Meaningful Relationships in a Hook Up Culture

Six Ways to Be Intimate That Aren't Sex

Why do we still consider penetrative sexual intercourse to be a “home run,” or the ultimate goal of a burgeoning relationship? The end all, be all, alpha and omega, pinnacle? College Humor addressed this question, years ago, in a video on their website (and here) but I want to dig in a little deeper.

Be it because I am that rare, wild, untamed creature known in anthropological circles as the Extrovert or because I am a prototypical Scorpio (or a combination of the two), I am a person who craves intimacy in my relationships. Platonic as well as romantic but for the purposes of this piece, we’re looking at things from a more romantic perspective. All levels of intimacy are encouraged but the deeper, more intensely passionate, the happier I will be.

There was definitely a time in my life when penetrative sexual intercourse was my pinnacle as much as anyone else’s. If I was attracted to someone, I thought about what it would be like to “go all the way,” to borrow a phrase from the vernacular of a long-gone era. I would find myself wondering what it would be like when we finally “sealed the deal.” I developed what might be considered a strange habit of predicting, based on publicly visible personality traits, what kind of lover he would be. Would he be selfish, attentive, forceful, hesitant? Would he want marathon love making or was he, to borrow another phrase, a “two-pump chump?

I actually didn’t get a lot of opportunities to test my theories, so I can’t tell you what my accuracy score was.

I would imagine what he looked like naked, especially his genitalia. I tend to gravitate toward small guys – small meaning under 5’10 and thin – so I often wondered about the correlation between body type and penis size. If there even was a correlation (another theory I never really tested). The point is that I, like so much of the culture I was living in, was focused on the ultimate goal – penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse.

I have, in the interim, found myself focused on intimacy over intercourse. I still fantasize about that penetrative act, because I don’t enjoy it any less than I ever did. I am still sex positive and firmly believe that no one should ever be ashamed of anything they do, willingly and enthusiastically, in their own bedroom (“bedroom” here is meant as a blanket term to encompass anywhere consenting adults do their consenting) and that everyone should be comfortable knowing and asking for what feels pleasurable to them.

But I have also developed a whole new set of fantasies, fantasies about intimacy, fantasies about the most intimate activities people engaged in any kind of romantic partnership can enjoy. They might not be what you expect but in the right hands, they could very well be “better than sex.”

Disclaimer: I am not an expert. I am not a relationship counselor or sex therapist. I am a sex-positive writer who enjoys discussing topics concerning sex and intimacy because I think those conversations are, in and of themselves, intimate. These are my personal ideas of how to be more intimate with your partner, outside just PIV sex.

Conversation. Beyond just asking one another about their day or discussing the news, I’m talking about the conversations that morph and evolve over the course of hours or days. The kinds of conversations where you learn more about a person in five minutes than you had ever known about them before. Soul-bearing conversations and conversations about why their favorite color is what it is. Some of my best memories of past relationships have been about the conversations we had that had nothing to do with relationships or sex. Talking about music or books or childhood memories. Cathartically rehashing childhood trauma in ways you never have before.

Non-sexual touch. Caressing your partner’s cheek or hair, holding their hand and stroking it with a stray finger, kisses on the top of their head, as well as the obvious foot and back rubs. Using your finger to draw pictures on their back while you are watching television or chatting with friends. I recently discovered that not all people have just one “primary love language” but that some of us have two that are almost equal in the way we most effectively give and receive love. For me, quality time and touch are my most important so quality touch more important even still. Touches from a partner that feels natural, organic, and instinctive – rather than forced or obligatory – are often so much more intimate and revealing of their emotions than pelvic thrusts.

Creation. Anything that you enjoy. You can take a painting class together or cook a meal together. Psychologically, some believe that the act of creating something like art or food together mirrors creating another life, in the same way, an artist often thinks of their creations as their children. I’m not sure about all of that (I’ve also never called anything I’ve created “baby” or “child,” so maybe that’s why I’m skeptical) but I do fantasize about finding a creative man who will be creative with me. For the most part, however, I find myself drawn to creatives who create in a medium different to my own, as other writers tend to frustrate me, so collaboration in one of our chosen mediums isn’t as easy as it would be if we were both writers – or painters or woodworkers. But the idea is still that finding someone else who understands what it means to create anything will give our relationship another level of intimacy I wouldn’t have with someone who doesn’t understand.

Making out. Yes, making out. Like you did before you figured out the magic of sex. Remember being 14 or 15 and curling up on the couch, just kissing. Maybe let your hands wander over and under clothes, exploring one another’s bodies but with the idea of forming a bond, rather than to instigate intercourse. Spend more than just a few spare minutes in this moment. See how long you can stretch it out before tearing each other’s clothes off. Making out has, recently, reached fantasy levels for me, probably because it’s not something adults in adult relationships ever focus on. It is, so often, a means of foreplay, something to get your partner excited for the penetrative portion of the program. But why can’t it be just as intimate and sensual to kiss and make out for longer than just a few minutes before heading off to the bedroom?

Mutual masturbation. Masturbation is usually one of a person’s most private moments, something no one talks about and something we do in the quiet hours of the night when no one else is around. Inviting your partner to impose on that privacy, to break through that boundary, is also symbolically inviting them into the quietest, most private parts of your mind and soul. Likewise, watching your partner do what they do when they are alone can help you better understand where and how they want to be touched when you are back in the driver’s seat, what gets her wet, what gets him hard. Try not to study their technique like a sports film, but also keep your hands to yourself. Literally. When you find yourself wanting to help them, touch yourself instead. When you masturbate together, make it about bonding and less about getting off. Understand the privacy of what you are witnessing, what they are witnessing, and be in that moment together.

Oral sex. While satire, intended to be humorous, I actually agree with CollegeHumor in their claim that oral sex (blow jobs, specifically) are more intimate than penetrative sex (and also why I have used that distinction instead of simply “sex” so vehemently throughout this piece). In oral sex situations, the person giving is in complete control. Which I think is a viewpoint that not many people have, thus why oral sex is often seen as a degradation rather than something someone should thoroughly enjoy sharing with a partner. A little confession; I have thought, on more than one occasion, of taking my current (at the time) object of interest somewhere private and pleasuring him without expectation of reciprocation. That, in that moment, we would create a bond different to that created during a clumsy, frantic, drunken one-night-stand. Of course, that’s only if he sees things from the same perspective, which brings us back to the idea of finding the “right” person with whom to be intimate in the first place. That bond is less likely to be created with a handsome stranger in the restroom of a dive bar.

Intimacy is so much more than just what happens between the sheets (“between the sheets” here is meant as a blanket term to encompass anywhere consenting adults do their consenting). Intimacy is about forming bonds with your partner. It is about understanding them on a deeper level than you had before. It is something that should be sought after just as much after years together as it is in the early stages of a relationship, if not more. I’ve read a lot on the subject of Scorpios and one thing that keeps coming to the surface is, for Scorpios, love making begins with touching their hand at the dinner table or engaging them in a meaningful conversation, hours before ever getting to “bed,” and while that is definitely how I approach the subject, I think more people should focus on making holding their partner’s hand just as intimate an experience as intercourse.

D. Gabrielle Jensen
D. Gabrielle Jensen

I write stuff, take pictures, cut hair, and make jewelry - not necessarily always in that order. I love concerts, conversations, coffee, and cats. I love books, airports, people, old things, and the beauty of flaw.

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Meaningful Relationships in a Hook Up Culture