Sometimes intercourse simply isn't possible. Maybe you just gave birth and haven't healed yet. Maybe you're having problems with painful sex. Maybe your partner is having sexual issues like erectile dysfunction, or one of you is ill. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't be intimate with each other. Expressing yourselves in sensual ways can enhance intimacy.
Intimacy goes beyond sexual intercourse—it is not just sex. Intimacy is about closeness, about being together and about creating and maintaining a relationship. It is an important part of any relationship, with or without sexual intercourse. To that end, here are some suggestions as to how the two of you can maintain intimacy without intercourse:
- Touch each other. Too often, particularly in long-term relationships, we stop touching each other unless we want sex. Don't let that happen! Make a point of touching your partner throughout the day. That could be kissing, hugs, stroking his cheek, even running your fingers through his hair. Then find opportunities for more intensive touching, such as giving each other massages. You will find that your entire body has erotic potential, and it is fun to explore each other's bodies and find which areas provide pleasurable sensations and which do not. Then communicate this with each other.
- Hold hands. Have you ever seen an older couple walking and holding hands? Didn't it make you smile? You might think of holding hands as something for the early dating days but it's a good way of maintaining closeness and intimacy throughout a relationship, even one that's lasted decades.
- Pretend you're a new couple. Remember when you were just beginning to date and in love for the first time? The two of you may not have been able to keep your hands off each other, and maybe you weren't having intercourse just yet. Re-create that feeling. Sit on the couch and make out, explore each other's bodies through your clothes, pull away when things get too intense and then start over again.
- Have "outercourse." You might not be having intercourse, but you can still enjoy orgasm. Explore other forms of stimulation. "Outercourse" is any form of sensual and sexual activity that does not involve the exchange of body fluids.
- Explore intimacy beyond sexuality. Sharing interests (beyond the kids and house and pets) can open up new avenues of intimacy. If it's been years since the two of you did more than just have dinner or see a movie together, it's time to develop new interests as a couple. That could be something athletic, like tennis, golf, skiing or biking; something intellectual, like taking a class together, joining a couples-only book club or signing up for a series of lectures, concerts or plays; or something creative, like taking a painting or cooking class together. The benefits of such activities extend beyond the immediate pleasure of being together; the new interests will stimulate your brain and provide numerous new opportunities for conversation. And make a date with your partner to be alone together once a week. Go out to dinner or to a movie and spend quality time with just the two of you.
- Keep talking. Sometimes silence between a couple can be a sign of comfort and closeness. Sometimes, however, it's a sign that you have nothing left to say. Don't let this happen to you. Keep talking to one another, not just about the everyday events, but about your thoughts and dreams and, of course, about how you're feeling during this period of intimacy without intercourse. The day you stop sharing is the day you know things have taken a turn for the worse.
Throughout this period, keep a finger on the virtual pulse of your relationship. If you find that the lack of intercourse is hurting your relationship despite your efforts to maintain intimacy or that you or your partner finds it difficult to engage in other acts of physical intimacy, you might want to talk with a sexual therapist. You can find a certified sex therapist at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (www.aasect.org).