Intimacy, or, to Ruffle the Feathers Lovingly

Kevin Kline: To kiss a prostitute, it costs more.

Meg Ryan: That makes sense. A kiss is so intimate. You could probably disconnect from everything else, but a kiss… Two people’s lips together, their breath, a little bit of their soul. (Stops). All I mean is that a kiss is where the romance is.
–French Kiss

We talk a lot about sex. Sex is fun. But even though sex (usually) involves stripping down and exposing oneself to another human being, it isn’t always intimate. It’s very possible to have sex without being fully aware of your partner’s body or emotional state. . . in fact sometimes it’s too easy to do so.

Remember that scene in French Kiss when Kevin Kline’s character explains that a kiss from a prostitute cost more than sex? Meg Ryan’s eyes fall shut as she muses on how a kiss is the truly intimate act. He snorts in derision but by the end of the movie all either one of them wants is just to kiss each other.

If you were having that conversation, what would you define as the most intimate part of sexual contact? Or is your definition of intimacy even sexual? Perhaps it’s the quiet moments in the kitchen when you’re both fixing your morning coffee, or the last moment before you fall asleep together.

I’m not personally a fan of sexual bells and whistles. New poses and toys are all fun but in my opinion should only come later when you want to keep things fresh. At the beginning, for me, it’s all about whatever happens naturally. I’m fascinated by the unexpected intimate moment. Having sex with someone for the first time, whether you know him well or not, is a peaceful form of combat, a discovery of vulnerabilities–a sometimes addictive confrontational exposure. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine. Then what happens?

Bruising, pounding, hand clutching the headboard, trying to catch breath–but no eye contact.

Or, he gets up afterward and turns on his laptop.

Or, he pulls you close, snuggling your head on his shoulder.

Or you’re so spent that you fall asleep without noticing what he does.

Or you roll over, not interested in snuggling.

Or you lay there wondering how long you should wait before getting him riled up again so you can go at it one more time.

Can he make you laugh during sex without either of you losing the mood?

Does he look you in the eye? Do you want to meet his?

Can you recover afterward from an awkward flub? Does it make you feel closer to him or are you just being polite, waiting until he goes?

The next morning when you first see his face, you feel. . .

What is the most intimate experience you’ve had that didn’t involve sex? Did it involve hand-holding, dirty socks, just finally letting down your guard?

I’ve had sex with a man that wasn’t nearly as intimate as an unrelated, PG conversation we had a few weeks later. I’ve had sexual contact that didn’t include kissing–when we finally did kiss it felt far more intimate than anything else we had done. I’ve been pushed to raw uncensored emotional honesty in the bedroom by someone I could barely have a conversation with outside of it.

You just never know what you’ll find, in him, or you, or what you create together. That’s what makes it such an addictive gamble.

Although I’m no expert on longterm relationships I have observed many couples losing desire for each other because there are too many things swept under the rug. A few fights that were never resolved, one of you puts on a bit of weight and feels insecure, the other is always stressed and tired from work, and sex becomes at best a comforting ritual, at worst something to avoid. You can’t be spontaneous and challenge each other sexually because you’re afraid of resurrecting all these stifled insecurities, fears, or resentment.

Sex is, ideally, a spontaneous confrontation. Hormones aren’t driven through the body by boredom, rather, by a bit of fear, a challenge, even anger. One doesn’t connect through apathy.

I recently overhead one coworker exclaim to the other, who was jokingly demonstrating how his neighbor touches his shoulder whenever he greets him, “Omigod! I haven’t been touched like that in ten years!”

She burst out laughing, but I hoped she wasn’t telling the truth–she’s only in her mid-thirties and can’t have been married much longer than a decade. I hope her husband touches her like that all the time.

Whatever your relationship status, I hope the coming week brings you an unexpected moment of intimacy. . . and if it doesn’t, let’s consider it a challenge to seek one out, however many feathers it ruffles.

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