As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, stopping the virus remains our top collective priority—and that's the way it should be. Still, depending on your personal quarantine living situation, it may also be impacting your relationship. In this inaugural edition of Good@Sex, Alexandra Fine—sexologist, co-founder and CEO of Dame Products, and Well+Good Changemaker—explains how to feel close to your partner and maintain intimacy without touching, if you can't be physically together during this time.
My partner and I don't live together and are quarantining in our respective homes right now. Days have turned into weeks, which have now turned into months, and it feels like we're suddenly in a long-distance relationship. How can we maintain connection and intimacy without touching when we can't share space or physically be together for this indefinite period of time?
First, let me say that human connection feeds our mental health, which is, of course, a huge component of our entire health. The precautions we’re taking to protect essential workers and our at-risk loved ones are necessary, but that doesn’t mean that your personal sacrifices aren’t very real. To be sure, distancing yourself from your partner is certainly a sacrifice worth acknowledging. Honoring your need for connection and intimacy is important, and you took the first step by asking this question.
In terms of answering that very valid question, the best place to start is to first define intimacy and also understand all the things it can mean. Because, you'll be glad to learn, it's possible to access intimacy without touching. Philosopher Alain de Botton says intimacy is “the capacity to be rather weird with someone—and finding that that’s okay with them.” To that end, intimacy is a connection between individuals where those involved see each other in themselves and feel seen. There is usually some element of vulnerability, but not always.
Beyond that broad-strokes conceptual understanding, there are four main types of intimacy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. So while we need to be grounded in our bodies to experience anything at all, we don’t need physical interaction in order to form intimacy (though, admittedly, it is effective in creating that connection). You can certainly create emotional, mental, or spiritual connections via conversation alone. For instance, you could spend time thinking together about a powerful life experience you'd like to share, or you could even watch the same movie and chat over video after about it afterward. There's no right way to be intimate, but understanding what it means can certainly help you identify how you can access it in a way that feeds you best.
Ultimately, a sense of physical intimacy comes from within—even when someone is touching you. Because of this, it’s totally possible to experience physical intimacy while being physically apart.
But, how can you foster physical intimacy, specifically, without physical touch? Because while video chats are great, they aren't tactile, and that lack of a key sense can feel like a wrench in the development and maintenance of passion, right? Well, not quite. It's key to remember that ultimately, a sense of physical intimacy comes from within—even when someone is touching you. Because of this, it’s totally possible to experience physical intimacy while being physically apart.
We can use language and telecommunication to express our desire to touch each other. We can bathe in the glory of our desire to rub up naked on each other. We can send each other sexy photos or texts. We can use lots of adjectives to describe hard or soft or juicy sensations. We can just listen to each other’s breath as we masturbate silently. We can have sex in so many ways that don’t require being in the same room.
In fact, there are some benefits of time spent physically apart that are worth acknowledging. For one, you are fully in control of your environment. So set up your ideal mood-setting ambiance. Put on that sexy dress you like. Experience the content you think will arouse you before your virtual date. Safety is foundational to intimacy, and being in your own physical space provides safety for exploring your deepest desires.
And if you need a place to start, try masturbating alone to the idea of having phone sex or video sex. Imagine listening to your partner breathe heavily as you explain your disappearing wardrobe. Even just letting your partner know you thought of them during your solo practice can create a sense of physical intimacy. And who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something about your own sexuality that will stay with you past this era of long-distance-only sex.
As CEO of Dame Products, Alexandra Fine translates the nuances of our sexualities into human-friendly toys for sex and sexual wellness products. A lifelong student of sexual health, Alexandra earned her master's in clinical psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University. In founding Dame Products, she intends to start necessary conversations, to listen rather than assume, and to create products that enhance intimacy.
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