What does it really mean to be intimate with someone? Most of the definitions out there focus on closeness within a relationship. That obviously begs the questions ‘what does it mean to be close to someone?’
We often talk about intimacy in terms of physical intimacy. In societies that shame people for their sexuality or that are conflicted about sex and where physical intimacy is only sanctioned within narrow confines then it can become a benchmark of closeness. One euphemism for sexual intimacy in the King James Bible is ‘to know’ – as in ‘her knew her’. It sounds so much loftier than ‘they shagged’. And yet how many of us have been sexual with people we’ve barely known or who we never get to know at all?
There’s an element of intimacy in relationships that is very much about wanting to be seen and understood and accepted. And yet, in many relationships, people spend much of their time hiding for fear of being judged or shamed or rejected. In monogamous relationships what do you do with those feelings of being attracted to people other than your partner? Do you bury them? Deny them? Do you discuss them? For many people talking about it feels taboo or transgressive. It breaks the compact that some people believe they’ve entered into that ‘I will only ever find you attractive and no one else.’
As Cooper Beckett says in our episode about intimacy: “In generalised monogamy a lot of people don’t communicate, and this isn’t slander on monogamy it’s just they don’t, because they don’t have to have tough discussions. With swinging, you literally have to talk about everything. Like there’s no way to do swinging that won’t implode within a month if you don’t have extensive conversations about your comfort levels, your interests, your desires. And honestly, how many monogamous people do you know that are actively talking about things like that, or are instead pretending they don’t look at the other sexy people on the street, because that would somehow ruin their relationship?”
It’s not just communicating about sex. It can be any set of thoughts, feelings, desires, aspirations, values that we fear may alienate out partner. So much goes unsaid and as a result we can spend years with someone and never really know them.
Kate and Liam have smashed that paradigm into tiny pieces. As swingers they put a lot of time and energy into their sex lives and that includes bringing other people into the bedroom.
For Liam it’s all about the next surprise, something new to broaden his experience. And he shares those experiences with Kate. And listening to them both you get a sense of how they build this greater intimacy together not least through ‘transgressive’ experiences that mean they constantly see one another in a new light. As Kate puts it:
“You really have those surprising, intimate moments where afterward you can drive home together… and say, ‘can you believe we just did that?. That was amazing. I loved it when you do this and I never would have imagined that you could do that but I was so excited by that.’ “
“So, those moments of discovery together, as adults, you don’t get too many of those in life. But when in the world of swinging we get those kinds of surprising, you know, moments that you didn’t see coming where you learn something new that you didn’t, you know, you didn’t think there was a gap in your knowledge, but all of a sudden you realise ‘Oh, I’ve never seen you that way before,’ or ‘I didn’t realise that I could experience that!'”
“So when you learn together, and you’re on this journey of discovery together. Those are the moments that create intimacy those shared experiences those shared revelations are the thing that that keep us excited about each other.”
I think there’s an element where in a culture where many of our deepest fears of loss and rejection involve sex, being seen and accepted for oneself in that sphere can build trust and open doors to greater intimacy about other things.
Do listen in to the episode. It’s a blast – occasionally funny, often poignant, consistently thought provoking. You don’t have to swing to learn some of the lessons. At its heart this is about love and acceptance and allowing others to be themselves and not forcing them to compromise their integrity to maintain an illusion out of fear just to please you; their friend or partner.
Doing this for one another would make our lives far easier and far happier.