Love & Sex

You Can Still Have Great Sex Without Intimacy

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Attentive lovers can still feel nothing and that's not always a bad thing.

During a recent Masters of Sex panel discussion, Michael Sheen expressed a well-conceived opinion of the show's complexity, “We have this word ‘love,’ and it means whatever it means for everybody and we all put a pretty little bow on it, but nobody knows what that is,” he said. “One of the things I find fascinating about the show is that it’s a show about sex but you can’t separate the sex and the sexuality from the emotions and the psychology that go along with it — all those things go together. Time makes you intimate, that’s just what happens. Those are the ties that bind us.” I believe this statement to be true, to an extent, but it leaves out those of us who actually can separate sex and emotions.

I was sixteen when I shucked my virginity off on a gravel roof nearby Union Square in New York City. This moment was supposed to be meaningful, which it was, but not in the sense of exchanging some emotional connection between two people. The decision to have sex was made within a few minutes of making out without much fanfare. We weren't super close friends, but we'd known each other for some time, and would remain friends after. Even in retrospect, I believe I was an attentive lover, albeit an amateur. I didn't feel we shared intimacy, but really, that was fine. To the best of my knowledge, he felt nothing either. The more emotionally affecting portion of the evening was seeing the scariest teen film, Larry Clark's Kids, later that night. We slept together casually for a few years after that and maintained a respect for each other, but no level of intimacy was ever reached. I learned that I was, despite the physics of rom-coms, in a partnership between two people who could compartmentalize sex and emotions.

Sheen had it right that time binds us, but he leaves out the internal decision to do so. If two people choose not advance their relationship, why can't they have sex without intimacy? In my experience it is largely a conscious decision to aspire to a relationship, and that opens one up to initiating and reciprocating intimacy. Some people always want the intimacy and the relationship, but some of us do not. At my most gluttonous stage of singlehood, there was awareness and respect in my sex life, but no intimacy because I had no desire to experience it. Even if one of the guys got under my skin, that in itself was my choice — no angst about it.

I think we often confuse a responsive lover with one with whom we share intimacy, but they don't always go hand-in-hand. Being attentive during sex can be misconstrued as intimacy, and it's the responsibility of us, the compartmentalizers, to clarify the difference when we're in a sexual relationship with someone who can't. I do not believe you are weak and lovelorn any more than I believe myself to be a loveless sociopath. My current relationship being proof of that.

It's refreshing to hear Sheen's eloquent take on a complex issue even if it's not mine. Sex is the center of so many interpersonal arguments and it changes person-to-person and day-to-day, it's worth the analysis even if we aren't all in agreement.

Image via Showtime