No Sex = No Intimacy?

A sex therapist tells it like it is.

Leigh Norén, MSc
Published in
4 min readJun 4, 2019


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Saying that really good sex can unite two (or more) people, probably doesn’t surprise anyone.

We tend to view sex as the prime expression of intimacy in a love relationship. Maybe it’s because of our concept of monogamy — that sex is only a part of a relationship between two people — or maybe it stems from other cultural concepts; sex is something mystical and magical — like an elevated experience whose particular position can’t even be compared with anything else in a romantic relationship.

No matter where the idea of sex as the most important source of intimacy comes from, it’s clear that it sometimes messes things up in a major way.

As a sex therapist, I regularly see clients who feel their sex life is not where they’d like it to be.

They often feel their relationship is doomed, when the sex stops working. Some fear they’ll be left if their sex drive doesn’t increase soon, others that their performance in the bedroom will be the final nail in the coffin.

It’s often said when we have an active, pleasurable sex life, sex only makes up about 10% of our lives, but when the sex isn’t working, if it’s painful, boring, or non-existent, that number soon turns into 90%.

90% of stress and anguish about this enjoyable activity that no longer gives any joy — be it physical, emotional or sexual.

Sometimes I wonder whether this is because sex is in fact important to a lot of us, or whether it simply is a symptom of a larger societal problem — a culture that promotes sex as the most important thing in a romantic relationship, therefore it becomes the most important thing.

Maybe there is no answer, and it likely differs from person to person. What we do know, however, is that there are far more aspects of intimacy than just sexual intimacy. And as a sex therapist, I feel it’s my duty to let this be known!

According to the American scientist Stephen T. Fife there are 17 different forms of intimacy, where all may be equally important in romantic relationships.

The only person who can determine what’s needed for a successful relationship, is you yourself.

Fife’s view of intimacy shows how complex the concept is, and offers, at the same time, a simple structure for you to understand intimacy in your own romantic relationship.

The way he looks at intimacy means you and your partner (or partners) are given the opportunity to broaden your range of intimacy — and add new aspects.

According to Fife, it’s unusual to share all 17 kinds of intimacy, even if a rare few of us do. But most of us share at least a few.

If you no longer experience sexual intimacy with your partner it may be useful to turn your attention to other aspects of intimacy.

A few of the aspects shared by Fife are shown below.

Financial intimacy

You work together to neutralize different attitudes to money. You work out a joint plan for budgeting, costs and savings. Your financial goals are shared.

Aesthetic intimacy

You share an experience of everything that’s beautiful — music, nature, art, theatre, dance, and so on.

Conflict intimacy

You deal with differences of opinion together and discuss them together. Solving conflicts is a way of getting closer to each other.

Forgiveness intimacy

You apologize to each other and ask forgiveness if you’ve done something wrong. You ask your partner: “What can I do to become a better partner?”

It’s not only important to know about the abovementioned facets of intimacy. If you’d like to use them as a means of increasing intimacy (with or without sex), you can use the following exercise below.


  1. How do you rate the four forms of intimacy compared to sex as a form of intimacy?
  2. Are you perhaps able to develop other forms of intimacy in your relationship, during the time you’re not having sex with each other — and how would that affect your relationship?
  3. Could more intimacy in other spheres have positive effects on your sexual relationship? If the answer is yes, describe in which way or ways it might be good for your sexual relationship.

Regardless of whether you’d like to have more sex, better sex or just simply, have sex at all, doing a quick intimacy inventory like the one above, could be just what you need.

Remember, you can still create intimacy— even if you’re not having sex.

Originally published at First published in Swedish here.

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Leigh Norén, MSc

Sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. Offers free online resources and sex coaching.