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What is emotional intimacy and how do we maintain it in relationships?

Building intimacy in a relationship is a complex process and believe it or not, there are many different types of intimacy. Intimacy with another person requires self awareness, compassion and vulnerability and once you’ve achieved that all-important closeness with that person, you have to work at maintaining it too.

According to Psychosexual therapist, BBC One’s Sex on the Couch presenter and author of audiobook 12 Steps to Sexual Connection, Lohani Noor, there are two fundamental types of intimacy in a romantic relationship: sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy. They’re connected, because without emotional intimacy it can be hard to connect with your partner physically, but they’re not the same thing.

Emotional intimacy is all about getting to know your partner on a deeper level, making sure that you each feel safe and secure, being able to communicate clearly and building trust so that you can be your most vulnerable selves with each other.

What is emotional intimacy?

“We need emotional intimacy. As humans, we are hard-wired for connection.” explains clinical social worker, Debbie Radzinsky. “Emotional intimacy brightens our mood by activating feel-good neurotransmitters: oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. Intimacy can even extend our life expectancy.”

When we feel connected to others it makes us feel good, promoting feelings of calm and contentment. But often, we can find it difficult to tap into this connectedness. “But,” says Radzinsky. “emotional intimacy in a relationship doesn’t just happen spontaneously. Building and maintaining emotional intimacy takes time.”

Talking about your feelings, especially in a new relationship can be challenging. It’s not easy to just open up, particularly if you don’t fully trust the person you’re dating. And this trust might not be possible for you, if you struggle with attachment for any reason.

Intimacy can be difficult for those who find it difficult to communicate their feelings or be vulnerable with others and Noor explains that these issues usually begin in childhood. The good news is that we can unlearn what we know and reset our brains and behaviours to build more healthy intimate relationships, it just takes time.

Issues with emotional intimacy
“When you’re little you might think you’ve got a really good strategy for getting your needs met. And you’ll scream until you’re sick.” says Noor. “And someone comes and picks you up and it works. It works because it’s acceptable when you’re four. Unfortunately, our parents don’t teach us how to ask for what we want in a more meaningful way. We understand that on a primal level, [screaming is] the strategy for getting what we want. So then when we’re an adult, and in a difficult relationship, and we’re really struggling, we’ve got no reference point and no internal narrative around these difficult emotions, so we might decide to act out in a very similar way to how we did before.”

It’s no wonder that as adults we can find it so difficult to ask for what we really want. Instead, in relationships we may act out in some irrational way involving shouting, sulking or breaking things. “It [feels] easier to do that in the hopes that the other person will say, ‘Oh, I get it, you want me to love you right now.’ But it doesn’t work, does it? Because you’re an adult, and it’s not acceptable,” she says.

Shutting down emotionally, going silent or acting out and shouting are all mechanisms we use in adulthood to convey emotions when we’re not sure how to connect with others and ask for what we actually need. Similarly, we might be defensive if our partner asks us for something because we might not feel worthy or capable of giving it to them. Our communication has to work both ways to build healthy, regulated emotional intimacy and it starts with being unafraid to say how we really feel and feeling able to listen to our partners and confident to try to give them what they need from us.

How to maintain emotional intimacy
Set your intention
You both have to want to work on your intimacy, and setting a goal or intention can help you to do this. For instance, you may want to feel like you can trust your partner more, you may want them to feel like they can confide in you or you may wish to feel more supported by them when you are struggling with something. Setting this intention before you have conversations about your relationship can help with getting you to where you want to be.

Listen to each other
Listening is a great skill and it isn’t simply waiting for your turn to talk. Instead of focusing on everything you disagree with or taking everything your partner says personally, try to actively listen to everything they have to say and consider it all before you reply. Mentally process what they are saying and try to define what they are asking for from you. This can be challenging, especially in the beginning, but listening to one another calmly and actively is the first step to being truly emotionally intimate. Your partner will feel much more able to trust you if you can listen to them without interrupting, getting defensive or losing your temper and the same applies when they are listening to you.

