What is intimacy and why are boundaries important?

Intimacy can be defined as close familiarity or friendship.


What is intimacy? 

When we think of intimacy, we often think of physical acts with our romantic or sexual partners; our minds tend to transport to all things sex, but intimacy goes much further than just sex. Intimacy is a deep and meaningful connection we develop with another person. It’s learning to trust another person with a part of ourselves that we may not have trusted anybody with before.

This connection can be emotional, physical, or spiritual. It’s the feeling of being close to and supported by another person. A feeling of being safe and secure, trusting that person with your truth, being able to let your guard down and be yourself with them and know and trust that you are safe.

Although we often mistake intimacy for being something only shared between romantic or sexual partners, intimacy takes place in a variety of relationships or settings every day, including friendships and places.

Intimacy is about developing a trusting, respectful and honest relationship with clear and open communication.

The word 'intimate' is even used to describe the feel of a place, to convey whether something had a personal touch or how small a gathering was, “It was an intimate gathering” for example, indicates that the event was kept small and there was potential for meaningful conversation.

Emotional intimacy

Emotional intimacy suggests a comfortableness to be vulnerable with another human being, through deep conversation and a genuine interest in one another, people can learn about each other and develop an understanding of each other.

Ideas thoughts and feelings are shared, a deep level of trust is reached, a connection is established, and the relationship is founded on more than just physical intimacy. There is a genuine interest in one another’s lives, they want to delight in each other’s triumphs and share any struggles.

This is all part of allowing each other into a space that might have been guarded before but now feels safe to allow someone into.

Spiritual intimacy 

Opening up to someone without fear of judgment and being accepted for who you are can be an incredibly meaningful and intimate experience. For some, it may be the first time they've been able to be honest about their true feelings or beliefs. 

Having a spiritual connection does not mean you agree with everything or share all of the same values, but it does mean that you value one another enough to respect each other’s space and beliefs.

Physical intimacy

Physical intimacy is an expression of feelings. It goes without saying that physical intimacy involves touch, but physical intimacy is about much more than sex, it’s about the connection a person feels during those moments.

Physical intimacy, much like the categories above highlights the desire to share a close proximity with another person, wanting to be close to them and wanting to feel their skin on yours and the reassurance and calmness you feel when that connection occurs.

Examples of intimacy:

Although intimacy can be split into the above categories, when you break them down into the examples below, I feel they often overlap each other. 

  • supporting each other
  • listening to each other
  • good communication
  • feeling safe
  • showing/accepting vulnerability
  • hand holding
  • skin-to-skin contact
  • sexual activity
  • sexual intercourse
  • kissing
  • cuddling
  • hugging
  • siting together
  • spending time together
  • feeling connected
  • eye contact
  • showing affection
  • respecting one another
  • paying attention to each other
  • showing interest in one another’s interests/passions
  • showing gratitude
  • helping each other
  • trust

Setting boundaries and having respect

Intimacy isn’t always easy, and it’s not something you have to do just because a relationship or friendship has already begun. Boundaries play an important role in an intimate relationship and it’s a good idea to establish your boundaries and express them with your partner or friend.

It’s always OK to change your mind and to say no even if this is somebody you’ve already shared intimacy with.

Intimacy is about developing a trusting, respectful and honest relationship with clear and open communication. Part of that is being able to express your wants and needs with the reassurance that you will be listened to, even if the conversation is initially uncomfortable.

If you would like to discuss anything written in this article or you'd like some support, you're welcome to get in touch with me.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Birmingham, West Midlands, B43
Written by Jodie McCormack, Integrative Counsellor MBACP
Birmingham, West Midlands, B43

Jodie McCormack is an integrative counsellor, she works with adults helping them to build happier and healthier relationships with themselves and the people in their lives. She's very big on self-care, body confidence and stress management and loves supporting people in these areas to help them live a life they can feel comfortable with.

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