What is intimacy to you?” Recently, I asked this of a man I’ve been seeing. He replied, “Doing things together.” I knew what he meant.
Most of us have a primal craving to be truly known by someone before we die, to build a deeply committed relationship based on honesty, trust, self-disclosure, respect, appreciation, interdependence, and togetherness. But the sexes often define intimacy differently. When women want to draw closer, we face each other, lock eyes in what has been called the “anchoring gaze,” and proceed to reveal our hopes, our worries, our lives. To women, intimacy is talking face-to-face—a behavior that probably evolved millions of years ago when ancestral females spent their days holding their infants up in front of them, soothing them with words.
Men, however, often regard intimacy as working or playing side-by-side. Sure, they might discuss a bad week at work, even troubles in their love lives. But rarely do they share their secret dreams and darkest fears. (When they do, they often use “joke speak,” camouflaging their feelings with humor.) And men almost never look deeply into each other’s eyes. Their approach to intimacy probably also harks back to prehistory: Picture ancestral males gathering behind a bush, quietly staring across the grass in hopes of felling a passing buffalo. They faced their enemies but sat next to their friends.
This is why, to build intimacy with a man, I do things with him—side-by-side. That way, when I talk, he isn’t threatened by my gaze.
Curious to find out more about such gender differences, I asked 4,876 members of the Internet dating site Chemistry.com , “What would you do as an intimate activity with a partner?” and offered various choices. I found that men were far more likely to regard “debating” as intimate. I wasn’t surprised: Intimacy requires being in your comfort zone, and men’s testosterone is associated with competitiveness. On the other hand, women were more likely to consider “organizing a neighborhood or community party together” and “taking a vacation together with a crowd of your closest friends” as ways to be close. Because estrogen is associated with social skills and nurturing, I wasn’t surprised by this either.
What I didn’t expect was that 95 percent of all respondents rated “talking heart-to-heart with your partner about your relationship” as something they’d do to be intimate, while 94 percent felt that “doing something adventurous together” spelled togetherness—with hardly any difference between the sexes. If these results are any indication that men are learning to appreciate women’s need to talk, while women are understanding the male way of showing love (“actions speak louder than words”), then bravo!
There are, of course, many other things you can do to cultivate togetherness . Help your partner achieve his goals. Face your problems as a team. Develop a private spiritual or religious world. Choose a new interest to pursue jointly. Do chores together. Play.
And get the oxytocin flowing. Oxytocin is a brain chemical that produces feelings of trust and attachment. Men get a blast of it when they kiss, women feel a rush when they hold a lover’s hand, and during orgasm, both partners are flooded with the powerful substance. So last but not least, enjoy each other physically. Good sex really does build intimacy.
If your bedroom action could use a boost, you’re not alone. A whopping 59 percent of men and women say they want to make their sex lives more playful and fun, according to a new survey released today by International Communications Research and sponsored by We-Vibe.
But if most people are craving more excitement in bed, why are we still having run-of-the-mill sex? Many couples are afraid to switch up a sexual script that’s working—meaning, both partners are already getting off—says relationship expert Wendy Walsh, Ph.D., author of The 30-Day Love Detox. “People learn to play each other’s instruments, and then they go to the same two spots,” she says. “But you become accustomed to that and you can become numb emotionally and physically. Then things just don’t work as well as they did before.”
Take your sex life from meh to amazing with these tips from the experts:
Stop Faking It Immediately
You probably wouldn’t say you had a blast on your date if it was actually a bore, so why lie in the bedroom? If you want more exciting sex, don’t pretend to like something that doesn’t actually excite you. “You shouldnever fake an orgasm,” says Walsh. “That thing he was doing wrong—he’s now going to keep doing it.” Instead, let him know when something feels amazing, either by speaking up or engaging in some pretty obvious body language. That way there’s no confusion about what you really like in bed. (Also worth nothing: Great sex can exist without an orgasm.)
Ignore Your Instincts
That stereotype that men are the only ones who crave something new in bed is so false. In fact, research shows women are even more likely to want sexual novelty, says Walsh. Satisfy the urge by doing something totally outside your sexual script, like making a sex bucket list, getting busy in every room but your bedroom, having sex before work in the morning, or even heading to a hotel for a distraction-free hookup.
Play Up the Fantasy
So how do you bring up the fact that you want to try a new position or light bondage? “Put the thing you’d like to do into the context of a sexy fantasy or dream that involves your partner,” says sex therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D., author of She Comes First. For instance, you can tell him you had a crazy-hot dream about shower sex last night or that you can’t get this Fifty Shades-style fantasy out of your head. He’ll definitely get the hint.
Match Your Position to Your Mood
Just like your dates range from romantic to passionate, your hookups should, too. Depending on the mood you’re in, get creative with your sex style, says Kerner. Craving emotional intimacy and eye contact? Go withMissionary. Feel like ripping each other’s clothes off the second you get home? Opt for Upstanding Citizen against a wall. Ready to take control? Hop on top for Reverse Cowgirl. You get the idea.
Put It in Your iCal
We know, scheduling sex—ugh. But even just giving yourself a mental heads-up can put you in a sexy mindset all day long. Whether it’s wearinghot new lingerie all day, getting a wax, or texting your partner something you’re dying to do later, these little rituals can act as extended foreplay, says Walsh.
Dress the Part
Use pop-up Halloween stores to your advantage, and pick up a few sultry accessories or even a full outfit, says Kerner. Putting on a totally different persona (whether it’s with a blonde wig and thigh highs or a sexy nurse’s outfit) will give you both a chance to play out a fantasy with lowered inhibitions.
Make foreplay more fun by turning it into a giver-and-receiver game, says Kerner. Decide how much time to spend on each person, and take turns doing whatever you or your partner wants. Then switch. Bonus: Pleasing your partner can turn you on even more.
Just Go For It
When in doubt, take the reins. “If you’re a woman wanting more novelty, it’s great to be a little bold and assertive,” says Kerner. Just slow down and kiss your partner before changing positions so it doesn’t seem like you’re dissing their moves.