Use ‘I’ statements
When communicating with a partner, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Such as: “I feel like X when X happens” as opposed to “You made me feel like X”. Noor explains this is about “being accountable for your own feelings and not making them about the other person.” She adds, “Simply recognising that somebody doesn’t make you mad. They might invite you to feel mad, but it’s an invitation that you can refuse. It’s really taking ownership of what’s going on for you and [communicating that] rather than acting it out. So rather than escalating the situation, say, ‘I feel really crazy angry right now’. Just that difference massively changes whether or not your partner can hear you.”

Use empathy as a superpower
Being able to relate to one another’s feelings is a core pillar of emotional intimacy. Understanding how your partner may be feeling and inviting them to relate to how you are feeling builds deeper intimacy and ultimately makes it easier to care for one another, even during challenging times where you might not be acting like yourselves.

Empathy is an incredible tool and a strength in every relationship, whether that’s your romantic partnerships, your family dynamics, friendships or even at work. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to experience the world from their perspective can help you understand them better, feel closer to them and earn their trust. It can also help to de-escalate stressful situations and potential conflicts.

When words fail you, use tools
If talking about your feelings is too much at any point, you can turn to helpful relationship tools that will help you to organise your thoughts and structure your approach to intimacy. Couple’s counselling and therapy can be a great way to connect with your partner because a trained professional will be able to guide your conversations and help you uncover the issues that are making communication difficult.

You can also try relationship apps that give you daily prompts and games to play, which takes the serious edge off having these conversations and can help you to be vulnerable in a way that feels more fun for you both. There are also physical games you can play, like couple’s card games and question games. Activities like these will help you to connect, laugh together and get to know each other better, without the feeling that you’re both “doing work”.

Story by Emilie Lavinia:Cosmopolitan

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What’s The Difference Between Pansexuality And Bisexuality? The Terms Explained

Iremember the first instance I heard the word ‘pansexual’, used at the time by a 23-year-old Miley Cyrus opening up about her sexuality in an interview with Paper Magazine. In the days afterward, the now 30-year-old singer was ridiculed online and in tabloids as though she were some kind of exhausting child who just wanted attention. That’s what it’s like being pansexual, a relentless pursuit to justify your sexuality to a world of people that roll their eyes and raise their eyebrows merely hearing the word.

I know that now, because by Miley bringing the word to my attention, I began to understand that it might better describe my sexuality having previously identified as bisexual. But in a world that refuses to learn more about the many tangents of the LGBTQ+ community, the stigma around being pansexual has often kept me from feeling safe to use the term in conversation.

What does ‘pansexual’ mean?
The dictionary definition of pansexual is as follows: Pansexuality is sexual, romantic, or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are not determining factors in their romantic or sexual attraction to others.

How is pansexuality different to bisexuality?
But it’s slightly more complicated than that, especially for someone like me, who was growing up at a time when the only widely used labels for someone’s sexuality were gay, lesbian, and bisexual. I had identified as bisexual for years, and my interpretation of that was that gender didn’t factor into attraction for me – so, essentially the same thing as pansexual in my eyes.

Then, in a random conversation with a friend of a friend, I was told that the term ‘bisexual’ actually specified attraction to men and women, thus excluding anyone who didn’t fit into those binary genders, which I didn’t realise at the time is a common misconception about bisexuality. This person was projecting their own assumptions about bisexuality on to me, and since I didn’t know any better at the time, suddenly the term ‘bisexual’ started to feel exclusionary, and pansexuality became a better definition for people like me for whom gender is irrelevant.

To be clear, like most bisexual people I know, I’ve always found that distinction around gender to be unnecessary. There may well be some bisexual people who are exclusively attracted to cisgender men and women, but in my experience within the queer community, the majority of bisexual people label themselves that way because they don’t see any kind of gender as a mitigating factor in their attraction. In that sense then, the terms ‘pansexual’ and ‘bisexual’ can be used in place of one another – at least I do, but I of course don’t speak for all queer people.

Which celebrities are pansexual?
Miley Cyrus describes her choice, for example, to use the word ‘pansexual’ because she found the label ‘bisexual’ too restrictive.

