Even if we really enjoy sex, many of us struggle with the intimacy aspect of it—i.e., the emotional connection that can deepen the sexual bond.
If casual sex is more your thing, intimacy may be less of an issue, but, for people in relationships, it’s an essential ingredient to a healthy, fulfilling sex life. Why? Because emotional connection helps stimulate oxytocin (aka the love hormone), which in turn allows us to trust and be more open with our partners.
“Intimacy is an extra layer to help fortify trust and can also add an element of vulnerability to a relationship,” says sexologist Megan Stubbs. “It allows you to be honest with your partner without the fear of judgement for something you say/ask for.”
But if you’re not comfortable with emotional expression, being intimate with someone can be a little awkward. And as our world becomes increasingly digital, intimacy between partners is diminishing even more. In fact, many people now get that rush of oxytocin from technology instead of connecting with their partners. There’s even a name for it: technoference.
We’ve become so attached to our phones that we find it hard to relinquish them and spend uninterrupted quality time with our partners. Studies show that even the presence of a cell phone can reduce the quality of social interactions—and it’s hard to feel loved and desired if your partner is distracted by their phone whenever you spend time together.
It’s no wonder so many people have difficulty cultivating intimacy with their partner, but the good news is that there are a few key ways to feel more at ease with it. Here’s how.
Start outside the bedroom.
One of the best ways to bring intimacy into your sex life is to start cultivating it in your relationship in general. “You can help create a sense of comfort around intimacy starting with small acts,” says Stubbs. “Holding hands is a great start. Tell each other your fears or worries. Write a note. As you grow more comfortable with the different acts, you can move onto larger displays.” Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to start making grand public declarations of love for your partner. But by starting with small steps, you’ll likely become more comfortable with intimacy in general—and more open to revealing your true desires to your partner.
Be open to pleasure.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But, for various reasons, many of us can feel that we aren’t very sexual beings and are often just there for our partner’s pleasure. Embrace the fact that you are equally as entitled to pleasure as anyone else and allow yourself to really enjoy sex with your partner. (A good way to learn to embrace your own desires in the bedroom? Treat yourself to regular solo sex sessions.)
Focus on foreplay.
When you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, or when you’re overcome with lust for your partner, it can be easy to skip the foreplay and get right down to it. But by doing so, you’re missing out on the perfect chance to bond. Kissing, cuddling, whispering and touching can help you feel more desired and connected. And let’s not forget the joy of lying on the couch and making out for hours on end.
Make eye contact.
Just as looking someone in the eye helps enhance a conversation, it can also do wonders for emotional connection during sex. In fact, a study by Kellerman, Lewis and Laird showed that eye contact enhances feelings of love, passion and general affection. We’re not saying that you need to stare at your partner the whole time—which, let’s be honest, could be pretty awkward—but at least open your eyes once in a while.
Give yourself permission to ask for what you want.
“Intimacy can make people uncomfortable because it asks them to be vulnerable,” Stubbs says. “You’re opening yourself up and you have to trust that the person you are with will receive them well. People are afraid of judgement, so the safer route is to not rock the boat, even if that means not speaking up for what you truly want.“ In other words, being open to pleasure means knowing what turns you on and being willing to communicate that to your partner—and creating a safe space for them to do the same.
Let the encouragement flow.
While it’s great to be able to discuss your desires with your partner at any time, that healthy, open communication is equally as important when you’re actually having sex. We all like to know when we’re doing a good job, so be sure to let your partner know when they’re doing something that really hits the spot, so to speak. Even a few encouraging moans, sighs or heaving breathing can help get the message across.
Set aside the time.
We’re all for a quickie every now and then, but it can be difficult to establish intimacy that way. So try to dedicate time on a regular basis for quality sex with no time limit. We’ll leave the frequency up to you, but just make sure there are no distractions like TV, kids, pets or phones. (Try to also take care of any pressing to-do lists beforehand so that you’re not thinking about things like grocery shopping when you’re supposed to be focused on your partner.) Having a regular, designated time for intimacy—kind of like a date night—can give you and your partner something to look forward to. Make it fun and build the anticipation between “dates” by slipping each other little love notes, sending sexy texts or simply taking a few moments to simmer.
Read more about how to cultivate intimacy.