This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section. – Shanna
When we think of intimate bonds experienced by the self and others, it’s hard not to insinuate a sexual context or a soon-to-be sexual context in which these bonds grow. This notion has prospered excellently in much of the mass media we tend to follow, as intimacy depicted in film is almost always followed by physical attraction. I understand that sexual motivations carries a narrative with great strength (both on and off screen), but it fails to demonstrate that they’re other ways to enjoy intimacy that doesn’t involve a passionate kiss at the end of it.
Here’s the idea: if intimacy happened to be presented to strictly within the context of sex, then it conditions one to seek intimacy exclusively in sex. This could lead to a pattern of thought where sex is seen as the ultimate end goal, with intimacy maybe served as a side. However, it’s important to stress that intimacy proliferates in many different environments, and it’s healthy to acknowledge notions of intimacy that you have that doesn’t necessarily end in a situation where you’re not wearing pants. Furthermore, understanding and appreciating intimacy one can experience outside of a sexual context might also help you within one too. With that said, it’s not my place to detract against the idea of the different kinds of sex people choose to have (both encompassing and void of intimacy), but rather to demonstrate a point that the two could be just as mutually exclusive as they could be intrinsically related.
Speaking of which, what exactly is the difference between enjoying say an incredible meal or an incredible production or an incredible blow job? Physiologically, very little. All three undergo a similar neuronal trajectory in the reward circuit system that promotes a positive self-perception, which in turn releases the same neurotransmitters (more specifically, oxytocin and dopamine). Of course the evolutionary implication behind the motivations driving sexual behavior obviously holds much more weight than artistic behavior, but it’s still kind of cool to think about why these innate mechanisms exist. If it were not an adaptive behavior, the rewarding sensations found in relation to intimacy would’ve been a trait left behind with our ancestors. Intimacy serves a purpose to bring people together as a social unit, so that collectively, we may up our chances of survival and mental well-being. It is single-handedly responsible for the enormous growth in cortical mass, as it is also the reason why we are apt to interpreting and understanding emotion and why our language happens to be so varied and densely knit. We carry these skills not because they simply existed, but because our innate desire to be interconnected willed our species to form it. What I find to be particularly poignant about this theory that when you classify intimacy as the over-arching umbrella term, sex follows suit as a subgenre of intimacy, and not the other way around.
For example, there are plenty of people on this planet who live happily with little to no sexual activity in their lives. Does this make them incapable of understanding and appreciating intimacy? Certainly not. However, popular opinion is still tempted to imply this stereotype. We see it in how one might treat a friend or family member as being ‘perpetually single’. Are they lonely? Maybe, but it certainly would be presumptuous to assume. Are they incapable of sharing a deep bond with other individuals? Certainly not. People choose to be single based on a multitude of reasons, the large majority of which do not revolve around the disinterest or incompetence of being sexually intimate.
The most spectacular thing about intimacy beyond sex, is it’s unmitigated sweetness can be experienced anywhere at any moment between anyone. One thing that is important to keep in mind is that though the company of others most often creates intimacy, it is ultimately the individual that perceives and internalizes it. I appreciate the moment one has when you find yourself sharing a smile with a stranger in a public place, but the space that’s created between myself and this stranger is largely in part due to the space I have allowed myself to experience in my mind. This should not automatically equate to a “what-a-shame-you-let-the-moment-pass” conundrum if I felt the person did not need to be approached. It should be sufficient enough to allow the thrill to ride its course without having to imply anything else. Having a frank conversation about an interesting topic with a stranger at a gathering does not mean that a shade of romanticism is owed, especially if this person is “someone I could see myself being attracted to”. By accepting it’s existence at face value, you could spend less time tripping over ill-fated attempts to justify an emotion that might not be understood in mainstream opinion. Intimacy helps keep you in check with your own personal relationship, it allows you the opportunity to practice humility and curiosity that other spaces in life might not. It is possible to feel connected and involved without submitting to the social prescription of asking yourself how it’s function should be carried.
For more thoughts, I invite you to read this interesting article :