Emotional and Sexual Intimacy ‑‑ are men and women really that different?

Posted On: Monday, January 28, 2019

Emotional and Sexual Intimacy -- Are men and women really that different? / Boca Raton Marriage Counselor Couples Counselor LMFT Laura Richter

Research in the early 2000s asked the question, "If a man or woman had an affair, what would be more hurtful to their partners ‑‑ the idea of having sex with another person or that he or she became emotionally attached to another individual?" The assumption was that men had extramarital affairs for sexual connection and women had affairs to become more emotionally connected. The findings were a bit surprising, as studies revealed that men, just as much as women, were looking for emotional bonding and support through extramarital relationships.

This is still true today. It might be said that men are more inclined to measure love based on physical attraction and connection, whereas women tend to measure love based on emotional closeness. Whether male or female, we all have experienced times when giving of ourselves emotionally can feel scary and unsafe. Also, our culture and society often suggest that sharing emotionally can be a sign of weakness. This makes us feel even more vulnerable.

The basic principles of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) explain that emotional "safety" matters in a relationship ‑‑ for both partners. Being able to demonstrate this to one another can be challenging. And many times, men tend to measure emotional closeness through sexual connection. Whereas women tend to need emotional closeness before experiencing sexual connection and pleasure.

EFT explains this from the perspective of attachment theory. Attachment theory is based on John Bowlby's assumption that in order to feel safe and secure in a relationship, one must experience secure attachment and bonding. And secure attachment begins to be formed at infancy. Secure attachment suggests that one is able to experience closeness and vulnerability without fear of abandonment or rejection. This is required for sexual intimacy as well as emotional intimacy. In many cases, the difference between men and women is that men feel more reassured and loved (emotionally) by experiencing sexual intimacy; and woman require words of reassurance, affirmation and love to feel more emotionally close and sexual.

When couples are not feeling securely attached and connected, they tend to send mixed messages to each other. This is because they don't know how to express underlying hurt, pain, sadness, and loneliness. For example, the act of viewing online porn can often send the unintentional message that your partner is not sexually desirable. So can affairs. But often these behaviors don't really express what is really going on. And of course, these behaviors would seem to defy the quest for emotional intimacy.

So the next time your partner turns to you and says in a somewhat critical way, "you never want to have sex with me," it might be useful to read between the lines. What he or she might really be saying is, "I love you, I miss you, I'm lonely. Please show me that you care."

And this also might be a good time to seek the help of a couples therapist who specializes in working with both sexual and emotional intimacy problems. It's important to know that there is hope for better times and a much more secure and satisfying relationship based on both ‑‑ sexual and emotionally intimacy!

Dr. Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. Her specialties include: surviving infidelity, improving communication, beginning again after divorce and effective co-parenting after divorce. She is also a trained mediator, qualified parenting coordinator and collaborative law mental health professional. For more information, please call or text us today at 561-715-6404 to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.