Disentangling the Connection Between Sex and Intimacy

We use euphemisms all the time, especially around sex. I’ll spare you a list. But did you know the Bible uses euphemisms for sex too? One frequent such word is the verb to know, yada. Adam knew Eve, and they had a baby (Genesis 4:1, 25). So perhaps we can be excused in confusing sex and intimacy somewhat. Yes, there is a connection between sex and intimacy, sort of, but they are not the same.

The Hebrew Bible illustrates this well. Yada is used to refer to loving physical intimacy between husband and wife. It’s also used to describe how God knows us, as in Psalm 139. But when sex is in the context of adultery, prostitution, rape, or “simply” intercourse the Hebrew often uses the verb to lie, shakab, as in “he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her” (Genesis 34:2). (Yup, sex has been an issue ever since humankind’s earliest days on the planet.)

Enough Hebrew. But perhaps this can demonstrate that intimacy and sex are not the same. They can be related, and in God’s design they are! But you know as well as I do that there’s plenty of sex going on without any intimacy (whether in or outside of marriage). And it’s possible to have true authentic intimacy without having sex. This is important for all of us regardless of relationship status.

This gets to the matters of the heart that so easily trip us up. Let’s disentangle the connection between sex and intimacy, how they’re related and how they’re confused.

What Is Intimacy?

The best Biblical picture of human intimacy we find is in the garden of Eden: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Yes, Adam and Eve had no clothes on their bodies. But the sense of the original language is that there were no barriers between them at all. Their bodies and their minds/hearts/souls were completely open to each other – and to God. No barriers between them physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

It was in that perfect context that the first two human beings reflected the kind of intimacy God experiences within Himself and that He designed human beings to experience and demonstrate. That’s part of what being created in the image of God is all about.

Have you ever experienced intimacy like that? I don’t think any of us have. But you were made with an empty place in your soul that only that level of intimacy can fill.

Another way to describe intimacy would be seeing and being seen, knowing and being known. (Remember, yada.) You can’t experience intimacy by only taking the clothes off your body. The coverings must come off your mind and heart also. And intimacy can happen with or without your clothes coming off; honest connection with another with no barriers between.

Sex Without Intimacy

No wonder porn, one-sided sex with your spouse, hookup culture, or shacking up never truly satisfies.

God designed sex to be experienced with intimacy and covenant within a lifelong marriage between husband and wife. The biological drives all humans have around sex, some more and some less, are legitimate. Jesus experienced them when He was here on earth. But when sex becomes only a physical thing it turns into destruction.

That happens within marriage when one spouse demands sex from the other, sometimes to the point of destructive trauma. It’s why duty sex or pity sex is so miserable. It’s why withholding sex as a weapon is so hurtful. When there’s no intimacy sex can push a couple farther apart.

And when you say “I want intimacy with my spouse,” I pray you’re pursuing more than a physical biological release. When the two of you are also emotionally connected orgasm floods your brain with powerful bonding chemicals, but when there’s no emotional connection that experience ends up in great harm. (If your marriage lacks intimacy, start here.)

And of course sex without intimacy happens all the time outside of marriage. Taking your clothes off, or masturbating to porn, or running from one sexual relationship to another doesn’t work to meet the intimacy needs your soul was created for. Looking for the right sexual partner or the next most exciting porn video will always end in disappointment.

This is one big reason the “just say no” message to sex outside of marriage often feels so unappealing and ineffective. You were made for intimacy. You truly need it, regardless of relationship status.

Finding Intimacy

We’re talking about intimacy as seeing and being seen, knowing and being known, no barriers between. It’s a need God built within every human heart. Jesus as a human being deeply needed intimacy. And He never had sex. To use His example, we must pursue intimacy with God and also with other humans.

A few questions to ask yourself around this topic:

  • To what degree have I confused intimacy and sex? How has that affected me?
  • If I’m single, where am I getting intimacy? If I’m having sex, am I satisfied?
  • If I’m married, is the sex between us intimate? Or am I thinking only of biological body parts rather than investing in matters of the heart?
  • Regardless of relationship status, who really knows me? Is there anyone with whom I’m working to take down the barriers around my heart?
  • Have I seen my relationship with God when it comes to matters of sex as primarily a list of behaviors, what to do or not do?
  • Am I pursuing intimacy with God in ways that allow the barriers in my heart to be addressed and come down?

These ideas and questions are challenging. And it’s a journey every human being must address if you want to become whole.

Your Turn: How has confusing sex and intimacy affected you and your relationships? What’s missing in this look at intimacy? I’d love to see your comments below.

Want more? This week’s podcast with Dr. Michael Sytsma looks at how sex and intimacy can be confused within marriage, and some things to do about it.

Tweetables: why not share this post?

  • Sex and intimacy are related, but they’re not the same. Confusing sex and intimacy gets people in a lot of trouble. God created you with the need for intimacy; that’s different from sex.  Tweet that.

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