The Intimacy Project

The Intimacy Project

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was originally written in 2015

I got a massage this week, and it reminded me of how long it had been since another human had touched my skin so intimately. A couple months. But it felt like a couple years.

Connecting with someone on an intimate level is good for our souls and our physical health. I didn’t make dating or sex a very big priority this year for various reasons, and I was trying to avoid the frustration of it all.

But I still wanted that touch.

So, several months ago, I decided to turn it into a project. (As I do with much of my life.)

I am one of the 10% of Americans who have used online dating sites. I use dating sites in short spurts. I hide my profile regularly when frustration sets in or it becomes overwhelming. Online dating can be time-consuming and often feels like blindfolded target practice. In fact, some studies have shown that online dating just doesn’t work.

I see dating as a numbers game. You have to meet a lot of people before finding someone who’s a good match. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s looking for a relationship and who’s just trying to “hook up.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against a good hook up. But finding a “good” hook up is even more statistics-defying for a woman than finding a good relationship.

I feel as though the depersonalization caused by the digital age has seeped into sex. Maybe I’ve just been lucky over the years, but I’ve consistently found lovers who are familiar with things like intimacy, seduction, and anticipation. When applied correctly, these three things are the basis for great sex. They are the kindling for a great sexual experience. Without them, it’s like trying to light wet leaves on fire. Just a lot of smoke and maybe some sputtering attempts at creating a spark.

Intimacy doesn’t fit well with the age of instant gratification and fast everything. Intimacy takes time and focus. And there’s no app for that. It also makes us vulnerable and unable to hide behind the “official face” we put our on social media. Intimacy is real and raw.

Some of the sexual experiences I’ve had this year have been, well, lacking. They were impersonal. It didn’t feel like the other person was having sex with me. It seemed like they were going through some sex script they’d memorized. They did not ask how to please me. They simply pleased themselves. They didn’t attempt to get to know my body at all. I was just there.

As you can imagine, this left me very unsatisfied. Not from an orgasm standpoint (although there was that), but from a human connection standpoint. Sex should create a connection between two people. The sex two people have should be unique to them.

Is there anything we still need to know about sex? Apparently, yes: and the missing ingredient is a gamechanger not just for individuals, but entire nations.

Sex has been centre-stage in western culture for decades, but what has been absent, according to Adam Wilder, creator of the world’s first Festival of Togetherness, is the magic element that makes it all meaningful.

“The holy grail,” he says, “is intimacy. Intimacy’s the real taboo in our society – it’s the thing we fear, because it’s about taking off the mask that so many of us hide behind. But it’s the key to being freer, happier and more alive and it could change not only our personal lives, but the political decisions we take as a society.”

Let’s talk about intimacy – and why it makes for better love and sex in The Guardian

I was beginning to lose my faith in finding someone who saw sex the same way I did. While pondering this, I came across an article the premise of which was that by 2050, more humans will be having sex with robots than other humans. Apparently, sex dolls are already popular in Japan, and many owners form emotional attachments to their dolls. As if the expectations of dating aren’t enough, I’m now going to compete with a perfectly manufactured woman with eternally perky breasts and flawless skin? The Photoshopped magazine photos are bad enough, but now this?

As part of my project, I decided to ask up to 10 different men to spend some time being intimate with me but NOT having sex. The goal was to spend a few hours being intimate to see how I felt afterward, to see if it’s what I had been missing.

I only asked people who I believed were single and whom I had never had sex with before.

The first person I contacted was – let’s call him Albert. Although we share some mutual friends who I admire, I had only met him once years before and then hung out with him one time for a few hours. Before tonight, those were our sole interactions. Albert was someone who I was pretty sure would be up for this sort of thing. And he was. However… this is the response I received:

“I am flattered…would you be willing and interested in sharing this experience with ***** and I? Probably not what you had in mind but probably could make it happen if she is involved, not sure if she would be ok with it otherwise.”

