Types of Intimacy: A comprehensive look at the 23 types of intimacy
When we get up close and personal, or intimate, with intimacy, we find 23 different types of intimacy to explore and enjoy. Every one of these 23 types of intimacy can contribute joy, love, and connection not just to your relationship(s) but to your overall life. Who doesn’t want a little more joy, love, and connection in their lives these days?
Most feel surprised to realize that intimacy plays such an integral role in the true quality of their whole life. Why? Because whether or not we’re conscious of it, we all crave intimacy.
We, if even subconsciously, crave the unity intimacy brings. In other words, we crave connection. Yes, it’s true. We all need separateness and alone time and no one actually enjoys the feeling of disconnection. That’s where intimacy comes in.
When conscious, intimacy soothes feelings of loneliness and separation. It leads us back to our true nature. Yet, while often associated with committed romantic relationships or marriages, when we truly understand the multitude of types of intimacy, we’ll see that intimacy can be experienced with anyone, at any time.
Giving the word intimate meaning
Before we dive into the various types of intimacy, let’s give the word ‘intimate’ meaning so that you can recognize it when you see it, or more importantly, when you feel it.
Intimate means connected. At the deepest level, intimate means united. Being intimate creates feelings of closeness, bonding, and belonging. In our bodies, an intimate connection can feel relaxed, warm, safe, and sometimes even tingly. In a truly intimate experience, a person feels seen, heard, and known.
Every one of us, like it or not, wants to be seen, heard and known. Which means that our capacity for intimacy and our skill at creating it matters. It’s fortunate that we have so many different types of intimacy and so many different ways to create it.
Also, to be crystal clear, in case any part of you wonders, while many equate the word intimate with sexual connection, this is simply incorrect. Being intimate can include being sexual, but being sexual doesn’t necessarily mean you are truly intimate.
7 Primary types of intimacy in romantic relationships (as well as friendships, families, and professional relationships)
While the 7 primary types of intimacy can quite commonly be found in romantic relationships, you’ll also easily see, with closer exploration, that most of these forms of intimacy often exist in families, friendships, and even professional relationships as well.
Remember that intimacy, or the experience of being intimate, builds connection. It precipitates unity, comforts loneliness, and eliminates feelings of distance and disconnection. With that understanding, let’s dive into the primary and most well known types of intimacy, starting with the one that sets the stage for all other types of intimacy.
1) Emotional Intimacy (One of the foundational types of intimacy)
Using closeness and connection as our basis for recognizing intimate experiences, emotional intimacy means sharing of feelings and emotions. This especially includes feelings that we might otherwise hide, keep to ourselves, or even pretend that we didn’t feel.
Intimacy itself is actually a felt experience. We must then be in touch with, and often willing to express, our feelings, in order to truly experience an intimate connection with another. Real intimacy, by definition, creates a feeling.
Yet, even though emotional intimacy sets the stage for all the other types of intimacy, we as a society tend to shun emotions in ourselves and each other. This makes creating intimacy quite challenging. Our conditioning to avoid emotions – by denying, ignoring and stuffing them – has us run away from the very thing our hearts crave – connection, intimacy.
Your invitation here is to make friends with what you feel and consider sharing your emotional experience with another. Examples of emotional intimacy might include letting someone see your tears, letting yourself get mad instead of avoiding conflict, telling someone you’re hurt instead of saying it’s ok when it’s not, or by sharing the story of an emotional experience – whether it be a relationship struggle, a project you’re dreaming of (yes, positive emotions create intimacy too), or something you’re afraid of like a friend or family member’s illness.
From an energetic and physical standpoint, we will tend to feel emotional intimacy in our heart center, or heart chakra, as it’s called.
2) Intellectual Intimacy (Mental Intimacy)
Intellectual intimacy, and its close counterpart, mental intimacy, happens when two or more people share an Intellectual conversation or endeavor. This might begin with a philosophical conversation, or even a misunderstanding that invites you each to go deeper and discern more about the topic at hand. Intellectual intimacy will have each person explore together the deepest realms, and most intricate details, of a particular topic. Often the more in depth the shared exploration and shared understanding, the more intellectual intimacy is available. Intellectual intimacy can, of course, be experienced with colleagues and fellow students, but also in our friendships and romantic relationships. As a matter of fact, we even have a name for being turned on by intelligence: sapiosexual.
From an energetic and physical perspective, we will often feel intellectual intimacy in our mind, or our third eye chakra. For some it will feel like the mind is so alive and excited it can’t stop. And, of course when intellectual intimacy is arousing, we may also feel it in our sexual center.
