Intimacy does not equal sex.
Neither does sex equal intimacy.
They’re not interchangeable.
Nor are they inextricably or symbiotically linked.
Unfortunately, the frequently misappropriated use of this word has caused a sad misunderstanding of intimacy in our culture. As a matter of fact, when I asked one young person to look up the word intimacy, another young person’s immediate reaction was to laughingly mutter “oh kinky” under his breath—thus proving my point. I submit that even the dictionary has it wrong when it defines intimacy as sexual intercourse. (This definition was added after the word was quickly perverted and incorporated into common speech**).
As I stated before, one does not equal the other. If you don’t believe me, just ask the wife who feels no warmth and connection with her husband who seems to only want sex; or the prostitute who is paid for the use of her body; or the rape victim whose innocence, dignity and sense of value have been depleted, degraded and stolen; or the man transiently drifting from woman to woman not even realizing the devastating wake behind him or his own innate longing for intimacy and connection that for some reason seem to elude him. Sex may occur but these scenarios offer nothing in regard to intimacy.
Conversely, intimacy with a person or subject requires no sexual contact of any kind. A meeting of the minds and hearts on deeper and deeper levels, deep familial affection, and close friendships are examples intimacy in our lives—though none require it and, in some cases are corrupted and destroyed by, sex.
Granted, sex and intimacy can be closely associated as in a marriage they should feed and grow from one another but for now I’m just making the point that they are separate entities.
This leads to a second thought.
The other day I was talking with a friend and as the conversation developed I said something about deeper connection with or friendship with a guy (I can’t even remember the actual statement) which, for some reason, prompted me to follow up with the disclaimer “in a totally not-gay way”. Now, the following is neither intended to be an endorsement of nor an indictment against homosexuality—that’s a conversation for another day.
The point is that the corruption of the concept of intimacy has contributed to a fear and hindrance of it—particularly in relationships between heterosexual males. For when intimacy, deep connection and affection are assumed to include some form of sexual connotation, the thought of them, in association with another male, are not tolerable. Combine this with a hide-your-emotions-be-a-rugged-individual-male stereotype and the seeming assumption that any time two dudes walk into a public place having a serious soul searching conversation they must be homosexual, and you have a recipe for the continued lack of deep community and connection that, I suggest, most men want and need at their core.
The movie “I Love You, Man”, though crass and profane, does at least cleverly and humorously portray some of this problem as it depicts the blossoming friendship of two heterosexual males. I think we should see more relationships like JD and Turk on Scrubs (who sing together about heterosexual “guy love between two guys”) or Shawn and Gus on Psych who have each other’s backs and can finish each other’s sentences in spite of their differences. If our concept of intimacy wasn’t so narrow, maybe we could experience the community, loyalty, affection, connection, accountability and encouragement offered in the relationships of David and Jonathan or Jesus and his disciples that we read of in Scripture. Maybe we could redeem the term intimacy and broaden our view of it.
After all, intimacy does not equal sex. Intimacy equals intimacy.
*Special thanks to Brian Kramer for pointing my thoughts in this direction.
**A quick search on google for the etymology of the intimacy shows this.
***Thanks also to Lindy Keffer from PluggedIn for the some insight into the movie I Love You, Man!
****I’m not so naïve to think that these suggestions are the cure all for the lack of intimacy in our culture. They’re simply a couple of the contributing factors.