‘My whole life, I didn’t understand my own gender and my own sexuality. I always hated the word “bisexual” because that’s even putting me in a box,’ she told Variety in 2016. ‘I don’t ever think about someone being a boy or someone being a girl. My eyes started opening in the fifth or sixth grade. My first relationship in my life was with a chick. Once I understood my gender more, which was unassigned, then I understood my sexuality more.’

She’s not the only Hollywood celebrity to come out as pansexual. Demi Lovato, Janelle Monáe and Cara Delevingne all identify as bisexual. British singer Yungblud has described himself as pansexual too, as has Panic! At the Disco lead Brendon Urie and actor Bella Thorne. More recently, Outer Banks star Madison Bailey came out as pansexual on TikTok, as did Dance Mons star JoJo Siwa. In 2020, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moranbecame the only pansexual MP to publicly declare their sexuality after beginning a relationship with a woman.

How do I test to see if I’m pansexual?
With so much more awareness, you can now even do ‘pansexuality tests’ online to determine whether the label better describes your sexuality. On websites like The Proud Trust, you can learn about all of the terms used to describe different sexualities in the queer community, or chat to someone on their Live Chat to have a real conversation about what sexuality means to you.

In fact, ‘pansexuality test’ is a major breakout search term in relation to the word, as is ‘pansexual memes’ and ‘pansexual flag. In case you’re looking for some wholesome pansexual memes, check out this Instagram account for the best of the best

What is the pansexuality flag?
FYI, the pansexuality flag is pink, yellow, and cyan, designed as a symbol for the pansexual community to increase its visibility and recognition, and distinguish itself from bisexuality.

So, there you have it, the definition of pansexuality explained, as well as the many different interpretations and meanings of it!

Reference: Story by Grazia Contributor: Grazia

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Love drugs could be the cure for failing marriages

Love drugs could be the cure for failing marriages

“Love drugs” could soon be used to help save failing marriages, according to an Oxford University academic.

Provided by The Telegraph Love drugs
Love is something humans do uniquely well as a species, underpinned by a battery of chemicals in our brain. Scientists have yet to master the art of bottling liquid love, but Dr Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist at Oxford University, believes that feat is fast approaching.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, the author of Why We Love: The New Science Behind Our Closest Relationships, discussed the four key chemicals in the human brain behind the mechanics of love: oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and beta endorphin.

A cocktail of these potent molecules is released when a person is in love, or falling in love, and this changes our thoughts, behaviour and emotions.

Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle” hormone and reduces inhibitions, dopamine is our “reward” hormone which makes us feel good, serotonin is what makes us obsess over another person, and beta endorphin is an opiate that makes us addicted, literally, to an individual.

These four chemicals are responsible for love, which itself evolved as a mechanism to help people raise children.

Love evolved as form of ‘biological bribery’
Evolutionarily, Dr Minchin said, women want childcare, while men want sex. This “unequal currency” was offset by the evolution of love as a form of “biological bribery”.

She believes enough is now known about brain chemistry that certain chemicals could be prescribed to “enhance your abilities to find love or to increase the possibility that you will stay in love when it is getting a bit tricky”.

“One of the frontiers of love research commercially – because can you imagine how much money you would make – is in exploring possible love drugs.

“There’s lots of ethical questions about love drugs, that love drugs are certainly on the horizon. And there is certainly research going into them.”

Speaking after her talk, Dr Machin added: “Love drugs used in couples’ therapy could be available within three to five years.”

These chemicals are likely to be based on the four neurotransmitters, like pure oxytocin, or a drug which can elicit greater production of one of them, like MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
“Oxytocin is very popular with commercial companies right now as it could help people become more confident when dating and help them fall in love,” she added.

“Oxytocin could be available within a decade for people to squirt up their nose before they go out on a Saturday night, at the same time as having a glass of prosecco.

“MDMA, for people who go clubbing, makes them feel like they love everyone else in the room.

“But users also have a surge in empathy, so it could be used to help those struggling in their marriage.

“There are more ethical questions surrounding MDMA, so that is likely to take longer.”

David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, agreed that oxytocin and serotonin were likely involved in love but is less convinced by dopamine and beta endorphin’s roles. However, he does concur that pharmaceutical love aids, such as MDMA, may be available soon.

