Sex, Love, and Intimacy; How do They Connect?

Sex, love, and intimacy are (or should be) related in some ways, but they’re not the same. Too often people say one when they mean the other. You can live without sex, but you cannot live (or at least thrive) without love or intimacy. You may have already realized that going for sex when you need intimacy doesn’t guarantee that need will be filled. And what’s love got to do with it?

This article is not a treatise on love; that’s too big a topic. There are many different dimensions of love. Today I’m simply exploring how love and sex are not the same, and what role God intended love to have in the sex-and-intimacy aspects of our lives.

My friend is a chaplain at a large women’s prison. She told me that many of the women there think “sex” when you say “love.” Perhaps sex and love are somewhat confused in your mind also. You may have been lured with the promise of “love” before being sexually harmed. Perhaps you’ve never experienced someone being truly for you, fighting for you because you are valuable as a person, not because of what they want from you. Sex may have become a way to feel temporarily connected or powerful, to get a momentary surge of brain chemicals that lets you feel special. But it never lasts.

God’s perspective on love is bigger and better than that. As God intended it, sex and intimacy overlap within a permanent loving covenant relationship. That three-fold cord–sex, intimacy, and covenant marriage–is the earthly object lesson of the infinite loving intimacy He experiences within Himself and that He desires to have with us. That’s a really big thought, and it’s so different from what many of us have experienced.

What is Love, Anyway?

The idea of love has lost much of its glory in contemporary culture. Love is confused with sex, tolerance, or nice feelings. But since God’s love is the original, the Source, consider that His relationship with us is based on covenant, not contract. It’s not, “I’ll love you if you make me feel good.” Or, “I’ll love you if you do what I say.” Or, “I’ll love you if I feel like it today.”

God bases His relationship with us on who He is, not on what we do. His love for you is both tough and tender. He is for you. There’s nothing you can do that could make Him love you any more or any less. That’s covenant. That kind of love creates the safety needed for you to experience the transformation He desires for you. How you respond has very real consequences, but your response never changes His love for you.

The generosity of God loving us this way, we who are so “other” than Him, boggles the mind. The coming together of a man and woman in covenant marriage, so different from each other but building oneness in body, mind, and soul, is the context in which sex becomes the physical object lesson of God’s love for us.

The Bible’s Picture of Sex, Love, and Intimacy

The Song of Songs is a beautiful Hebrew love poem, very erotic, very explicit. It portrays sexual desire, sexual pursuit, arousal, foreplay, intercourse, orgasm, and satisfaction. If you know a little of the imagery, you can find allusions (or direct reference) to erect penis, aroused vagina, testicles, oral sex, vaginal intercourse, semen, vaginal fluids–it’s all there, in the Bible. The Bible is not afraid to talk about bad sex (intimacy gone wrong) and its consequences elsewhere, but here it’s all unadulterated goodness. The lovers are totally enraptured with each other, safe, unashamed, exclusive, committed, emptied, filled, and satisfied.

Have you ever had sex like that?

Perhaps the fact that many people, perhaps most people, haven’t is one reason the church has often spiritualized this book of the Bible too much. For humans, sex has lost its glory. Yes, Song of Songs also applies to the totally committed relationship Christ has with His people. But in considering how God feels about sex, based on this biblical depiction we would say He’s totally for it. It’s not that we want too much out of sex; it’s that we settle for too little.

Some people I talk with can’t read the Song of Songs. “Reading that makes my skin crawl,” says Christine. If that’s triggering for you, don’t start reading the Bible there. That can be saved for later.

You and Sex, Love, and Intimacy

Regardless of your relationship status, you need love and intimacy. (Jesus shared the same needs, and remember, He lived without sex.) And the thing about love is that it can’t be selfish. That doesn’t mean you yourself don’t matter; it means that when it comes to love, sex, and intimacy it’s not all about you. If you want to experience what God intended for you, you’ll have to make this more about what you give rather than what you get.

Now what about your experience? How well have the sexual experiences you’ve had–or not had–reflected that glory, that enrapturing one-flesh-ness that God intended for you?

  • Have you confused sex, love, and intimacy? Have you experienced someone being truly for you? Have you experienced seeing and being seen, knowing and being known?
  • Did you learn about sex as only biology? Did those who taught you about sex connect it to intimacy and loving covenant relationship?
  • Have you experienced sex and intimacy together? If you’ve experienced sex without intimacy, how did you feel afterward?
  • If you’ve experienced sex that’s been less than satisfying, what was lacking? What are you desiring more of?
  • Have you gotten over yourself enough to truly pursue intimacy–with others, and with God?

Pursuing love and intimacy, and sex if you’re married, is risky. My encouragement to you is to contend with the desires in your heart that are deeper than only the physical. Dealing with those matters of the heart will make the difference for your future.

More Where This Came From

Much of this article is adapted from a section in my new book Sexpectations: Reframing Your Good and Not-So-Good Stories About God, Love, and Relationships.

If your heart is struggling with anything around sex, love, and intimacy, you need this! This book will help you:

  • reinterpret your sexual story with honesty and compassion
  • find freedom from shame, compulsive behaviors, past harm, and hiding
  • redefine the way you look at God, sex, love, and relationships
  • orient your sexuality as God intended and embrace what He has for your future
  • experience Jesus coming right into the middle of your story to bring healing and wholeness

Check out our new Sexpectations website where you can find related resources, download a free chapter of the book, and order the book for yourself.


Your Turn: Have you confused sex, love, and intimacy? Have you experienced those things not being connected? What is your heart longing for most?   Leave a comment below.

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Want More?

The podcast episode this week is a conversation I had with Matt and Laurie Krieg about addressing the holes in your heart. You can listen or watch here.