He was not single but was asking to participate anyway if he could bring his girlfriend along. Not to be deterred, I thought that would add an interesting dimension to my project and get me out of my comfort zone.

As it turned out, because of scheduling, Albert showed up alone (with full permission from his girlfriend). He was to be my first participant, and I began to get nervous. What if it was I who was the issue in my lack of intimacy problem? I would soon find out. But first, I needed to clean my apartment a bit.

He brought dinner, which was very sweet. We talked and ate, catching up on each other’s lives a bit. I was anxious to start the project, but I understood that this was part of intimacy, too. Sharing a meal often is.

After eating, we made our way to the bedroom. He surveyed it and decided we needed a candle. We situated the candle on the night stand and determined that it provided enough light to see each other, which was something I felt was important. Turning the light off for intimacy means you don’t have to look at the other person, and I think eye contact is sometimes a good way to silently ask, “Is this still going OK?”

We started out with a hug. It was an unrushed exchange of energy. We hugged deeply, feeling each other’s warmth, pulling each other tighter. Then he slipped my shirt off over my head and caressed my bare torso. Skin on skin contact was so lovely, especially in a way that was not intended for instant sexual gratification.

We eventually climbed onto my bed, both with our underwear in place. We stayed above the covers because I didn’t want anything to be hidden. Intimacy should be transparent, honest, vulnerable.

We lay down facing each other, and our hands roamed over the curves of each other’s body. I didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable as I’d worried I would. Clearly Albert was very comfortable with himself and with intimacy. I imagined they wouldn’t all go like this.

We talked a lot about relationships and sex. He talked about his girlfriend and asked me if I minded. I really didn’t. It’s weird how progressive I’ve grown about sex over the years. I don’t feel the need to possess someone the way I once did. I’m grateful for this perspective. I find it healthy and liberating, and maybe that attitude is more in alignment with the way humans really function. Instead of cheating, can’t we all pursue pleasure openly and in a way that is not hurtful?

Being (mostly) naked, by candlelight, talking intimately… it was all so nice. I felt safe and respected. There was a small amount of sexual teasing that went on, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I was adamant that we spend an entire 2 hours just enjoying each other’s company, caressing and appreciating each other.

I wanted to take a couple photos, so we moved around a few times so I could get a nice feet photo. I decided feet were safe to photograph so as not to make any of my participants feel exposed or identifiable.

The Intimacy Project

And then… well… Albert informed me that his girlfriend had given him permission to have a sexual experience with me if that was a possibility. Because this was a surprise to me, I had to roll it around in my mind a bit. I trusted that Albert would not lie about this (and he didn’t). I have a very strict rule about not having sex with anyone in a relationship whose partner is not present or does not freely agree.

I admit that I was turned on by this man after spending these two intimate hours with him. In fact, the intimacy was part of the reason that I now trusted him enough to consider having sex with him (and know that it would be the kind of sex that I consider “good”).

Once our two hours were up, I gave it a few seconds of thought, and then Albert and I had an amazing three hours of very intimate, respectful sex.

Although not what I intended for this project, I admit that the sex was a bonus. The real prize, though, was the intimacy I experienced. And yes, it was what I had been missing: the talking, the sharing, the touching, the vulnerability, being seen, being heard, being appreciated.

Sex is easy. It’s about mechanics. Intimacy is about getting your brain and your heart involved in sex.

I ended up having one more encounter (that did not result in sex) as part of the intimacy project. It was with someone who I later determined must have been merely “on a break” from a relationship. I think perhaps our encounter had a profound effect on him because shortly thereafter, his girlfriend was pregnant and they were joyfully awaiting a baby. The man in question is beautiful, creative and brilliant, so his act of procreation is a win/win for the world. You’re welcome.

In the end, I aborted the intimacy project because I realized that the efforts involved in it might be better spent simply looking for a partner instead of conducting a social experiment.