Day, check out my 24 Sexy Dares! They’re only $6.99, and they’re a great present that any high-drive spouse is bound to love! The dares where he takes the lead are focused on helping her feel confident, and discovering new ways to make her aroused. The dares that she takes the lead on help him feel like the center of attention, and really help spice things up! And then the 8 dares that you do together–well, they’re awfully fun, too.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody! 

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Nathan

    Great topic again, Sheila! Yes, full intimacy is both physical, emotional and spiritual (as is sex).
    Often, some people focus only on one aspect and downplay the other, but it really is a total package. Also, like you said, true intimacy means that there are some things that you ONLY do with each other.

  2. Ina

    While I read this and agree mentally and find it beautiful, it leaves me so discouraged. If God really meant intimacy to be so holistic why did he have to go and make the physical aspect so. Freaking. Hard.
    Five years in and this “fun research project” doesn’t feel so fun anymore. After several books; countless prayers and retelling of truths; physio so that it’s no longer painful (one victory at least) I am exhausted. I don’t know if I have energy for another 5 years of disappointment and figuring it out. I’d love very much if I could just talk and emotionally connect.

    • Christy

      I hear you, i feel like im at an impassable road block too, for years, ive lost hope:( im sorry you feel this way.

    • Jane Eyre

      “If God really meant intimacy to be so holistic why did he have to go and make the physical aspect so. Freaking. Hard.”
      Exactly. Bit is laughably easy for men and nearly impossible, if not straight up impossible, for a lot of women. That isn’t intimacy; that’s exploitation.

    • Natalie

      And this is exactly why I’m a fan of vibrators. I think they totally have a place in a marriage where both spouses have tried to bring the wife pleasure, but for whatever reason, her mind and/or body just isn’t cooperating. I cannot describe how freeing and unifying it was for my husband and I when I finally experienced my first orgasm (in his presence, too): it reminded me that my body isn’t broken and that sex is actually super amazing! And now I want to do it as much (often more frequently) as my husband. I don’t think they should be used as a short-cut for the husband to avoid learning about his wife’s body and pleasure (or the wife learning about her own body, for that matter). But when you’re both banging your heads against a wall & feeling so incredibly discouraged and disconnected and like everything is working against you and you’re never both going to experience mutual pleasure, sex toys can be a total, complete God-send!

      • Patrick Anthony

        I totally agree with Natalie. I wanted so badly to please my wife. Fingers and oral no longer worked and she declared that she was “done.” Research led me to get her a vibrator. Praise God! We tend to her needs first. Big Os! Then I finish up and we feel so close. So Amen to vibrators if nothing else is working!

        • Patrick Anthony

          BTW, when I do “finish” (cum), my wife rides this incredible wave of multiple or ongoing intense orgasm for at least another minute or two. Amazing!

        • Greg

          Patrick, I’m a little envious. I’m glad you have that with your wife. It’s been 4 years with no action on my end so I’ve resorted to porn and unfortunately that’s probably where I’ll stay.

    • Fred

      Ina, if God really meant intimacy to be so holistic why did he have to go and make the physical aspect so. Freaking. Hard. I’d love very much if I could just talk and emotionally connect.
      How did God make the physical aspect hard?
      What is preventing you from talking and making emotional connections with your partner?

      • Ina

        After several years of sex being physically painful interspersed with seasons where it wasn’t painful but entirely numb with no pleasure, it is easy to feel that God made the female sexual response unnecessarily complicated. I do not really believe that, but on harder days I do resent how hard this wonderful physical intimacy can be to achieve for a lot of women. Clearly, the day this came out was a day when I was already low!
        Nothing prevents us from talking and bonding. We talk, laugh, and have tons of fun. I was only addressing the point of the post which was talking about intimacy being holistic and needing the physical, emotional, and spiritual connection.

  3. Tanya

    This is just so good! My husband (Daniel) and I have the opportunity to be one of 7 couples sharing at a marriage conference at our church at the end of this month. We each have a topic, and our topic is marital intimacy. You just summarized much of what we plan to say! This is such a great truth that we hope and pray so many other people will learn and walk out in their marriages.
    Marital intimacy truly encompasses physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational aspects. If you leave out one area, you just don’t have true intimacy. God designed us to need intimacy on all of these different levels, and His design is so good!

    • Daniel

      I’m excited to share at the marriage conference with my wonderful (and very beautiful) wife, Tanya! I think that many couples don’t have a chance to hear this sort of talk about intimacy, and it’s vitally important that they do.
      Thank you for all you’ve posted and shared about intimacy. The more we read your stuff, the more we realize how close your view is to our own. So neat to have someone so eloquently put to paper what we know to be true.

  4. Separated

    Thank you for the statement about emotional destructiveness. Before I understood fully about husband’s addiction and betrayal, I heard a lot of instruction that sex would fix everything. But it never did. Now I know that it couldn’t when deception and control were involved.
    You said this. “If they feel close and secure, then the rest of these issues become much easier to deal with.” thank you for stating that this isn’t true for destructive relationships. Because that was the message I had for two decades. And I would really try and not understand why I couldn’t be free and vulnerable with him. Now that I know the truth and that I see the destructive ways at play, I understand that to be free would have been dumb on my part. Because he was not going to have emotional intimacy with me. His definition of intimacy was only physical and he would tell me to call a friend if I was sad because he didn’t “do sad”. He also would regularly “forget” touches that I had specifically asked him not to do and so I had trouble relaxing with him because I was afraid that he would trigger or cause pain. And I realized lately that I never felt invited to a sexual relationship but instead always felt coerced. Not a good feeling.
    Yet, this article is helpful because I’m learning now what intimacy really is. And even if husband doesn’t deal with his issues and the marriage doesn’t continue, I want to understand what it looks like in case I ever have the opportunity again but mostly to help my kids understand a good and true message even though they didn’t see it play out in front of them.