3) Sexual Intimacy
While sexual intimacy and physical intimacy do stand distinct from one another, we’ll start with sexual intimacy because it’s more commonly associated with what we think of as intimacy. Let’s start by giving ‘sexual intimacy’ meaning. Sexual intimacy by definition means that we share closeness, or in the case of intercourse, a union, of our genitals. Sexual intimacy often aligns with our sexual arousal and, hence, to our physical but not overall attraction to someone.
While sexual intimacy does not require emotional intimacy, the true quality and real benefit of our sexual experience goes up in direct proportion to the amount of emotional intimacy we add to it.
On a physical and energetic level, we’ll tend to experience sexual intimacy in our second or sacral chakra. Even better, we’ll feel it in our heart chakra too. At its best, we’ll circulate the energy between the two chakras in a tantric energy exchange.
4) Physical Intimacy
Physical intimacy, in contract to sexual intimacy, has to do with all of the ways our physical bodies connect. In reality, we could consider sexual intimacy a subtype of physical intimacy.
Here are several simple ways, that you might recognize in your own relationships, where you already share physical intimacy. As you consider these, notice whether or not you also experience emotional intimacy at the same time. The more types of intimate connection happening simultaneously, the more powerful the experience.
Touching feet under the table, cuddling, holding hands, kissing, and sleeping next to each other all create physical intimacy. Sleeping next to each other doesn’t even mean that you have to be “spooning.” It could be as simple as letting your feet or hands touch through the night.
Sitting on the sofa in close proximity to each other actually creates an energetic connection that can be felt physically. To strengthen the physical connection, instead of just sitting near each other, you might put your head in someone’s lap, let your legs touch, or drape your arms or legs across each other.
Notice that families, especially children and parents, commonly engage in these forms of physical intimacy. Physical intimacy creates bonding and connection and they have nothing to do with sexuality. The truth is, the best of friends, who are each comfortable in themselves, will express and share many of these forms of physical intimacy as well. Again, they have nothing to do with sexual attraction.
It’s truly beyond important that we begin to understand, acknowledge, and discuss the differences between physical intimacy and sexual intimacy. We, as a world, as a society, are craving connection, craving closeness, craving intimacy, all types of intimacy. Simply, we all need to be touched and that does not need to be reserved for romantic relationships.
Energetically we will often feel physical intimacy throughout our bodies and in each of our chakras. And, quite commonly we’ll feel it most strongly in our heart center.
5) Spiritual Intimacy
Sharing spiritual Intimacy with another creates a bond through our shared spiritual interests, aspirations, and experiences. Our spiritual nature connects us to our infiniteness, our eternal nature, our sacredness and our divine or conscious power. Some might call this a connection to our soul, our divinity, or even God. For some this might be a religious connection, and it need not be. There is, without a doubt, a force greater than us that connects us, unites us, and serves us through love, “coincidences,” and miracles. Spiritual intimacy happens when we share the intimateness of our relationship to our spiritual nature and our spiritual journey. Sharing sacred spiritual experiences such as rituals, practices, prayer, meditation, even yoga and nature can deepen and amplify our spiritual intimacy with another.
For those interested in energetics, spiritual intimacy will often be associated with our seventh energy center or crown chakra.
6) Soul Intimacy (Soulmates know about this type of intimacy)
Soul intimacy happens when souls are drawn together for greater purposes than our human mind might imagine. In soulmate relationships, which some might also describe as soul contract relationships, souls play together, struggle together, and evolve together. People in these types of relationships – which are not exclusively romantic relationships – truly come together to expand the expression of each other’s souls. Souls attract one another because they recognize that through the meeting of our human forms, and shared soul intimacy, we will each come into a fuller and more embodied expression of ourselves and our true purpose in life. Soul intimacy unfolds, primarily wordlessly, through an attractive and energetic resonance between each soul’s unique signature.
Soul intimacy is closest, of all the various types of intimacy, to divine intimacy which we’ll discuss shortly. It would most often energetically be associated with the solar plexus or third chakra.
7) Self Intimacy (The other foundational type of intimacy)
Of all the types of intimacy, self intimacy and emotional intimacy are the most fundamental. Just like with emotional intimacy, the quality of all other forms of intimacy depends on the quality of your self intimacy.
Self intimacy is exactly what it sounds like. With self intimacy you connect with and get close to yourself – you know you at the deepest levels. You know your needs, your wants, your desires, your turn-ons and turn-offs. You know your boundaries and your preferences. When you build a deep and satisfying relationship with yourself through self-intimacy and you’re willing to fully express yourself in intimate connection, you’ll begin to experience what is called ecstatic authenticity, which serves as the precursor to ecstatic intimacy.