“MDMA was widely used in the 1970s by couples counsellors in the US to help people put their marriages back together – with anecdotal good outcomes.”

Chemicals to blame for tough break-ups
Dr Machin also explained why some people take break-ups harder than others, with beta endorphin, the lesser-known of the four neurochemicals, to blame.

“Beta endorphin is an opiate. It is produced by your body and, just like heroin, it is addictive,” she said.

And when the source of the drug, a loved one, disappears, the person goes cold turkey and physically struggles at the loss of the chemical.

“That’s actually the reason why when you get dumped it feels awful because you are going into opiate withdrawal,” she said.

“Obviously, if you’re dumped, you don’t get a slow withdrawal and that is why it is so unbelievably physiologically and psychologically painful when a relationship ends in that way.

“You go from existing at quite a nice high level of all these lovely neuro chemicals and suddenly it is gone, you’ve gone full cold turkey, and all those lovely chemicals disappear and that’s why being dumped is so physiologically painful, actually painful, it can feel like your heart is breaking.”

Dr Machin added that around one in 50 people also possess a particular gene which makes them more sensitive to this process, and for them being dumped is much more hurtful.

“Some poor people who carry a version of the new opioid receptor gene, feel social rejection much, much more powerfully than the rest of us. When they get dumped it is like a million times more painful than the rest of us.”

Reference: The Telegraph: Joe Pinkstone

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Willow Smith has revealed she is polyamorous – so what is polyamory?

Willow Smith has announced that she is polyamorous.

Speaking on Red Table Talk, a chat show hosted by her mother and grandmother, the 20-year-old musician said she would be open to having more than one partner, and said the approach helps people respect each other’s needs in relationships.

She said: “With polyamory I feel like the main foundation is the freedom to be able to create a relationship style that works for you and not just (to be) stepping into monogamy because that’s what everyone around you says is the right thing to do. So I was like, how can I structure the way that I approach relationships with that in mind?

She continued: “Let’s say you haven’t always been the person wanting sex all the time, but your partner is,” she added. “Are you going to be the person to say, ‘Just because I don’t have these needs, you can’t have them either?’”

But what actually is polyamory? And what does it involve? We’ve broken it down into four key points…

But what is polyamory?

Polyamory is the concept of having more than one sexual or romantic relationship at the same time – with the informed consent of all partners involved.

The term comes from the Greek word “poly” – meaning many, and the Latin “amor” – love.

What does it involve?

The term acts as an umbrella for any non-monogamous relationship.

It can involve someone having multiple partners who are not connected; being in a group of people who date (like a throuple); or having an open hierarchical relationship in which there is a primary couple who are closest to each other, but are allowed to form emotional or sexual bonds with other people.

That the label is not just about sex is key. Dedeker Winston, author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory, told Glamour: “There are a lot of people in the polyamorous community who identify as (asexual), while Willow Smith said she has less sex than her friends.

Does it have its own symbol and day of recognition?

A polyamory pride flag was designed by Jim Evans in 1995. It has three horizontal stripes – blue, red and black – and a pi symbol in the centre.

The pi sign was chosen because it has infinite decimal places, a play on polyamorous people having “infinite” partners, while the colours chosen have various meanings including love and passion and openness among all partners.

The pi sign was chosen because it has infinite decimal places, a play on polyamorous people having “infinite” partners, while the colours chosen have various meanings including love and passion and openness among all partners.

In Canada, November 23 is National Polyamory Day, marking a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that confirmed the legality of polyamorous relationships.

Meanwhile, in the UK PolyDay is a one-day convention that has been held since 2006 to celebrate polyamory.

Which other celebrities are polyamorous?

Willow Smith is not the only celebrity to open up about this sexual identity. Big Little Lies actress Shailene Woodley said she has been in an open relationship, as has Megan Fox and YouTubers Jake Paul and Tana Mongeau.

There have been rumours that Willow Smith’s parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are also in an open relationship, with the latter once posting on social media: “Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship…this means we have a GROWN one.”

And this is not something limited to celebrity bubbles.

Nearly a third of American millennials surveyed in a 2020 YouGov poll said that their ideal relationship was non-monogamous to some degree.

