Many people conflate sex and intimacy. It seems that one can’t happen without the other. But, in fact, they are distinctly different. If sex and intimacy is an area in your relationship that needs attending to, it’s helpful to know the difference.


Sex vs. Intimacy


Let’s start with the fact that sex is physical, and intimacy involves an emotional connection that goes beyond sex. But intimacy can mean different things to different people. There’s emotional intimacy that you can have with close family and friends as well as your partner. These are people you trust and feel close to. There’s physical intimacy—people you can hug or touch and feel close to without sex. And then there’s sexual intimacy which combines the physical act of sex with an emotional connection.


Sex, though, doesn’t require intimacy. It can be physical sex without an intimate relationship. In fact, many people have sex purely as a physical response, and it can be completely impersonal.

Marriage Counseling, Relationship Therapy, Couples

Defining the Problem


So, if you’re having issues in your relationship with sex and/or intimacy, it’s helpful to pinpoint which one. You could be having a problem with sex—your physical interaction and response to one another is lacking. Or, you could be having a problem with intimacy—the trust and close connection you have spiritually, emotionally, and romantically has faded. Or, you could be having an issue with both, because both are often intertwined and affect each other.


But you can definitely have one without the other. Couples who have been together a long time can sometimes lose their physical desire but still have a strong emotional connection. While other couples have frequent sex, but find themselves drifting apart emotionally. Of course, most healthy relationships enjoy both.


Waxing and Waning


Over time, sex and intimacy can wax and wane in a relationship. When couples are both working, raising children, and running a household, both sex and intimacy can take a back seat to day-to-day living. Later, when the couple has more time, they may use that time to be together, connecting more and strengthening their relationship.


Sex and intimacy can wax and wane at different rates. Sometimes you feel some closeness to your partner just by living together. Sometimes physical sex can boost your emotional connection. The range varies over time.


Better Mental Health


When you are close to others, and feel you have the support and trust of others—in other words, good friends, and close family and possibly a romantic partner—you have the foundation for good mental health. This may or may not include physical intimacy, but a certain amount of closeness to others is good for your well-being.



Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: