What Is The Difference Between Physical Intimacy And Sexual Passion?

Updated August 07, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.

It is interesting to know that most references to intimacy and passion do not differentiate between the two, or truly separate sexual intimacy from the topic. There is the overall topic of an intimate relationship. There is an understanding that all these things can be combined in the intimacy between two people further their relationship grows. Physical connections like sex and emotional connections also include love and interpersonal relations.

Intimate relationships exist between two people with physical or emotional closeness. While the term intimate relationship usually implies the inclusion of sexual activity, the term is also used to indicate a relationship with more than just sexual activity. Intimate relationships maintain a key role in the overall human experience because they involve emotional connections with others. This may be romance, physical or sexual attraction, sexual activity, or emotional support, while also helping people develop strong interpersonal connections.

So, the question exists, "Are sex and intimacy different things?" We may also ask, "Can you have one without the other? Or does one lead to another?" There are many conflicting opinions on the roles of sex and intimacy inside and outside of relationships. Because no two people have the same ideas on sex, there is no finite answer to any of these issues. In a traditional framework, sex includes long-term commitment or marriage, followed by emotional intimacy and procreation. However, in an increasingly promiscuous society, the connection between sex and intimacy can be a tenuous one.

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Definition Of Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy is characterized by friendship, platonic love, romantic love, or sexual activity. While there are several different types of intimacy, physical intimacy is only one of those. It is often not just about sex, but much more. Connection and communication with others around us build physical intimacy and most often, attraction to someone of the opposite sex is the key indicator of physical intimacy.

The inclusion of physical intimacy in human sexuality is another factor that requires consideration. It is reported that most people desire physical intimacy of some sort at least occasionally, being that it is a natural part of human sexuality. Because this is most often sensual touching of any sort, it requires an entrance into another's personal space, while it may be an emotional or sexual act anywhere from a hug to a kiss or sexual intercourse. Emotional or sensual touching of this sort aids in the release of oxytocin, dopamine,and serotonin, which reduces stress. Also, without physical intimacy, there are increased feelings of loneliness or sadness.

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There are very basic definitions provided for the definition of physical intimacy, especially including the definitions of other words that are part of the physical acts of intimacy. While many of the ones that are primary definitions are not actual sex, they are still touching and physical interaction.

It could be some nouns or verbs, most commonly caress or fondle. There are also the synonyms that describe these words including stroke, cuddle, fondle, embrace, hug, nuzzle, pet or pat. It seems to vary back and forth, especially since there can be the inclusion of physical and emotional intimacy as a part of an intimate relationship, making it not necessarily a feeling or action of its own.

While the various definitions of physical intimacy seem to reference sexual actions or passionate interaction of some sort, that appears to be more specific of the word "physical." This is much more about touching, whether it be emotional or sensual, implying that "physical intimacy," as a whole, focuses much more on the first of these two words.

Definition Of Sexual Passion

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Now, this may be as simple as comfort with personal affection or with public displays of affection because of the level of intimacy that has developed between two people. There is also the question of whether there is sex or sexual passion without emotion or love, and whether it can be maintained.

Interestingly enough, when looking for the definition of sexual passion, many of the same references as physical intimacy appeared in different dictionary locations. One additional mention is that of "affection," something that is of addition to the physical touching and intimacy that comes with the emotions being expressed. While "affection" and "love" are not completely the same, this indicates that there may be something a bit more emotional in the passionate side of this word combination.

People who are close and familiar are more comfortable entering each other's personal space and taking on physical contact. Depending on the relationship, public displays of affection may vary based upon the social norm in which they find themselves. These displays can range from simple gestures like a kiss or hug to an embrace or holding hands. While this may be a simple greeting, there may be long-term contact or affectionate embrace maintained in the public space when these two people are quite comfortable with each other.

Then, there are methods of contact that are maintained in private in a more intimate relationship. As two people become closer to one another they are at ease and can display forms of affections when together including:

  • Cuddling
  • Caressing
  • Tickling
  • Massage
  • Touching or intertwining of legs

These events do not require sexual activity to have passion or intimacy, but this would likely indicate that it is not a sexually passionate relationship. If two people are looking to maintain friendship it is more likely they will stick to a hug or kiss on the cheek to show care or affection that is not sexually passionate.

Therefore, physical sexual intimacy can vary in the definition. Some people are more sexually passionate than others and can bring that level of intimacy into a romantic relationship much more easily. There is also the fact that each person sees sex in at least a slightly different manner, and it is common that men and women address sexual intimacy and passion differently.

Is There A Difference Between Sex And Intimacy, Or One Without The Other?

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Sex without love or intimacy is a question that exists at the core of any strong relationship. Since there is the value of sex between two people who have an intimate or loving relationship, there is also the importance of defining all different pieces of the relationship. General intimacy involves knowing someone deeply and the ability to feel completely open, free and honest with them. This is something that is commonly only felt or experienced with one person, as this close intimacy is too difficult to have with multiple people.

So, sex in a loving or intimate relationship tends to be the physical embodiment of those feelings. The ideal theory is that this physical intimacy is to be a loving connection between the two people in a relationship. The two of them within a relationship are thus interconnected: physical intimacy builds sexual passion, and sexual passion builds sexual intimacy.

There is the ability to separate sexual passion from physical intimacy as well. This is if sex is just a physical act, especially when it occurs outside of a relationship. Within a relationship, sex is the most intimate act, but there are different occasions when this act can occur. It can be a physical act that occurs without consent (rape), an act that is paid for (prostitution), or a simple physical exchange (one-night stand).

Say that we consider the one-night stands that anyone takes on after a night of drinking or partying with friends. Any man or woman can enjoy a night of sex without love or intimacy, usually when there is physical attraction or the basic desire for the enjoyment of sexual intercourse. It is often a psychological question of the difference between these two, and the overall intimate and vulnerable act of offering yourself to another in sex, which would connect both sex and intimacy again.

Once the determination of sexual passion or physical intimacy is made, there then comes the question of sex or making love. With this having been a strong debate for long periods of time, there is the potential to understand that this is an independent decision to be made. Or at least this would be the decided term between the two partners who have established their intimate, sexual relationship.

Since no matter the term used, sex is always a physical act and can be done without intimacy. However, there is the potential for the love or intimacy involved in this act to be a degree or level of connection associated between the two partners involved, making it something that becomes more intimate or more a form of lovemaking as their relationship grows over time.

It is also important to remember that loving and intimate couples at times are unable to have sex or choose not to do so. There can be medical conditions that prevent sexual intercourse, making the physical intimacy in their relationship something of a milder level. This does not eliminate the passion or attraction they feel for one another. It also does not remove other forms of physical intimacy and touching, or quality time spent together to express their love and emotions for one another.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is physical intimacy the same as sexual intimacy?

Physical intimacy and sexual intimacy are two ways that people show affection for each other. Sex and intimacy aren't always the same thing. So, what's the difference between them? Sexual intercourse is a biological function and the physical act people take part in to satisfy a sexual desire. Physical intimacy is often an indicator of a deeper intimate relationship and can happen with or without sex.

How does passion differ from intimacy?

When discussing the topic sex and intimacy passion is an overwhelming desire to express sexual affection for another person. Intimacy is the desire to experience physical closeness with someone that isn't necessarily linked to the physical act of sex. People with sexual addiction often have high levels of passion and low-levels of intimacy.

What are the 4 types of intimacy?

According to psychology experts, there are four levels of intimacy that include 1. Emotional 2. Sexual, 3. Physical, 4. Spiritual. These four intimacy types are examples of relationship bonds that are formed between people. Relationships take on a different tone depending on the type of intimacy that is driving your relationship.

What are the 5 levels of intimacy?

According to mental health and psychology Emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, physical, financial. These five levels of intimacy add an additional layer of intimacy based on financial sharing. People who develop long-term relationships and marriages may reach a point where they want to share and commingle their finances as a show of financial intimacy and trust.

What is considered making love?

When people talk about having "great sex" they are often talking about the physical act of having sex. The difference between sex and intimacy when making love is the emotional attachments that are involved. Sexual behaviors based on love, sex, and emotions can all take on a different tone. Making love is considered an intimate act that is shared between two people that are in love.

Is passion necessary for love?

There is more than one type of love, people who experience "companionate love" and love for other reasons may not have the passion or sexual desire that is often present in more passionate relationships. Lack of sexual desire doesn't interfere with the ability for two people to love each other.

Does physical contact increase attraction?

If there is an existing physical attraction between two people it's likely that the physical act of touching can increase attraction and lead to the more intimate act of sex. When you're intimate with your partner, sex and intimacy can be enhanced by the physical act of touching.

What is a sensual relationship?

A sensual relationship is one where there are high levels of sexual desire between partners. People in sensual relationships often engage and sexual behaviors that include intimacy, sex, and emotional bonding that gives the relationship a sensual tone.

What is a passionate kiss?

A passionate kiss is one that incites desire and sexual arousal in both you and your partner. Passionate kisses are usually long, lingering, and deep kisses that convey physical attraction or love. When people engage in the physical act of kissing they may discover that they have a deeper attraction for each other than they initially thought. Passionate kissing is one way to enhance your sex life.

Can relationships last without passion?

Relationships whose primary focus is on companionship, raising children, or meeting other needs can last without a deep level of passion. These relationships are based on intimacy and shared goals and don't require passionate love or sex to sustain the union. The difference between sex for passion and dutiful sex is often apparent in these types of relationships.

What is companionate love?

Companionate love is a type of love where sexual intimacy isn't the primary focus of the relationship. People in these types of relationships choose them in order to have a life long partner or friend to share life experiences with.

Where do men like to be touched?

Men have different areas of the body where they like to be touched. Some men like to be touched from head to toe while others have specific places where they like to be touched. Talk to your partner or a sex therapist to learn more about how to meet yours and your partner's individual needs.

How do you know if someone is thinking about you sexually?

It may not be obvious at first glance that someone has a sexual interest in you. In most cases, they will verbally tell you they have an interest in you over time. They may also convey sexual interest by touching, kissing, or cuddling.

Can a hug make you fall in love?

Unless there is already physical chemistry present between two people, the likelihood of falling in love from hugging is very low. Hugging is a universal sign of affection that can convey many messages from love to sexual interest. In most cases, hugging comes after developing or establishing an emotional connection with someone -- not the other way around.

Do all relationships lose passion?

Depending on the level of communication that partners share in a relationship, they may lose passion over time. When partners don't communicate their changing needs and desires to each other, they may not be aware of how to please each other. If you're concerned about declining passion in your relationship -- find a support group or talk to a licensed sex therapist or counselor at BetterHelp.

What Creates Intimacy?

True intimacy is both physical and emotional connection characterized by the atmosphere or feeling of openness and closeness towards someone else. This feeling is not necessarily sexual. Intimacy is primarily created through conversation. You build an emotional connection with someone by expressing or exchanging your ideas by talking with such a person. From talking with people, you will get to know if they are worthy of being trusted. Realizing that they can be trusted will make you let your guard down and open fully to them. Consequently, you want to get into an intimate relationship with them.

What Does Intimacy Feel Like?

There is no doubt about the fact that intimacy can be felt. When you are in an intimate relationship with someone, you feel good and alive.  Intimacy makes you feel as if tour life is transparent and someone is seeing right through you. You feel like you have been found. Yes, it feels good being in real intimacy with someone. It makes you feel completely accepted the way you are.

How do you build intimacy with a man?

Real intimacy is an important part of good relationships. It can be in different ways–emotional, physical, or sexual. People sometimes find it difficult to confide or open up to someone they are not intimate with. It's not all about spending quality time with a man, you must be able to feel the connection between you too.

When you build intimacy with a man, it helps create a pair-bonding that last long between you and him. So, how do you build intimacy with him?

  • Be a good Listener: You should always show yourself as a good listener. Constantly indicate that you're interested in what he's saying by maintaining eye contact and nodding to show that you're listening. Also, ensure you don't lay your thoughts, assumptions, and judgments on top of his own actions and thoughts.
  • Develop a Heart of Gratitude: You should always appreciate him for the little things he does. Learn to say "thank you" anytime he does something for you. Your sense of gratitude creates greater intimacy.
  • Cultivate an interest in what he loves: Most men have something they passionately do. You can indulge yourself in what your partner has an interest in or enthusiastic about. This may be his hobbies such as playing games, cycling, or reading. Try to learn this part of him. This helps build greater intimacy.
  • Explore New things together with him: This will help you get more closer to him for a long-term relationship. Through this, you will know and feel what it means to live a family life. You may visit resort or relaxation centers, a new city, a cooking class, and so on.
  • Find a Support Group or Find a Therapist: When you discover that the intimacy between you too is lacking, find a support group that can help build intimacy.

Sometimes, to solve relationship issues you may need a therapist. There are different types of therapy that can help you with your relationship. You can find a treatment center or find a therapist for counseling. There is also individual therapy—one of the types of therapy that help you process your emotions and open your mind to where the problem lies.

What are the examples of intimacy?

Intimacy is a unique connection that is built when two individuals feel an emotional connection between each other after assessing thoroughly and convincingly that they can trust and rely on each other. In romantic relationships, the following are some of the examples of intimacy:

  • When partners in a relationship are vulnerable, close, and open to each other. They let their guards down and prefer to see each other in their "rawest form".
  • When partners in a relationship engage in compassionate and honest conversation without holding anything back from each other.
  • When partners in a relationship use their bodies to express their love for each other. They hold each other's hands, tickle each other, and hug more.
  • When there is a pair-bonding of two individuals that forgive and forget wrongdoings or mistakes or find it difficult to keep grudges with each other for a long period. Living a family life involves constant forgiveness.

What are the signs of intimacy issues?

Just like every other emotional-oriented connection, your intimacy with someone can be affected which may inhibit a long term relationship. Many people worry about intimacy issues and they seek ways to get over them. Some people may decide to find a therapist or find a support group. Support Groups can actually be of help. So, when you have an intimacy issue, how do you know? The following are signs that can indicate that something is wrong somewhere:

  • There is a lack of emotional connection between you and your partner: If you feel indifferent about or uncomfortable with emotion. You resist every emotional advance and feel like not discussing your feelings with such a person.
  • Avoidance: Letting your partner down when you're needed is a sign of intimacy issues—you don't feel like picking such a person's calls or respond to received texts. You check within the first three months of your relationship, if you lose interest in sexual contact with such person, then our relationship has issues.
  • Hesitation: Responsibility is the building block of real intimacy. You are expected to be committed to the relationship. However, if your heart is not only for one but for many romantically, it's a sign that your intimacy will be affected.
  • Doubts: If you are in a relationship with someone that you really love and intimate with, you can't think that such a person is not right for you. However, if such thought runs through your mind, it implies that something is wrong somewhere. It can lead to insecurity and a lack of commitment.
  • Enjoying Sex with Someone Else: There will definitely be an intimacy issue if you see it as more fun when you have sex with someone you are not familiar with. This may affect your sex life with your partner by making you less passionate about it.

How do I stop fearing intimacy?

The fear of intimacy is a phobia for getting too close with other people. This can be physical or emotional. It occurs when you find it difficult to let your guard down for someone else. According to Psychology Today, "avoidance of intimacy does not necessarily mean someone doesn’t care. It usually isn’t even a conscious process. It is in large part a biological reaction that was ingrained in the structures of the central nervous system through certain parenting practices in childhood".

 The symptoms of fear of intimacy include low self-esteem, trust issues, self-imposed social isolation, a history of unstable relationships, avoiding physical contact, episodes of anger, lack of closeness or commitment, insatiable sexual desire, and insecurity.

You may need to find a treatment center where you will find a therapist to talk to face to face to deal with these symptoms.  You may need a diagnosis for fear of intimacy if you are experiencing related symptoms. They may lead to some disorders such as avoidant personality disorder (APD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), eating disorders, addictions, bipolar disorder. When see the signs of any of these disorders, you are required to find a treatment center that can help with urgent medical attention.

How do you then stop fearing intimacy?

  • Understand the source of the problem: You can start by ruminating on different events in your life. Try to locate those relationships you have ended because you are scared of intimacy. Check if this act is conscious or unconscious. Also, make the term clear to yourself that you really want a meaningful relationship.
  • Know your Worth: You must know that not all relationships will last long. There are some relationships that will end abruptly. You shouldn't let such a broken relationship define your worth. You must value yourself and always be ready to move on when one relationship ends.
  • Be Expressive: You must ready to effectively convey your feelings or thoughts to your partner. You can let your partner know about what you are going through and what you really need in the relationship that will make you feel safe. According to Psychology Today, "Learn to label and communicate your emotions. Don’t say what you think (“I’m doing fine”); Say what you feel (“I’m feeling threatened and this conversation is making me feel very anxious”)."

You can also discuss your fears with your friends. If talking with your friends is what you can't do, you can find a support group or share your issues with a therapist face to face.

  • See a medical professional face to face: The fear of intimacy may lead to APDs, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and addictions. You may need to find a treatment center to see a medical professional face to face. Mental health professionals will give you pieces of advice on how to stop it.

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