Intimacy for men: is it really just about sex?
Intimacy for men: is it really just about sex?
Intimacy is probably a word that most men either guffaw at or run a million miles from, but do we fully understand what it means and what it can actually bring to our lives, our health and wellbeing?
I know for me as a man, for much of my life intimacy was something I assumed was restricted to physical actions that were reserved for only those people in my life who I considered close friends, partners and family. For example, I would only describe myself as intimate with those I would hug, kiss or be sexually intimate with. Indeed, I would say that for many men the meaning of the word intimacy probably does not extend much deeper than another word for sex.
As for myself, for many years I would have never entertained the thought of being ‘intimate’ with a stranger or someone I had just recently met. So I guess I viewed it as something that only occurred in specific moments in life with people who were ‘special’ to me and then the rest of the time intimacy did not exist.
ln recent times however, I have realised that intimacy is actually something that is very healthy, natural and even essential between human beings and can be instantly and constantly there in all our daily interactions, if we allow it. That is not to say that I will be sleeping around with strangers or divulging my deepest, darkest secrets with the shop assistant necessarily! . . . although some may think this is what is needed to be intimate, hence the problem: do we all have a full understanding of what intimacy is and the part it plays in our lives?
What is intimacy and why is it important?
For me intimacy is a willingness to be seen for who I really am. To not allow anything to come in between myself and another person. This allows an equality and connection to be present in any meeting or relationship, no matter how well we know someone. It requires open-ness, vulnerability and honesty without the usual protection, guards and barriers of control. For us to have a true connection with another person we must first allow intimacy.
In fact, I have come to realise that we can live physically close to someone or even be having sex with them but not actually be intimate with them! How intimate are we really if we remain guarded, closed, withdrawn, or hide behind a persona, a habit or behaviour, an intellect or lifestyle front? How much connection is really present with another if we do not allow ourselves to be open and seen for who we are?
"To be intimate is to have an open body that is willing to receive love. It begins with how deep you let someone see you when they look into your eyes. Then you can communicate with a whole body that is there willing to understand, respect, love and honour another. All else thereafter is just an extension of the intimacy you are already in."Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations, Volume II, ed 1, p 110
I can understand that some men at this point might say; “that all sounds a bit too personal and difficult . . . and so what, I am getting by, my life is okay, I don’t need intimacy in my life.” In the past I have thought the same and still do to some degree. It is very easy to settle for things ‘functioning well’ or ‘running smoothly’ in our lives, or getting caught up in the daily stresses and challenges of life and all the things we feel we have to do as men in today’s world.
However, the truth is, intimacy is fundamental to our health and wellbeing. It is as essential as breathing fresh air. Without it, life lacks the depth and richness that we know we could have and deserve.
Whether we are fully aware of it or not, if we are honest, a lack of real intimacy in our lives creates a tension or inner angst and ultimately a form of misery that many men experience on a daily basis. For example, I have certainly experienced this feeling when I am not fully open and connected to my wife, my children, or colleagues at work. When this happens something just doesn’t feel right or complete. If we boil it all down, what really makes us feel fulfilled in life is our relationships – if these are not healthy then we will not feel completely well.
Genuine intimacy is the key to healthy relationships and healthy relationships are the key to a full and enriching life.
So why do men run a million miles from intimacy?
We have all heard the stereotypical stories of men being shut down, withdrawn and non-communicative. Despite this, deep down as men we actually crave intimacy and connection in our lives and when it is not there we know there is something missing. So why do we fight against something that should come so naturally?
The problem as I see it, is that us men from a very young age get told repeatedly that we are not okay just as we are, and that we have to conform or fit some contrived ‘model of manhood’ that the world has created for us. We therefore lose confidence in who we are and what we feel, developing an over-reliance on defining our worth by what we do. If we are not fully at ease with who we are and what we are feeling, then to be completely open, honest and vulnerable with another person is too confronting because we fear how we might be received . . . will we be accepted, or not? Will we be liked, or not? Will we be respected, or not? Will we be loved, or not? In my experience, if we are honest as men we are in fact super-sensitive to anything that is not loving and we can sniff out a lack of love, respect or decency a mile off!