 Reference: Indy 100: Kate Plummer 1 day ago

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‘Sex in later life is the last relationship taboo – and it’s time we talked about it ‘

Cast your mind back to the last time you watched – with whatever level of arousal or discomfort – a sex scene that depicted individuals anything other than young, firm and athletic.

You’re likely to be pondering for quite some time. The truth is that there are few representations of this kind.

Yet, as sex therapist Gail Thorne from relationship charity Relate says, “We’re getting better at inclusivity; at showing all kinds of different people and situations – but there are still many older people who really want to feel represented as having, and being accepted as having, intimate and loving relationships.” They want, she says, to see themselves as the poster kids for more than just life insurance and funeral homes.

“You look at advertising for clothes, for example,” says Thorne, “and you now see plus-size models and older models – but if you were to look for representations of intimacy in older people, you’d be hard-pressed to find it. And that’s part of why this campaign is so amazing.”

One of the Rankin images featured in the new Relate later life sex campaign - Rankin / Relate

The campaign to which she is referring was shot by British photographer Rankin, who has collaborated with Relate to shoot a series of black and white photos, depicting a range of couples and a single woman, all engaged in various moments of sexuality, vulnerability and intimacy.

The images in the campaign, titled ‘Let’s Talk the Joy of Later Life Sex,’ were created with input from the couples to ensure that nothing was too staged or unnatural. The impetus, says advertising and marketing agency Ogilvy, was a recognition of the fact that advertising most often fails to represent older generational intimacy, and to allow every photoshoot participant to feel “sincerely empowered.”

“We all need intimacy now more than ever,” says Rankin, who took the assignment on pro-bono. “Age… is just a number. The greatness of love and affection doesn’t need to change as we find our later years.”

According to research undertaken by 3Gem market research, there is a huge gap between how older people say they are represented in the media and how younger people perceive themselves to be: an astounding 67 per cent of over 65s say that sex and intimacy for their age group is rarely or never represented in media, compared with 20 per cent of 18-24 year olds.

Why is this the case, though? If we are to look at Maslow’s oft-touted Hierarchy of Needs, sex is a physiological need; up there with food and water – something that we cannot live without, even if we can muddle along without things further up the pyramid, such as achievement and creativity.

If we’re not uncomfortable with the idea of older people eating and drinking, then why should we feel awkward about the idea of them having sex? Equally, why should the individuals in that age group feel uncomfortable about the realities of their own sexuality? The study showed that most of the 60 per cent of over-65s who admitted to feeling uncomfortable about speaking with others about sex and intimacy cited ‘embarrassment’ as the primary reason.

Rankin Relate later life sex campaign - Rankin / Relate

Honesty and communication are, according to Thorne, key in any relationship. “Sex therapy is about encouraging people to feel confident and secure in saying what they want – what works for them; what doesn’t work for them; what feels good and what doesn’t,” she says.

By extension, it makes sense that talking about sex and intimacy – outside of the act itself – will further bolster confidence and trust: not only where people in that older age group are concerned, but also those for whom the prospect of getting older might be plagued with premature inklings of loss – loss of attractiveness, of desire and additionally, she says, of ability.

“Things change,” she says. “Women have babies, men become fathers, there are illnesses, there are bad backs … so many things happen to our bodies. Over our lifetimes, things change all of the time – and it’s important to be able to give voice to these changes and what they mean in terms of our sexual intimacy as time goes on.”

a close up of a man lying on a bed: Ranking sex later life Relate campaign - Rankin / Relate

She is at pains, too, to point out that this intimacy – at any age – is what works for you: it’s not, and does not need to be, the sweaty rampancy depicted in literature and films.

“In reality, ‘sex and intimacy in later life’ means different things to different people,” she says. ”For some, it’s about exploring new and different sexual experiences, and for others, it’s simply about feeling able to express emotion through a gentle touch or kiss on the cheek.”

“I’m excited to see what kind of society-wide conversation this opens up,” she adds. “It’s  our hope that it will raise awareness of the fact that intimacy is something that can be accessed by everyone, regardless of age, and that, if you’re struggling, then Relate’s sex therapy service is there to help.”