To be clear on the importance of self intimacy, the entire foundation and strength of your relationship with another, including romantically, is determined – strengthened or weakened – by the intimacy you have with yourself. You can not share authentic intimacy without knowing yourself.
Also important to note is that if you’re experiencing intimacy issues with another, it’s usually not intimacy with another person that causes the problem, it’s intimacy with self.
Finally, self intimacy, like soul intimacy, most commonly expresses itself through the solar plexus third chakra or power center.
Secondary, and commonly overlooked, types of intimacy
The remaining 16 types of intimacy happen in both romantic relationships as well as platonic relationships – including our friendships and professional relationships. You don’t typically hear these types of intimacy frequently discussed. Yet, when you develop a depth of understanding and a skillfulness with each of these types of intimacy you will find yourself (and those around you) on a path of exquisite love and profound joy.
Before we start exploring these remaining types, let’s look even a bit closer at intimacy itself and its impact on our wellbeing.
If we look at one of our biggest struggles during the pandemic, we saw that many struggled with mental wellbeing. If we look a little deeper, we’ll see that our mental wellbeing has everything to do with how we feel, particularly how connected we feel vs. how isolated and alone we feel. During the pandemic many of us saw that the more divided and separated we felt, the more we struggled mentally. The disconnection from those we love and from those we simply enjoyed just hanging out with caused immense pain.
Just hanging out, by the way, has huge potential to inspire and create several of the primary and secondary types of intimacy.
When we experience a lack of intimacy, we suffer. We must have intimacy to thrive.
8) Experiential Intimacy
Experiential intimacy happens when we share the qualities and the results of a particular experience with another and it feels good. It’s not just that we share the experience, but that through the sharing of the experience we have an inner sense of connection. Examples of experiential intimacy might include creating it through an adventure, through travel, through a Sunday afternoon drive, building a desk or your kid’s bike together, meeting your grandchild for the first time, or even shopping for something special together. Experientially intimate moments have a strong emotional component to them and therefore combine well with emotional intimacy.
9) Recreational Intimacy
Recreational intimacy really occurs as a sub-type of experiential intimacy, where, in this case, the experience is specifically some type of recreational activity. Recreational intimacy will again have a strong emotional aspect to it. Although, the particular emotions experienced here may vary slightly from the more heart-centered experiences described above under experiential intimacy. Common emotions associated with recreational intimacy include thrill, fear, determination, accomplishment, excitement and any other “higher” frequency emotion.
Once again, notice the importance of the emotional dimension in the experience. In the absence of strong emotion, the hike, the bike ride, the rock climbing, sport or even the hobby would not feel intimate. It would simply be a just another ride, game of basketball or chess game. We feel intimacy.
10) Beauty or Aesthetic Intimacy
When looking at art, witnessing a sunrise or sunset, standing on an overlook in nature, witnessing the fall change of colors, the experiences all have the potential to create a sense of awe or wonder within. While similar to experiential intimacy, this type of intimacy with beauty can challenge us to accurately describe it. It may very well take your breath away. With aesthetic intimacy you may not talk about the experience but simply and profoundly feel the closeness in silent wonder.
11) Tantric Intimacy
We could consider Tantric Intimacy a combination of experiential intimacy, spiritual intimacy, and divine intimacy. Specifically, because tantric practices bring those practicing closer to our divine nature, they create a level of intimacy of heart, mind, body, spirit, and soul. (These practices are not all sexual. As a matter of fact, most are distinctly not sexual in nature.) To give ‘tantric intimacy’ meaning, it focuses on allowing the human ego or personality to dissolve into a sacred energetic union.
12) Creative Intimacy
Another unique version of experiential intimacy, shared creative endeavors can deeply connect us. Genuine creativity occurs when we open ourselves up to be moved by creative, or sometimes called, divine inspiration. When two or more people open themselves up to that kind of shared receptivity and it flows together in the wonder of art, food, decor and the like, we can’t help but experience a depth of bonding through that creative experience.
13) Conflict Intimacy
In the world of Ecstatic Intimacy and Soul Love, we know that when souls come together in soul intimacy, conflict will happen. Souls actually evolve through joy, trust and conflict. Yes, conflict. When we know how to navigate that conflict consciously, we’ll see that intimacy can’t help but develop. With conflict intimacy our challenges create connection. Our conflict becomes communion.
14) Vulnerability Intimacy
Have you ever been to a gathering, a workshop, a wedding, a memorial, or the like and watched someone shed a tear? Have you ever immediately felt drawn to them, connected with them (even though you might not know them personally)? That’s vulnerability intimacy. That person you witnessed let you see into them. They allowed you to see their whole being, their imperfection, their emotions. Letting someone see into us that deeply reveals the very essence of intimacy. So, yes, we can experience intimacy with a true stranger. Knowing each other is not required.
