Episode 269 – Emotional or Physical Intimacy First?

physical vs emotional intimacy

One of the most common disagreements I hear from couples about sex are about emotional and physical intimacy and which goes first. In my mind, it looks a lot like a tug of war between the couple to show which is the right kind of intimacy for a marriage. It’s time to drop the rope, and find a better way. Listen to this podcast to hear why we need to find a better way and how to do it.

Show Notes:

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Show Summary:

One of the most common disagreements I hear from couples about sex are about emotional and physical intimacy and which goes first.  Typically the woman wants more emotional connection and the man wants more physical connection.  Each one saying that they can’t give one until they get the other and neither are happy and satisfied.  When I think of this dynamic, in my mind I picture a tug of war.  Each one pulling or trying to convince their spouse that they are right but both staying stuck and neither getting what they actually want.  And what they both need to do is drop the rope in order to move forward.


In general, most women (and some men) value emotional intimacy over physical intimacy.  Emotional intimacy plays a huge role in helping them build trust, connection, and overall satisfaction in their relationships.  Here are a few reasons why individuals may want emotional intimacy before connecting physically: 

  1. Trust and security: Emotional intimacy helps build a foundation of trust and security within a relationship. Feeling emotionally connected to their partner can make women feel safe and comfortable, which can then lead to a greater willingness to be physically intimate.
  2. Emotional connection: For some women, feeling emotionally connected to their partner is an important aspect of their overall connection and satisfaction in a relationship. They may value deep conversations, shared experiences, and a sense of understanding and emotional support before engaging in physical intimacy.
  3. Communication and understanding: Emotional intimacy often involves open and honest communication, active listening, and understanding each other’s needs and desires. By developing emotional intimacy, women can feel more comfortable expressing their boundaries, preferences, and desires, which can contribute to a healthier and more enjoyable physical connection.
  4. Emotional fulfillment: Women, like everyone else, have emotional needs that they seek to fulfill in relationships. Emotional intimacy can provide a sense of emotional fulfillment, closeness, and bonding that enhances the overall quality of the relationship, making physical connection more meaningful and satisfying.
  5. Feeling valued and respected: Emotional intimacy can help women feel valued, respected, and appreciated by their partners. Feeling emotionally connected can create a sense of being seen, understood, and valued for who they are beyond their physical appearance.

On the flip side, most men (and some women) value physical intimacy over emotional intimacy.  Here are a few reasons why individuals may want to connect physically before being able to connect emotionally.

  1. Physical expression of love: Physical intimacy, such as touch, closeness, and sexual connection, can be a primary way for some men to express their love, affection, and desire for their partner. They may feel that physical connection helps them feel closer and more connected emotionally.
  2. Increased emotional vulnerability: For some men, physical intimacy can facilitate emotional connection by creating a sense of vulnerability and openness. Engaging in physical acts of intimacy can create a safe space where they feel comfortable expressing their emotions and being emotionally available to their partner.
  3. Enhanced emotional bonding: Physical intimacy can contribute to a deeper sense of emotional bonding for some men. The release of oxytocin during physical touch and sexual activity can foster feelings of trust, attachment, and emotional closeness.
  4. Emotional connection through shared experiences: Some men may find that physical intimacy, such as engaging in activities together or experiencing new things, helps foster emotional connection. Sharing physical experiences can lead to shared emotional experiences, strengthening the bond between partners.
  5. Emotional release and stress reduction: Physical intimacy can provide a means for men to release stress, tension, and emotions. Engaging in physical acts of intimacy may help them relax, feel more present, and create a sense of emotional well-being, which can then facilitate emotional connection.

Many times emotional intimacy is held in higher regards than physical intimacy and as the “right way.”  This can be because of societal norms and expectations; we view emotional intimacy as a deeper and a more valid form of connection.  Or we think that physical intimacy is just a cheap version of intimacy and connection.  I don’t think either of those are true.  I think both are valid and necessary for overall marital satisfaction.


So if one partner wants emotional intimacy first and the other partner wants physical intimacy first, who wins? What happens first? What’s more important?


