The Difference between Physical Intimacy and Sexual Passion

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Counselling Psychologist - M.Sc. Psychology - Swansea University, UK.

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Imagine the plot of your favourite romantic novel or tv show. You might notice that it first begins with the characters getting to know each other, and developing a bond over something common which gradually results in them spending time together. As the plot progresses, the couple decides to engage in sexual encounters that are often depicted with excitement and passion.

How would you differentiate between the progression of love? 

The first part is called physical intimacy and the second part is called sexual passion. While in real life things don’t exist in such clear categories, it is helpful to understand that these two are very different phenomena. 

What is Physical Intimacy 

Physical intimacy refers to the sensual closeness a couple experiences when they engage in touch and gestures that are not necessarily sexual in nature. For example, holding hands, cuddling, giving each other a massage, kissing, hugging etc. 

Most often physical intimacy occurs as a result of a deeper emotional connection you share with your partner. The gestures that come under physical intimacy are mostly used to express love and affection to one’s partner and are also responsible for enhancing the bond. To establish physical intimacy you have to be able to trust the other person fully. Most people describe physical intimacy as a feeling of safety and comfort they experience when they are with their partner. It is a very precious moment where you are vulnerable with your partner and you show care for each other. 

As mentioned previously, physical intimacy does not always include sex or sexual acts. It is mostly non-sexual touch and gestures that convey a sense of deep sensual affection and care for your partner. For some this could be just caressing your partner, for others, it can be cuddling cosily under one blanket. 

Engaging in regular acts of physical intimacy can help increase oxytocin levels (also known as the love hormone). This hormone is known to create warmth that improves long-term relationship satisfaction. 

What is Sexual Passion 

Sexual Passion, on the other hand, refers to intense passion and excitement arising mostly out of sexual activities. For someone to have sexual passion it is not necessary that they have a deeper emotional connection. Sometimes sexual passion can arise out of relationships where two people have not committed to each other or engaged in any other forms of intimacy. 

A part of sexual passion involves attraction and arousal. People engage in sexual activities with those they find attractive. Attraction can be physical, emotional or any other factor that causes a physiological response. Sexual passion involves a change in hormones different from that of intimacy. When we are sexually passionate with someone, there is a release of hormones like testosterone and oestrogen that puts our body into an arousal state. There is an increase in heart rate, blood flow and a general sensitivity across our body. 

A major goal of sexual passion is to achieve sexual pleasure. This is important because it can help strengthen the bond we share with our partners. This will help in the deepening of intimacy but is very different from intimacy in general because it only involves pleasure out of sexual acts like penetrative sex, oral sex etc. 

Sexual passion in a relationship can help in maintaining the love, excitement and spice that exists between you and your partner. This is because sexual passion also involves a degree of vulnerability followed by pleasure that allows you to stay in a state of enjoyment with your partner. 

Why should I care about the difference?

It is very important to know the difference between the two. This is because both are very important aspects that determine if a relationship is healthy and satisfactory. If your relationship is characterised only by sexual passion and you and your partner find it difficult to be physically intimate with each other like cuddling after sex or holding hands in public, then you have to reevaluate and reflect on the relationship dynamics you share. On the other hand, if you find that you and your partner are able to be physically intimate with each other but are not aroused enough to have sexual passion once in a while, then you might need to seek the help of professionals to understand why this is the case. 

Remember, it is never too late to communicate what you want, and what you like and seek help for the same. 

Ms. Priyanka Walia
Ms. Priyanka Walia M.A. Counselling Psychology Counselling Psychologist 05 years of experience

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