We weren’t dating yet, but I had just gotten back from a deployment to Iraq where we had written each other letters every week, and I was fairly certain we’d be dating soon. We were watching a movie together on a couch in her apartment, eating popcorn and drinking Coke. I have no idea what the movie was, and even if you had asked me then I probably couldn’t have told you.
I was only thinking about Kara. I wanted to be closer to her and so slowly, gently, I reached over and took her hand in mine. And then we had one of the most awkward conversations in our six years together:
Kara: Do you need something?
Me: I… uh…
Kara: Need another Coke?
Later on Kara claimed that she sincerely had no idea that I was trying to hold her hand. Apparently I’m not as suave as I thought. I was frustrated but consoled by my second can of Coke, and thanks to my persistence I got her not only to hold my hand, but to marry me a year and a half later.
Throughout our relationship Kara and I have talked often about physical intimacy, from hand-holding to sex. As a guy, my feelings of emotional connection are often fueled by physical connection. We all experience love in different ways, but for guys there is often a special significance to the physical element. And I’ve learned that it’s not that women don’t need touch too, but they often feel more connected through non-sexual touch, like an arm around her shoulders or touching the small of her back.
Now these generalizations don’t always hold up in individual cases, but gender differences do matter when it comes to intimacy. So throughout our relationship Kara and I have made sure to talk about these differences, and make sure that we know what each other needs.
I like sex — I like it a lot — but I don’t need it because there are plenty of times where we just can’t have it.
For example, Kara and I saved sex for marriage because we knew it would benefit our marriage. And within marriage there are times were we can’t have sex too, like for extended times after the birth of children, or when we are trying to avoid pregnancy.
There are other ways to show love physically, and needing physical connection doesn’t mean needing sex.
Navigating the differences between men and women when it comes to physical intimacy can be tricky, but in general I think it’s best to follow these simple rules:
- Communicate! The movies like to tell us that love is completely intuitive, that no words are necessary and you will just know what the other needs. Well, if you have a script that might work, but in real life you’d better talk about it.
- Guys need intimacy, not sex. It’s important for guys to feel connected physically, but that’s not the same as saying guys need frequent orgasms. If a guy tells you he needs sex to make a relationship work, it isn’t going to work anyway.
- Make sure your sex is rooted in love. People have sex for lots of reasons — because it feels good, to relieve stress, or to express their committed love to another person. To have a truly great sex life, it’s important to have sex for the right reasons, which is to express your love to someone you’re actually committed to. That means saving sex for marriage, and it also means seeing sex as a way to serve your spouse, and not just get something from them.