I think it’s vital that we realize that both are important.  Both are needed.  Both are valid.  And there needs to be some give and take.  It can’t be a tug of war with one person insisting that they are right and their partner is wrong.  


I think a lot of times we want to blame our partner and say things like “well if he would just connect with me emotionally first…” or “if she would just have sex with me first…” But that doesn’t solve the problem.  That keeps the blame on the other person instead of each of us being willing to look at ourselves first and how we are contributing to the dynamic.


So how are we contributing to the dynamic?  By not pushing ourselves to grow and change.  If you are one that wants emotional intimacy first, what are you doing to grow yourself to desire physical intimacy first? Are you expecting your spouse to create it for you?  Are you looking for ways to be emotionally connected to your spouse through the physical?  I often hear from women that they don’t get any emotional connection out of sex.  It’s purely physical for them.  That is a place for you to grow.  To learn how to emotionally connect THROUGH sex.  Are you one that wants physical intimacy first and the emotional part comes as part of that or after?  What can you do to create more emotional intimacy beforehand?  It’s not impossible and it may not come naturally, but it is a skill that you can work on and develop.


I want to be clear that I am not asking either party to resentfully accommodate their spouse.  I’m not asking you to do something that puts your physical or emotional safety at risk.  Safety is an important part of sex.  Pushing yourself to do something that feels emotionally or physically unsafe is self-betrayal and that is NEVER a good thing.  If there are other parts of your marriage dynamic that are playing into this tug of war, then those need to be addressed BEFORE this part of your relationship can be addressed.  No one should feel like they have to do something they really don’t want to do in order to connect with their spouse.  


But a lot of times we get into this power play of emotional vs physical instead of realizing that what we are both seeking is connection.  We both want it, we just have different preferences for getting there. So we have to look for ways to have a win-win instead of the win-lose scenario that many propose by insisting that it’s their way or the highway.  You have to come together, look at the issue to be solved (that you both want connection) and realize that both people’s wants and desires are important, and then work to figure out a solution that works for both.  That isn’t always easy.  But that is truly the hallmark of an intimate, collaborative marriage.  That is what a celestial marriage is all about, I believe.  Counseling together to figure out what is best for all.


In the book “Let’s Talk About Temples and Ritual” by Jennifer Lane, the author writes  “The covenant that applies to all is what we choose to do with our bodies. We may not be accountable for others’ choices or feelings or even our sense of identity, but a core of moral principle is that we are agents and we are accountable for our actions.” 


I was recently listening to the All In podcast where the author, Jennifer Lane was being interviewed about her book.  The host, Morgan Pearson asked her, “Why is it that what we do with our bodies is so pivotal in our covenant keeping?”  And Jennifer responds, “Ritual IS embodiment.  There’s so many things that we can’t control about our mortal experience. So we have to look for where the agency is and where the accountability is.   As we know, our bodies aren’t separate from ourselves. They are a part of ourselves.  But most of how we express our desires in life is what we do with our bodies. And so I think when we think about worship as embodied, worship is lived.  In Hebrew, the verbs that get translated as WORSHIP, their root meanings have to do with what we do with our bodies.  To bow down and to serve.”


While her book and what she was speaking about were about the temple, I think these same words can be applied to our experiences within our marriage.  We covenant to choose our spouse.  To council together.  To labor together. Those covenants are lived out through our bodies and that is where our agency and our accountability are.


In D&C 88:15 it says that “when the spirit and body are separated, men and women “cannot receive a fullness of joy.” Elder Holland talks about sex being a complete union in his talk Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments.  Is sex not also a worshipping of each other?  A complete union of mind, body, and soul?  A way to keep our covenants through our embodiment?  I think it is.


Emotional intimacy is not better than physical intimacy.  Physical intimacy is not better than emotional intimacy.  Both are needed in every marriage.  If you want either without having the other, you are missing out on a far richer experience where both are enhanced by one another. 


Couples must work together to achieve both.  While one may not be as easy or comfortable for you, that is your work to do.  To get comfortable with the uncomfortable.  To grow.  To change.  To understand why it is uncomfortable and work through that to change it. To work to have more emotional intimacy or more physical intimacy so that you can grow, connect, and love each other in the ways that you both want and need.

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