As part of PAPER's month-long "Sexpress" series, New York-based sexologist Shelby Sells will be writing weekly columns that investigate modern sexuality. Dive into her sexpertise, below.
What is Sextimacy? Sextimacy can be defined as the effort to find emotional intimacy through sex. In such sexually liberated times as these, it can be easy to confuse sexual connection with emotional intimacy. This is not the sex ed they taught in 8th grade! I have often confused the two. Upon moving to New York City I was fresh out of a break up and the possibilities of the dating scene seemed endless. In no time I became infatuated with a young Jewish man. We quickly bonded and were inseparable.
The sex. Oh, the sex was fantastic. I couldn't believe I had found someone who was so attentive to my needs so soon. We dated for a two months and it became apparent that although we cared for each other, neither of us were (or at least I wasn't) emotionally available. During our time together we both sought emotional intimacy through our sensuous connection. He desired the emotional connectedness and understanding of a partner (he had been single for almost 3 years) and I yearned for the comfort and trust my last relationship brought me. Though we developed sexual intimacy, neither of our emotional needs were being met. We did, however, carry on a sexual relationship that went on for some time after that. Kudos to you sir for your excellent bedroom manners.
Sex is physical act. It is fluid and can be many different things. Sex can be a Skype conversation, a late night dm, or a night of passionate physical intimacy. How you choose to define it is up to you. It is important to clarify what sex means to you in order to gain understanding of what you're receiving from it. For some people it's easy to differentiate sex from love and emotional intimacy. It is, after all, an animalistic act in nature. For others, it is not so easy. That is why sex is so problematic. It confuses our emotional and physical natures.
Sextimacy fulfills short term needs. It is love at first sight — that intoxicating feeling of love, lust, and borderline obsession. The honeymoon phase. Once the allure has gone, it leaves lovers feeling empty and hopeless. However, once a new person enters the dating ring the rotation starts all over again, creating a savage cycle of extremes with ultimately little or no emotional fulfillment. Yikes!! The truly scary thing is that most people who fall prey to sextimacy have no awareness that they're even developing this pattern of behavior.
So how can we break this dating pattern? We must rewire our brains (I wish I was kidding) by repeatedly engaging in new, positive experiences. The first step begins with forming a healthy relationship with ourselves. Next, we must purposefully choose partners that display the qualities and characteristics we need to be satisfied in a relationship. By getting to know these new potential partners on multiple levels, and not just a sexual one, we are helping to disband disfunction in our romantic relationships.
Cultivating a strong sense of self will pave the way to relationships where your needs are constantly being met. If you do not know yourself on an emotional and sexual level, then it becomes very hard for people who are close to you to understand who you are and what you need. We're not all mind readers here! Value yourself. Accepting that your needs deserve attention from the beginning of a relationship is a great way to build a long-lasting foundation of emotional intimacy.