While learning how to be intimate without sex might seem counterintuitive, it can actually be an effective way to bring you emotionally closer to your partner. After all, feeling connected to your other half doesn't always equate to time spent between the sheets; holding their hand while out on the street, or taking the time over dinner to fully understand their hopes and dreams can also help your relationship.
However, building intimacy with your partner outside of the bedroom might seem daunting at first. Is kissing allowed? Are there activities you should do instead? How should you bring it up with them? To answer these questions, we've enlisted leading relationship experts to share their best tips for creating a healthy, loving partnership.
Indeed, if you're experiencing an emotional rut with a partner or are simply looking to understand how to spice up your relationship, you'll discover that learning how to have better sex isn't always the answer. Our experts acknowledge that while pleasure is vital, focusing on intimacy without intercourse can be the key to building long-lasting romantic foundations.
How to be intimate without sex
1. Schedule in quality time
"Spending quality time together is key for intimacy," says Juliette Karaman (opens in new tab), a certified mind and body coach. "Plan one day a week for a few hours to be only with your partner. Focus on the moment. No talking about economics, kids, or work. For example, during dinner put your phones away and ask your partner about the best things that happened to them during the day or week. Try to be fully engaged in what is happening in their lives."
These 'dates' can also be an excellent opportunity to discuss what you both really need and desire at frequent intervals. "Block out time on a regular basis to prioritize intimacy and connection," suggests sexologist Madalaine Munro (opens in new tab). "Then you can tune into exactly what you want more of in your relationship, perhaps a cuddle or a greater emotional connection."
2. Explore with massage
It is widely accepted that massages are good for you - and you can use them to better understand, in a non-sexual way, exactly what kind of touch you and your partner like. "When your focus is on exploration, it can allow open and honest feedback," explains Munro. "This can improve your sexual intimacy as you'll learn how to communicate about what you do and don't enjoy." Which, as you've probably guessed, will help your relationship in the bedroom too.
Another similar technique is 'pleasure mapping'. Munro continues, "In relationships, we can tend to have default ways of touching our partner because we know what they like and stick to it. This means that we can miss out on so much pleasure and intimacy by staying with what we know. By mapping, we can discover new ways to give and receive pleasure." Which can, as mentioned before, come in handy during intercourse.
3. Gaze into their eyes
The prospect of staring deeply at your partner might feel a little intense at first, but it's worth giving a go, insists Munro. "Tantric eye gazing is a great way to curate emotional and spiritual intimacy," she notes. "This is a beautiful meditative practice that can create oneness between you without words."
Where to begin? "I would recommend starting with one minute, and building up from there. If it’s your first time, welcome the different thoughts or distractions that may arise, and allow yourself to focus on your partner and trust the experience." Struggle to stay in the present? Practice with one of the best mindfulness apps first.
4. Enjoy new experiences
If you feel like things have got a bit stale in your relationship, you don't necessarily need to engage in BDSM for beginners to freshen things up. "Try a new activity," suggests Munro, of mixing things up outside of the bedroom. "This will enable you to see one another other in different ways, which can deepen your experience of each other."
Stuck for ideas on how to make new memories? "Why not have a picnic in a new beautiful place instead of going to your favorite restaurant?" recommends Karaman. "The most important thing is to give yourselves the opportunity to reignite the spark."
5. Don't be so serious
Similarly, bringing the fun back into your relationship by being playful with your other half can work wonders. "When was the last time you and your partner laughed together?" asks Munro.
"I have found play to be one of the most underrated, yet important parts of a relationship. This is because play is actually an act of trust, surrender, and vulnerability which develops both emotional and experimental intimacy." It is also an approach that can be effectively woven into intimate messages if you're keen to at some point learn how to sext.
6. Be more inquisitive
It's important to ask questions in a relationship. Munro recommends an 'appreciation practice' where you ask one another: "What do you appreciate? What inspires you about your partner? What are you grateful for?" This can spark a helpful, reflective discussion between you both. Mental intimacy can be nurtured through carving out time to share your favorite topics and talking about the things you love."
But it is also key, at the same time, that you properly absorb your partner's answers. "For it to be a powerful bonding experience, you need to make time for each other to talk in a semi-structured way," insists Munro, who also suggests creating some boundaries. "Such as when one of you is speaking, the other is listening, and can ask questions after you are finished."
7. Communicate with them
If you are experiencing relationship burnout, it could be down to a lack of communication. "You shouldn’t be afraid to talk with your partner about everything - don't fear being vulnerable and relatable," insists Karaman. "For instance, if you want to build intimacy without sex, ask if your partner is open to discussing something with you this evening. Then be forthright and tell them that you miss having a close connection with them and see if they are open to trying something new."
