At the budding stages of a new relationship, there is often lots of hand-holding, kissing, cuddling and spooning, as well as sexual intimacy.
But as a relationship goes on, the balance of different kinds of intimacy can get out of order. This seems to be especially so for couples struggling with sexual difficulties, such as a desire discrepancy or performance anxiety.
For example, one client told me that her husband would constantly grab her bottom or her breasts, even though he knew her reaction to this was not positive. Another example is a client who told me about how they would avoid all forms of physical contact in case it led to sexual initiation – which it always seemed to.
As I’ve heard different stories like this over time, it has clarified for me how important it is for couples to have a good ratio of non-sexual intimacy, sexual affection and sexual intimacy.
Non-sexual intimacy is any form of touch and affection that does not lead to sex – such as hugs, kissing, holding hands, a shoulder rub, a hand on the lap, etc. This kind of affection builds closeness and trust in a relationship. This kind of touch does not usually include breasts, bottoms or genitals.
Sexual affection, in my definition, is any kind of affection that has a sexual innuendo, but again does not lead to sex itself in that moment. Examples of this include a bottom squeeze, tongue kissing, or biting your partner’s lip. Whilst sexual affection does not lead to sex right then and there, it helps to let your partner know they are desirable and builds anticipation for sex.
And then there is sexual intimacy itself – the initiation of sex and the variety of sexual activities you share with a partner.
In a kinda geeky way, I like to think of these different kinds of touch and intimacy in terms of a ratio:
- Non-sexual intimacy to sexual affection to sexual intimacy ratio; or
- Non-sexual intimacy : sexual affection : sexual intimacy.
Now think about a 1:3:4 ratio – for every one act of non-sexual intimacy there are 3 acts of sexual affection and 4 acts of sexual initiation. This means that there is very little cuddling, hand-holding and day-to-day non-sexual intimacy and a big focus on sexual innuendo and initiation.
And in my experience with clients, this is a recipe for resentment and relationship dissatisfaction in the long-run. (Unless both people are outwardly happy with this arrangement).
But now think about a 4:2:1 ratio – for every 4 cuddles or shoulder rubs, there are 2 bottom taps or lip nibbles, and 1 sexual initiation. This ratio has a very different feel – there is lots of day-to-day affection, some nice anticipatory sexual affection, and a sexual initiation as the cherry on top.
Now these numbers are arbitrary – it could be 8:2:1 that suits you, or 13:5:3, or something else – but the key idea here is to think about what ratio you want to create in your relationship.
At the start of a relationship this balance may come without any effort, but in longer-term relationships getting the right balance can take active consideration and clear communication about your expectations.
Dr. Alice Hucker