Sexperiential Lessons from Dr. Jallen Rix (hand2rod)
What comes to mind when you hear the word “intimacy?” It can stir a lot of different ideas for a lot of different people. It can be just another word for relationship or closeness. For some, it’s a more acceptable slang term for sex: “We were intimate….” One way or another, it most often infers a special kind of connection. Perhaps it’s the yummy cream filling of what is best in all of our interactions. If we were to judge by what long-term relationships value when everything else might become mundane over the years — sex, bodies, money, status, security, familiarity —partners report intimacy as the most cherished adhesive that keeps their connection worthwhile.
Yet, to define what this magic superglue is specifically — and I’ve been asking around — a solid definition tends to be pretty elusive. This seems odd when it’s such a precious commodity. Further, if intimacy were simply a commodity or a formula, someone would have bottled it by now and made a fortune. Yet with divorce rates still around fifty percent, the magic of intimacy is elusive indeed!
With the Tech Revolution desiring to solve all our problems even before we know the questions, they too have attempted to enhance the potential for intimacy, and in many ways, they have brought us closer together like never before. More than any other time in history we not only have one way, but a variety of apps, programs, and devices to communicate with anyone, just about anywhere in the world. That’s pretty amazing, and it has, without a doubt, brought our world closer together in very important ways.
It might come as a surprise then to know that depression and isolation are at an all-time high in our so-called advanced society. To summarize an enormous amount of research into an over-simplified answer as to why so many of us have experienced such downheartedness is that we are spending way too much time alone behind our computer/devices. Although our tech helps us connect with others, we spend a huge amount of that “connection time” isolating our bodies with no one or close to no one in the room with us.
We are social animals: we have spent thousands if not millions of years hanging out with each other, touching each other, laying around on each other, running around in packs and crowds with each other. Now, and pretty suddenly, most people’s goal of the American Dream is to have their own house/apartment/space, devices, WiFi, and earbuds, and — presto change-o! — we are, at the very least, cutting ourselves off physically from each other like never before. We are connected in some ways, yet isolated in other ways that we are only now discovering how devastating and desolate the effects can be on us. It’s the new-fangled, shiny way to connect and it feels like intimacy, but only to a degree, and that can leave us wanting.
A similar example is the attraction of “Reality TV” (which has kind of outgrown TV and reality, if you know what I mean). The everyday “heroes” on our favorite shows reveal their lives open and available for our perusal and critique. They may even beg our “interaction” by having us jump on a Twitter feed in real time to make us feel like part of the action, although the show was taped months ago. We feel close to them because of their vulnerability, but in reality, the “intimacy” is one-sided because our heroes know nothing or very little of us, except that we are watching. They may allow us to share in their experience, but the reverse (them sharing in all of our experiences) is an impossibility. We are only spectators on the sidelines. Although it can feel “intimate” to a degree, we will only ever feel passive because it takes no vulnerability or participation on our part, and again, that can leave us wanting.
Perhaps, this one-sided “intimacy” is all we want as we watch the world go by. We feel “closeness” for the duration of the show, and then we realize we have been alone in a room the entire time. But it can feel safe. No one may be able to hug me, but no one can reject me in my private space either. Although our mind may get a sense of closeness with the characters on our devices, our body is well aware of its isolation. There’s nothing “wrong” with this kind of entertainment, per se, but when people experience a kind of “passive intimacy” which feels good, they then, after the fact, feel that it is somehow not enough and they aren’t entirely sure why. Hence, the birth of episode binging. We never quite get the deeper, satisfying intimacy we had at our fingertips for centuries — and that has got to feel disappointing on some level. Great marketing strategy, though: Keep ‘em coming back at the most “intimate” level!
Unfortunately, we now have a whole generation whose face-to-face connection skills are limited because they’ve mostly sat in front of a device for their socialization. This can make it all the more intimidating to get out there and really deeply connect, and it snowballs. The more isolated you feel, the more you watch from the sidelines, the more stuck you feel, the greater the fear that you won’t ever fit in, the more you isolate, and so on…. Pretty soon, too many people assume that their minimal “intimacy” is all they deserve and they resign themselves to the isolation, and then depression reigns. The good news is, as the problem of isolation has become more clear on the Internet, great strides have been made to use this incredible tool more creatively to engage people in-person, and reduce isolation. Try, for example, the social platform, meetup.com, which connects you with others who like similar activities with the sole purpose of getting you out and doing said activities.
That brings me back to what I’m learning about intimacy. Although we can feel certain degrees of closeness online, it seems the most satisfying intimacy is when it is experienced face-to-face and in person. Everything from eye-contact, to subtle facial expressions, nuances in your voice, body language and sensitivities, touching (which can have a subset of benefits all its own), emotional validation, and even sex, for that matter — everything is enhanced and enjoyed at its fullest when our bodies can be close, and we are in front of each other. Don’t get trapped as a tool of the Internet. Use your Internet resources as a tool to get you not just connecting online, but connecting in-person. In all the research I’ve been doing, it is clear: those who overtly use the Internet to meet people face-to-face are the ones who are the least lonely. Don’t short-change all the gifts and uniquenesses you have to offer those around you by hiding behind your devices. Be who you are and what you are so boldly that you are bigger than a device, and you just have to be seen — live and in-person — to be fully experienced!
Dr. Jallen Rix is a sexologist with a private practice in Palm Springs California. If you would like to know and experience his detailed definition of intimacy and how you can enjoy it more thoroughly in your everyday life, don’t miss his retreat, Building Erotic Intimacy Beyond Your Devices.