Munro suggests making these conversations a regular occurrence, rather than a one-off. "Have regular relationship check-ins to provide a space for you both to communicate what is going well and what you would like to explore and change," she explains. "This may look like scheduling a time, opening with sharing your appreciation, discussing areas of growth or change in your relationships, and finishing on a positive note with gratitude for one another."
8. Get a little nostalgic
Think back to when you first met your partner and what drew you to them in the first place. "A beneficial exercise can be to think about the qualities and habits of your partner that you like, and the things that helped you to initially fall in love with them," suggests Karaman.
"Try to concentrate on your memories, go back to the past and look at the things that brought you together. Do you remember your first date? Can you recall your first kiss? How were you falling in love with each other? What did it feel like? What were the emotions that came up? What were the thoughts that arose? What did you feel in your body?" This can help rebuild intimacy by rediscovering their love languages.
9. Be a team
This doesn't necessarily have to involve you having new experiences - like jetting off together on an exotic holiday or lacing up your hiking boots for a walk - but can also be about creating something together. "When we do this it nurtures emotional and experimental intimacy," explains Munro.
"Perhaps it’s potting a plant, or building something for your home. It fosters a joint focus, and you learn how to communicate around this project - which is also supportive of relationship longevity since this is sustained on how well you can navigate your joint focuses in life."
10. Don't forget to touch
This may seem obvious, but it is as crucial a form of intimacy as discovering your best sex positions as a couple. Indeed, a study by Indiana University (opens in new tab) found that non-sexual physical touch is really important in relationships.
"There are so many ways to touch one another without sex," notes Zoe Mallett (opens in new tab), an accredited coach and psychologist. Holding hands, stroking each other, massages, back rubs, cuddles, running baths for one another, playing with each other’s hair, sitting opposite each other and holding hands. You can do this on the sofa, in bed, in the shower, or going for a walk. Get creative with it."
11. Be compassionate
While you might have identified certain areas of improvement in your relationship, be kind as to how you approach this with your other half. "Ask your partner when they have time for a catch-up because you want to talk about how you can be more intimate," suggests Mallett. "Usually we’ve been going over everything in our minds for a few days before maybe practicing what we want to say so we feel prepared.
"But then we go to speak to a partner and we can catch them off guard - they might have had a bad day so aren’t in the mood and may not respond in the best way. Or they have had the best day and want to continue on a care-free high."
Asking them when they have the capacity will also allow them to prepare mentally. "You can also tell them what you want to cover and ask them to think about what being intimate means for them, what they enjoy, what they don’t," she adds.
12. Look after yourself
Similarly, it's important to look inwards too. "I always highlight that you need to take 100% responsibility for your relationship to be happy," points out Karaman. "It is not your partner who should only take care of your needs and desires - treat yourself carefully, and this will filter through into your relationship with your partner." For example, if you are suffering from anxiety symptoms then it might be a good idea to focus on your mental health first before looking outwards.
That said, building intimacy without sex has to be done in partnership, with both of you making an effort. "If you collectively struggle to communicate about these things, start by writing lists and giving them to each other when you are in different rooms," suggests Mallett. "Come together when you feel ready - you can explore together all the possibilities of intimacy. Make it a fun conversation, and perhaps while doing something romantic like having a candlelit bath or dinner, or maybe you both feel more comfortable talking and walking."
Why is it important to be intimate without sex?
"It is so important in a relationship because if we are only intimate when we are having sex, then this is what we will associate with intimacy," explains Munro. "There are different types of intimacy, including mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, sexual, and experimental.
"So if we are only having intimacy when we are having sex, we are focusing only on sexual intimacy and missing out on some other important types of intimacy which create healthy, loving relationships. This is important for building trust, connection, and attachment. It allows us to feel safer in our relationships. Without intimacy, relationships will only be surface level."
Karaman agrees, "When people just start dating, a spark usually flares up between them and their sex life is brilliant. But as time passes, partners get used to each other, and the daily routine becomes connected to careers, kids, and household things. This can feel overwhelming for them, and the spark disappears."
She adds, "I usually tell my clients that the first step to becoming intimate again is to take sex off the table. We all want to feel heard, seen, and loved by our partners. When you begin to communicate with your partner frankly, you will see that your intimacy is here again." And that intimacy might just lead to a sexual spark again between you both...
Lauren is a freelance writer and editor with more than six years of digital and magazine experience. In addition to Womanandhome.com she has penned news and features for titles including Women's Health, The Telegraph, Stylist, Dazed, Grazia, The Sun's Fabulous, Yahoo Style UK and Get The Gloss.
While Lauren specializes in covering wellness topics—ranging from nutrition and fitness, to health conditions and mental wellbeing—she has written across a diverse range of lifestyle topics, including beauty and travel. Career highlights so far include: luxury spa-hopping in Spain, interviewing Heidi Klum and joining an £18k-a-year London gym.
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