15) Community Intimacy
Communities often share common values, goals, purposes and projects. While not often as deeply felt as some of the other types of intimacy described here, community intimacy is real. You can feel it at parades and festivals as well as in challenges the community might face. When two or more unite for shared reasons, intimacy becomes inevitable.
16) Team Intimacy
Similar to community intimacy, teams form their own close knit communities and therefore intimacy. You’ll often find this with sports teams but might also find it in unique professional teams when there are significant emotional aspects or stakes to their work together. Teams unite in their dedication to performance, in the grief of their losses, and in the celebration of their wins. The depth of the emotional experiences they share strongly bonds them, but we wouldn’t necessarily recognize it as emotional intimacy.
17) Intimacy through Purpose
Anytime we share a purpose and both people care deeply about the outcome, the experience of working toward that common goal together will bond them. Intimacy through purpose happens when those involved share openly about their commitment to and their “why” behind the purpose. It deepens when they also share the frustrations and feelings about setbacks along the way. Sharing a fear of failure could add to intimacy. Certainly the shared celebration of accomplishment or completion adds depth to intimate experience. The bigger the goal, the more open the emotional sharing, the more intimacy through purpose you’ll experience. Examples could be as small as a project around the house or as big as creating the Burningman festival in the desert, or sending person to the moon, or as personal at the soul purpose of a relationship.
18) Intimacy through Cause
Similar to intimacy through purpose, intimacy through a cause unites those who care – or more specifically those who share how much and how deeply they care – about the cause. You’ll find a deep passion expressed in this type of intimacy. Examples of intimacy for a cause might include a group focused on social justice, those raising funds to cure a disease, or building a Habitat for Humanity home, just for starters.
19) Intimacy through Crisis
Any shared experience of crisis, whether a community or neighborhood after a wildfire, a family surrounding a loved one going through a health challenge, a severe injury to a spouse or child, or anything of the sort, those involved will find themselves deeply, intimately bound. Couples and families who have gone through a crisis and who have been willing to stay open and emotionally connected – fully intimate – with each other, know the power of crisis to create unshakable bonds and lasting intimacy.
20) Platonic Intimacy
This occasionally referred to type of intimacy is really more of a category of intimate experiences. By definition, platonic refers to any relationship that doesn’t have a sexual component to it. Therefore 22 of the 23 types of intimacy listed here qualify as platonic intimacy.
21) Romantic Intimacy
Even though people often refer to it as a type of intimacy, similar to platonic intimacy, romantic intimacy really defines more of a category of intimacy types, rather than a type unto itself. With that being said, any of the types of intimacy listed here, shared in a romantic context would create romantic intimacy. We might also note that the heart typically feels this kind of intimacy the strongest. And, in some cases romantic intimacy may lead to sexual intimacy.
22) Ecstatic Intimacy
Ecstatic intimacy once again might better define a category of intimacy that includes all the types of intimacy and experiences of intimacy that bring you the most incredible joys, the strongest tears of awe and love, the deepest unbreakable bonds, and absolute union. These experiences will take your breath away, leave you speechless, and sometimes wondering how that was even possible. May you feel blessed with many, many moments of ecstatic intimacy.
23) Divine Intimacy
Divine intimacy refers to an experience of intimacy that might, but often might not, occur with another person. Divine intimacy creates an experience of closeness with whatever it is that we might call the energy that unites us all. Some might describe divine intimacy as intimacy with God, or with the Universe, or Life itself. Some might also call it Divine Union. If we really go into the deepest depths in our exploration of intimacy, this, divine intimacy, might describe the ultimate of all intimacies – where all separation dissolves and all that remains is the oneness of Love.
Intimacy nourishes our hearts. Our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing is served by intimacy. Intimacy strengthens and deepens our relationships. Intimacy makes our lovemaking all that much better.
Humans, once they discover how to be comfortable in it, thrive in intimacy.
Because there are so many different types of intimacy, you have lots of opportunities and choices. You can’t go wrong and you certainly don’t have to become an expert at all them.
To give you some where to start, somewhere to focus, we suggest first paying attention to emotional intimacy and self intimacy. These two types of intimacy, as you now know, set the foundation for all other ways of experiencing intimacy.
Finally, lets once again remind ourselves to drop the idea that intimacy is about sex and instead open the doors of our hearts to the real connections we seek as humans. The world is filled with loneliness right now and if we understand the huge variety of fulfilling intimate experiences available to us – and we begin to practice intimacy – we will all be much happier, probably healthier, and certainly more in love.
*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.