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Sex & Connection: How to Build the Ecosystem of Intimacy

Many (if not most) people need to feel connected in order to have sex. That means for a lot of us, we need to build connection and intimacy in ways that don’t involve sex. Other people need to have sex to feel connected. Which applies to you? Which applies to your partner?

If one (or both of you) needs to feel connected FIRST, it is hugely important to decipher HOW to feel more connected. There are lots of ways to learn to deepen connection.

Sex & Connection: Which Comes First?

Think about your relationship, and how you like to engage with your partner. Does one of you need sex to connect and another need emotional connection before you can engage with sex? Can you think of a time where you definitely needed one or the other? Are you and your partner the same, or different? This seems like a relationship paradox, but you can learn to work with it.

Those of us that need to feel connected before sex (and those in relationship with us) can really benefit from non-sexual intimacy practices to help keep the connection strong and maintain what Esther Perel calls ‘the erotic thread.’

I like to refer to this as the ‘ecosystem of intimacy’ in a relationship.

So many people ask me how to help their sex life, and often what we find is that they are not having sex because there isn’t an ecosystem of intimacy. They don’t feel close, warm, safe, playful, nor connected to their partner, and therefore, those that need connection first can’t imagine having sex. Those that need sex before connection are wondering why their partner doesn’t want to have sex. Unless we’re aware of this paradox, it can leave us in a sexual stalemate‚ where no one gets what they want.

Learning how to build non-sexual touch practices into your partnership can help connect you on a daily basis, keep the erotic thread alive between sexy sessions, and generally build a stronger relationship. Keeping the sparkle and love alive with playful, loving touch is really important, and will lead to better sexual outcomes!

How to Practice Non-Sexual Intimacy

Adding onto this sex/connection framework, it’s also important to understand that sometimes we think we need sex when we really need intimacy. Realizing we’ve been asking for one thing to get the other can sometimes feel crazy and overwhelming … but stay with me.

This is common because many of us (often but not exclusively heterosexual men), sex is the primary way to have access to intimacy and connection. Therefore, we reach for sexual connection even if we’re really craving closeness or togetherness. There’s a lot of reasons that many of us don’t feel OK being tender, vulnerable; many people don’t understand that it’s ok to want cuddles instead of sex.

For women (especially, but not exclusively, women in heterosexual relationships) sex might be the only way they can get the intimacy they are craving and they might have sex that’s unsatisfying or disconnected in order to feel some closeness. And as you read above, sex without connection doesn’t really work for most of us. Building intimate connection takes time, energy, and attention. And it’s ongoing work.

Below are four intimacy practices to help you and your person feel more connected, more close, and maybe open yourselves up to more connected and/or more frequent sexy time.

  • 🙊 TALK & be TRUTHFUL: Have real conversations. If you find yourself stuck trying to create deeper, more meaningful conversations, try using some conversation card decks. I really like tge relationship @theskindeep card deck or @estherperel’s card game. There is also a Gottman Institute app. There are many to explore! Using prompts can take us out of our everyday conversation, and spark new connection points.
  • 🥳 PLAY! Playing in any way is a great way to reconnect. It’s a bonus if you have some non-sexual touch involved (taking a shower together, swimming together, having a pillow fight or play-fight wrestling match)
  • 🫶 TOUCH PRACTICES: Sensual or therapeutic massage, sensate practice, cuddles, and more ways to touch without expectation of sex is deeply healing.
  • 💫TANTRA PRACTICES: Eye-gazing and deep breathing connects us deeply and can be super powerfully sexy.

How to Ruin Intimacy in a Relationship

What’s the number one thing you can do to build intimacy in your relationship?


To be an emotionally and sexually mature lover, you need to learn to use non-sexual intimacy to build connection for the sake of connection alone. But, I hear often (especially from women) that their partners do one of the above activities—but there’s always a catch. Their partners often use it as either an access point to sex or with the expectation of sex now or soon.

STOP THIS, immediately.

When we offer one thing and then make it about something else, it erodes trust. Maybe not in the moment, but overtime. And it is toxic, and it will turn your partner away from ALL touch. And when we turn away from touch, or intimacy dies. Examples of what this looks like:

  • Give your lover a massage … and only give them a massage.
  • Offer to cuddle and snuggle and connect your bodies… and only give them the snuggles.
  • Take a sexy shower, love up each others’ body… and only enjoy the closeness.
  • Try the sensate practice, allow your skin and awareness to be awakened … and enjoy the sensations.

Learning How to Hold Sexual Energy … Especially for the Men

To be a better lover, and to help build safety in your relationship, you need to learn to cultivate, curate, and HOLD your own erotic energy. When we learn to build and HOLD our erotic energy (rather than need to expel it or move it via sexual play and orgasm), we can give energy and attention to other in a way that doesn’t necessitate MORE. We can learn to enjoy this increased sexual energy during whatever activity, and keep the attention focused on the other. This helps facilitate connection and safer experiences for our lover. If you’re curious to learn more about expanded sexual play for men, read my mindful sex for men article or my edging and expansion practice.

So many couples stop touching each other because they don’t want to excite the other person or let them think that sex is on the table. This can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction for all. So much more love is possible when you connect with integrity. 💕

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