Intimacy Takes Time
Originally Published: November 28, 2018
Revised: February 4, 2019
Intimacy. What does it really mean? Generally, intimacy refers to when people can be themselves around each other and share their thoughts, feelings and emotions without fear of being judged. It doesn’t have to be sexual. You can have an emotionally intimate relationship with a friend or family member. Understanding intimacy and what makes you feel safe with another person can help you figure out what you want in your romantic relationships.
“A lot of times when I’m talking to a guy, I compare our relationship to the relationship I have with my friends,” says Darlin, 17, of Lawrenceville, NJ. “I’ll think, ‘Is it easy for me to talk to him? Do I want to tell him more about myself?’ Maybe even, ‘Can he make me laugh?’”
I spoke with other teens to ask them about how they feel about intimacy, including how it can take time to develop and why it’s important when it comes to their romantic relationships.
There’s something to be said about enjoying all of the little things that help you build trust over time; this is what enables you to feel close and connected.
Communication Is Key
Have you ever met someone you were super attracted to as soon as you saw them? Before running to the altar with the object of your affection, it’s important to consider how well you actually know them. You can feel attraction immediately, but it may take more time than you think to build intimacy.
“I started talking to a guy who I was really sexually attracted to, and on our first date we made out,” says Meg, 17, of San Diego, CA. “I liked it a lot and was looking forward to spending more time with him. But when I asked him what he wanted to do on our next date, and he said he wanted to have sex, it left me feeling a little used. Although I’m ready to be sexually active, I didn’t like that he didn’t see sex as a big deal.”
If you don’t talk with your partner about what you each want, it can be hard to know what your partner feels comfortable doing sexually or for your partner to know what you feel comfortable doing sexually. For Meg, the difference in expectations turned her off. In a situation like this, open communication from the get-go might have allowed them to clarify their intentions.
But what if you and your partner’s intentions are clear and you know your relationship is more casual and not a committed relationship? You may not feel a deep emotionally intimate connection, but it’s still important that you can trust this person. Are you both doing your part to prevent pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases? Do you feel safe? Can you verbalize your desires? If you answered, “Yes!” you’re on track to a mutually enjoyable experience. Erin, 18, of Southington, CT, says, “I like to have a hook-up that’s more consistent, like a friends-with-benefits kind of thing. There is a guy that I hook up with. I know that we aren’t exclusive, but we’ve talked enough for us to both understand what we want out of being together.” Erin and her partner are on the same page; communication and safety are important no matter how you define or label your relationship.
Close and Connected
What about if you’re already in a relationship? Although there’s no specific order of how to do things, it can be fun to take your time, even with no intention of building up to sex. It’s important to talk about things that are significant to you. For example, have you and your partner had an open and honest discussion about sexual behavior? Have you talked about what you feel comfortable doing and what you want to stay away from? Maybe your partner has trusted you enough to reveal something about themselves that you weren’t aware of before and now your feelings are stronger for them. Or maybe thinking about the first time your partner held your hand or you shared a kiss makes you feel closer to them. There’s something to be said about enjoying all of the little things that help you build trust over time; this is what enables you to feel close and connected.
Building this intimacy can help when and if you do feel ready to have sex. Luca, 16, of Montgomery, NJ, says, “For me, sex is better with someone I know really well. I would rather have sex with my best friend than someone I’ve known for a month.”
For some teens, being in a relationship can make it easier to openly communicate about sex. “My partner and I knew we were ready to have sex for the first time when we discussed it beforehand,” says Libby, 18 from Houston, TX. “Having a conversation about it is the best way to know when you are ready.” As a result, Libby says, “I feel like my relationship has become stronger since having sex because it requires a level of trust between you and your partner. Additionally, it feels very intimate to know you both have respect for the other’s body.” Absolutely! Respect and intimacy go hand in hand.
When to Get Help
On the other hand, just because someone is in a relationship and sexually active doesn’t mean they are feeling close or valued by their partner. “Before I broke up with my abusive ex-boyfriend, I felt so much pressure to have sex with him,” says Caty, 17, of Princeton, NJ. “He told me that if I really loved him, I would do it. And I gave into that because we had been together for so long. Looking back now, I know that building a healthy and trusting relationship not only takes time but emotional openness and enough courage to know that if something feels wrong, it probably is.” Caty is correct, and being in a relationship with someone for a long time doesn’t entitle you or your partner to sex.
Hank, 18, of Takoma Park, MD, also found himself not feeling able to talk openly about his doubts in a relationship. “In freshman year, I had my first boyfriend,” he says. Hank describes how much pressure he received from his boyfriend to engage in sexual behaviors before they knew each other well. “If someone is trying to force you into something sexual, leave them ASAP,” he says. “Your biggest priority should always be your well-being.” Remember—it’s not selfish to look out for yourself in a relationship. You may need to ask yourself if you feel physically and emotionally safe and free to speak openly. If not, it may be time to reach out for support. If you ever find yourself in an abusive situation, visit LoveIsRespect.org or call 1-866-331-9474.
Taking time to gain trust and intimacy is important. If you feel yourself trying to rush intimacy or sex, check in with yourself to make sure you’re taking the time you need. There’s no specific order or timeline for building intimacy. There’s plenty of time, so enjoy the ride!
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