  5. Flo

    For me intimacy is a “broader” concept than sex in the sense that in addition to sex it also includes things like:
    – cuddling, spooning, kissing, hugging, massages
    – talking about intimate and private things, about sexual desires, sharing feelings
    – doing sexual things that might not necessarily “count” as sex because they don’t include intercourse or don’t include orgasm etc.
    – chastity: preserving yourself for the other, not looking at other people or at porn or porn-like stuff, not masturbating alone
    – love, trust, respect, attraction, admiration, sharing all those feelings that bring two people together
    – wanting to make the other feel good
    There were times when, for one reason or another, sex was not working for us. But intimacy is not just about sex, it is about these other things. And I think you can compensate for sex not working great by doing more of the other parts of intimacy. And that fixes sex too, eventually, with God’s help.

    • Greg

      Remember way, way back that sex only had one purpose procreation without all the other stuff. I believe all men have this hardwired into them. Just sayin.

      • Flo

        Bonding (via intimacy) of the parents has always been extremely important for the survival of the children.
        Men are not testosterone-filled sex-crazed beasts with barely contained sexual needs and no emotional needs. Men are smart, responsible and strong adults capable of delayed gratification, of deep connection and of rich emotions.
        I get it that the physical urges can feel overwhelming. They used to feel that way for my husband. But he learned to be their boss.

    • Fred

      Flo, when we “choose the right,” intimacy can thrive.

  6. Cara

    Sheila-I messaged you also but idk if you’ll get it. Fashion Nova has some
    Pretty prominent advertising happening on your blog and it’s pretty immodest pictures flashing around constantly.
    (Such as the woman in the TIGHT, short silver dress with her nipples showing through-and the dress is so low cut they’re barely covered anyway.
    I wanted to read the content but that’s so distasteful.
    And the men who come to the blog as well as the women whose husbands seek out these kinds of images could be really upset.

    • Anon

      Hi Cara, I don’t know what country you live in and if this will work for you, but where I am, if you click on the top right of an ad, you can ask not to see it again, and also find out why you are seeing it – sometimes it’s based on past searches you’ve done, but other times, it’s based on your ‘demographic’ – so a while back, I was seeing loads of inappropriate ads, and when I clicked on the ‘why’ button it was because of my age/sex/country. Those kinds are harder to get rid of but if you keep closing them and, when given the opportunity, say you find them offensive, they should go away eventually!

      • Cara

        Thanks for the tip! It was pretty yuck and hopefully not based on anything I’ve searched! 😳
        I partly just wanted Sheila to know what was being advertised on her blog because it was decidedly not what I believe her platform is.
        I kept trying to “x” out of it and it would not go away.

        • Anon

          Don’t panic, it’s likely nothing to do with the searches on your computer. A while back, I started getting ads for female erotic novels and panicked that someone had hacked my computer to look at something like that! But when I investigated, I found I was seeing those ads because they believed women my age would be interested in them. So just about demographics and nothing to do with my personal circumstances OR my personal computer!

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Hi, Cara, we don’t have a lot of control over the ads on our site unfortunately, but we need to run them in order to keep the blog going. We’ve submitted a complaint to our ad service. Hopefully they are able to blacklist that particular ad from our website.

  7. Anon

    How do you have sex when you’re feeling distant? I am a sexual abuse victim so I have a hard time with this. I know in my mind that sex will help with other areas of marriage and that if I’m waiting to feel love to have sex then I could be waiting awhile. BUT – how can I have sex when I feel no love when I’m coming from a past that I would just “lay there” during abuse?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s so heartbreaking! I’m so sorry. It sounds like you really need to see a trauma counselor who can help you through that, and then perhaps a marriage counselor who helps you work through that. That is a lot to handle! I’m really sorry.

  8. Tisa

    I’ve literally given up on sex with my husband. He was watching porn behind my back for two years. We’ve been married for two years and together for three. So two years of our marriage there was no intimacy inside of the bedroom. To this day even with weekly counseling we still struggle. He has so many issues that he needs to work on physically and mentally but chooses not to work on it. I’ve been putting in my 50% hoping he would and will change. He isn’t going to change. The only reason I’m still with him is because I don’t have a job. I’ve completely given up.

  9. Jerry

    It is wrong to place expectaions on your partner. That to me is unrealistic and a precursor to being judgemental.
    I have been married 28 years now, learning along the way. The day I understood my wife completely, everything blossomed. Intimacy begins with trust and respect. Put your neck out on the line and say how you feel from the heart, not the head. This tells her you trust her and intimacy improves. Just one peice of the puzzle. As her husband I told her I need that hug, kiss, everything will be ok, that slap on the ass once in a while. Communication opens up your world on all levels.


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