There are a couple of particular messages we get fed to us as men that I would like to focus on that I feel affect the level of intimacy we allow in our lives.
1. Tenderness and sensitivity
There is a natural tenderness and sensitivity I have observed in men that is rarely given permission to be communicated and expressed. We get fed messages from the world from very young that tenderness and sensitivity are weaknesses and that these qualities should be hidden and shut down. So a veneer of hardness and protection sets in, which we identify in ourselves as being associated with being a real man. However, there can be no real connection or intimacy with another person if we are in this state of closed down protection and hardness.
The truth here is that as men we are deeply sensitive and do feel things just as much as women; we are as equally caring and tender as these qualities are not gender specific but actually part of who we are as human beings.
2. We cannot go it alone
Many of the statistics on men’s health and wellbeing tell us that men have a habit of isolating themselves and cutting themselves off from others. We are told from a very young age that one of the tenets of being a man is to ‘go it alone’ or ‘fly solo’. We are expected to be tough and strong enough to take on anything, on our own, and that to reach out to seek or need support is actually a sign of weakness and makes us less manly.
However, the truth here is that nobody can ever survive or thrive in the daily pressures and intensity of everyday life on their own: we actually do need the support of others to help us to see things perhaps from another angle or another perspective.
If we allow ourselves to be shaped by messages such as these every day then we lose our connection with who we actually are and become rudderless in the sea of life. Without a steady hand on the tiller, we are much more susceptible to being knocked and tossed around by things around us, including other people’s emotions, reactions and situations. Try as we might the truth is we cannot turn off our sensitivity and we still feel hurt by things!
So we then try to control everything by building carefully constructed lifestyles or behaviours that we think will keep us safe. Ultimately though, we end up locked away in castles of our own making to live lives far less enriching and fulfilling than our potential because nothing and no-one is allowed in or out. Is this really ‘the best a man can get’?
Sadly for many men, including myself, this has been the case. Looking back over my life I know that I have sometimes relied on other things such as alcohol, sport, holidays, entertainment, work, keeping myself busy doing things and the occasional good time to sustain me and keep me from feeling the emptiness and desolation of not having true intimacy and connection in my life, either with myself or others. In the quieter moments however – in between all the action and busy-ness and doing – I have frequently felt a flatness, hollowness, coldness and emptiness and sometimes have wondered what is the point of it all? I know without a doubt that without real intimacy my life lacks something – a certain depth and richness to it.
Looking at the current statistics on men’s health and wellbeing, including the current rates of suicide, it would seem that many other men are experiencing similar feelings. Something must be not quite right with our current setup if we have this many men wanting to kill themselves. In greater numbers we should also include the number of men who experience chronic anxiety, depression, exhaustion, burnout and nervous breakdown. I am certain that the lack of intimacy and true connection in men’s lives is a big factor in the state of men’s health and wellbeing in the world today.
How can we have more intimacy in our lives?
What I have discovered is that the only way to be more open with others is through building a stronger connection and confidence with who I am inside and re-discovering the strength of my natural tenderness and sensitivity.
When I am more confident, settled and sure of who I am and what I am feeling, then I feel freer to express this in the world and less worried about what might happen next, or how other people might react or respond. There is a solidness and steadiness that can be felt in the body that I have come to know and trust.
When I allow myself to re-connect to my sensitivity and tenderness and hold this connection and not hold back in expressing how I feel in any situation, this builds a foundation that supports me to be more of me, which brings more intimacy and a deeper level of relationship than I would otherwise have.
In summary, I believe as men we need to start the conversation on intimacy and really understand how it affects our health and wellbeing and be really honest with ourselves about how much we actually have intimacy in our lives. And then start taking the small steps to changing this, starting with the relationship we have with ourselves.