In German, the word genital area can be translated as “Intimbereich”, which basically means “intimate area”. Maybe that is the reason why I used to equate intimacy with being naked and making love. But is that the case? Can we only be intimate with a person when we take our clothes off? And does taking your clothes off automatically mean that we experience intimacy?
Frankly speaking, it was exactly in a moment when I had gotten off my clothes without feeling a great deal of intimacy that all those thoughts occurred to me. So the simple answer would be, “no, intimacy and nakedness or lovemaking do not always go hand in hand”. But then what is intimacy all about?
In my personal case, the moments when I feel most intimate with a person are often the moments when I behave really silly and childish. When I make funny faces and when I giggle until the muscles of cheeks start hurting. But then I thought about other people who I know. And I am sure that many people would disagree about this sentiment. I have often realised that for other people being childish is an easy thing to do. So probably my rather composed personality makes it an intimidating thing for me to be outright silly. Therefore, I concluded that intimacy might be connected to showing people sides of ourselves that we don’t usually show to others.
There is another observation that I have made that would confirm this idea. An observation about men. Often when I speak to men about emotions and they too open up about their emotions (not necessarily emotions that we have for each other), they would emphasise how much it means to them to open up about certain topics and that they would not speak to many people about these intimate topics. The interesting thing is that in most cases, I did not perceive those situations as particularly intimate, but these men seemed to do so. Again, probably they found the situation intimate, because they do not speak about emotions usually. It is a face of themselves which they usually hide. I, on the other hand, did perceive exactly the same situation as much less intimate. The reason may be that I am simply above average upfront about personal matters or that stereotypes hold true and women do speak about emotions more easily than men do.
Slightly contrary to what I just said, a friend of mine made a remark about intimacy and sharing of emotions that struck me. He said that sometimes we feel so much intimacy that we do not dare to share certain emotions. What he meant is that intimacy goes hand in hand with the fear of losing the person we have created that intimacy with. And that might be the reason why many people speak to a doctor rather than a friend / lover about topics like addictions or psychological problems. Accordingly, sharing secret sides of our personality might be an important aspect of intimacy, but the two are not the same.
Another related question is: Who do we feel intimate with? Although I do agree that getting to know a lover is often related to creating a zone of intimacy, I do not believe that intimacy can only exists between lovers. I gave the example of being childish earlier. I can definitely confirm that this type of intimate moments do exist between me and close friends as well. In my opinion, being in love simply speeds up the process of creating intimacy, but it is not a necessary component of intimacy. We often experience more intimacy with lovers who we have only known for a short time than with people who we have casually known for a longer period of time. But long-lasting friendships can result in equal amounts of intimacy as that between lovers.
Speaking about intimacy between lovers – there is one more interesting question. It is the question of causation. Does being naked and making love cause more intimacy? Or do we need to create intimacy first to then enjoy being naked in front of another person or sleeping with them? I think the answer lies in the extent to which we are influenced by societal norms. In most societies there is still a certain taboo around nudity and lovemaking. So the more a person is influenced by those norms, the more the person will feel that he or she is allowing intimacy when sleeping with somebody. What I mean is that because society makes us believe that lovemaking should be hidden from the public, we automatically connect it with feelings of intimacy.
And that brings me back to the term that I have introduced in the beginning of this post. Intimbereich. The term is an example of how society wants to make us believe that our body and sexual experiences are something that needs to be kept intimate or hidden from the eyes of other people. But whether being naked or making love is an intimate experience for one particular individual still depends on their personal attitude towards those experiences. In scientific terms you could say that there is a correlation between being naked and feeling intimacy, but it is not a perfect correlation.
What does intimacy mean for you? Do you agree with my ideas? I’d be interested to hear your views!
(Photo: Tanja Schomann)