Building Deep Intimacy Doesn’t Start With Sex (by Alexandra Stockwell MD)

building intimacy before sex

As part of a study, the Durex company interviewed 26,000 couples and found that 54 percent were dissatisfied with the quality of their relationships. Other research has shown that up to 84 percent of married couples aren’t happy with the intimacy they experience. 

Before I tell you how to increase the satisfaction and intimacy in your relationship, you need to understand the qualities of your relationship that are making it challenging for the two of you to connect. Begin by figuring out what kind of relationship you have: Toleration, Toxic, or Terminal. 

(This article is a guest post by Alexandra Stockwell, MD)

Defining Issues in Your Relationship

A Toxic Relationship is one that is run by fear and anger. If that’s your situation, the suggestions in this article may help you, but they won’t be enough. Unless you solve your bigger problems first, you won’t create sustainable intimacy because doing so requires both of you to be committed to making your relationship feel safe for both of you. 

In a Terminal Relationship, things can be quite peaceful and collaborative even though both partners have already given up on the relationship and are just waiting to separate. Maybe it’s for financial reasons or until the kids move out of the house, or something else.

In your situation, better communication can help you and your partner co-exist in a healthier manner, but probably you’re no longer seeking ways to create more intimacy so what I write below won’t pertain. 

The Toleration Relationship

The Toleration Relationship is the most common kind, and if that’s your situation, this blog is written for you. In this kind of relationship, you seem to get along just fine. You are both committed to staying together. You love one another.

You collaborate on parenting and financial decisions, and you want one another to be happy. Others may even look up to you with admiration for the marriage you’ve created. 

Even so, there is no talk of your dreams or your desires for the future. You don’t share new insights about life, or your most vulnerable fears.

Instead, you stick to straightforward and emotionally uncomplicated topics, like your favorite shows, who will pick up dinner, what you want to get your kid for his birthday, etc… except every now and then when you erupt. You’ve been holding in your disappointment so long that you can’t contain it any longer and you express your emotions in an intense jumble. 

All of a sudden, you share much of what isn’t working for you and find it’s more than you even realized. But it seems to come out of nowhere so your partner is thrown off guard. Once you perceive that, you feel badly and want to put a lid on things. So you end up back where you

started, waiting for the sting to lessen so you can focus on keeping things calm and pleasant. I often describe this kind of relationship as “conflict-free and passion-free.” 

Rest assured, if you love one another and you’re both willing to make things better, you definitely can rebuild intimacy. After all, having a fantastic relationship is a learnable skill, and most couples trapped in a Toleration Relationship just haven’t learned how. 

Being Your Whole Genuine Self

One of the largest pitfalls that contributes to creating a Toleration Relationship is a widespread misunderstanding of compromise. You may have been taught that it is best to leave parts of yourself at the door when you get home, so that your partner is more comfortable. However, prioritizing your partner’s comfort in this way means dishonoring your own experience, and that eventually causes problems. 

Instead, focus on creating the fourth kind of relationship, the Intimate Marriage. This is the kind of relationship where both people bring all of who they are to the relationship, and each person grows without sacrificing important aspects of who they are. 

An Intimate Marriage is one where you are unquestionably more alive, more vibrant, and more true to yourself precisely because you are together with your beloved partner. Your bond is not only rooted in raising children, shared bank accounts, and a common address–it is grounded in something much more profound. 

Creating this type of relationship requires both partners to be willing to tell the truth about themselves, about actions they take and feelings they feel. 

An Intimate Marriage

It also includes speaking about your partner with clarity, kindness and compassion. You might reflect your partner’s shadow side and point to ways they are driven by shame.

However, it is just as likely that you will celebrate your partner, acknowledging their greatness in ways that are confronting and glorious to receive. We often see one another’s magnificence more easily than we see our own, and making sure your partner knows it too is a gift you can give. 

Be Unwilling to Compromise

Couples in Toleration Relationships have learned to set aside anything complicated, brushing challenges under the rug, or ignoring them and putting attention elsewhere. Despite good intentions, these very behaviors are the cause of couples growing to feel like they are roommates. 

When you withhold in some areas of your life, you can’t help but withhold in others. So if you tend to avoid conflict, and instead compromise, acquiesce, or otherwise minimize the disagreements and disappointments in your relationship on a day-to-day basis, it eventually

impacts all aspects of your relationship. In fact, it’s quite likely that when you are in the bedroom, you will be avoidant and suppressed there too. 

To have an Intimate Marriage, it’s essential to become uncompromising, meaning it’s time to embrace yourself fully and accept conflict when it arises. It’s important that you learn how to stay present with whatever arises, because you’ll find that the more you can stay present and grounded and loving during intense emotions, the more you’ll be able to do so when you’re both naked and touching one another. 

Uncompromising Intimacy

When we compromise, we are making changes in our behavior to make our partners feel more comfortable and it’s often at the expense of our own needs or wants. If you want to feel passion, joy, and erotic depth, you’re going to need to honor your own experience more fully. 

Most likely your parents didn’t model that, and there wasn’t anyone else who taught you either. However, it is something you definitely can learn. 

There are six essential qualities that you need to enjoy an Intimate Marriage. 

  • Cultivate Curiosity 
  • Embrace Honesty 
  • Be Kind 
  • Choose Happiness 
  • Take Responsibility 
  • Seek Growth 

Each of these qualities is a crucial part of building an intimate and loving relationship. I teach all six of them and love witnessing couples transition from Toleration to Intimacy, from a frustrating relationship to one that is luscious. Not only do they smile more and have better sex, but family life improves and work becomes more enjoyable too.


For over 20 years Alexandra Stockwell, MD has shown men and women how to bring pleasure and purpose into all aspects of life– from the daily grind of running a household to intimate communication and ecstatic experiences in the bedroom. Alexandra has been featured in the Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, USAToday, Cosmopolitan, Business Insider, FOX NEWS NYC, and Disruptors Magazine recently named her one of “30 Inspiring Women to Watch in 2022.”