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Building Intimacy When Dating

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Growing a relationship involves growing intimacy (emotional, sexual, etc.). Intimacy involves vulnerability; you become more intimate and thus more trusting and open with a person by virtue of the fact that you make yourself vulnerable in front of them and you learn that they will not abuse you. No matter how much you long for it, you cannot force the development of intimacy. Rather, intimacy has to grow organically and at its own pace. It may die if you cease to coax it forward by sharing new things with your partner. Likewise, it may die if you force it forward too fast, making yourself too vulnerable too quickly. Think of the task as one of landing a rocket on the moon. If you come in too fast with too much acceleration you'll crash land. If you don't accelerate enough however, you'll remain in orbit and never get down. You have to modulate how much information you share with your partner at any given moment so as to keep your interaction both playful and serious.

Emotional intimacy takes some time to develop, but these days, this is not necessarily the case for sexual intimacy. People vary quite extensively in how quickly they are willing to become sexual with each other. Some feel comfortable having sexual relations early on, while others feel that a long getting-to-know-each-other period is in order before it is right become sexual. Though many people do choose to take their time before becoming fully sexual with a new partner, they will commonly take some steps early on (such as kissing their partner) to inform their partner of their sexual attraction so that the proper context will be set for the relationship. The speed with which you personally may feel comfortable becoming sexual with a new partner will likely be influenced by many factors including your age, sexual experience, beliefs about what your similar-age peers would do in your situation, attitudes towards sex and your general cultural and religious values. As sexual relations with a new partner do put people at some physical, social and emotional risk, all people should proceed towards new sexual relationships with caution, and young people especially should take their time and not rush into anything.

Practice safe sex while dating. Consider that your partner will have likely had other partners recently and that he or she may possibly have one or more sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Consider also that your partner may be motivated more or less exclusively by sexual motives and may therefore be willing to lie to you in order to get you into bed. This may be true of both male and female partners. Be smart, protect yourself and don't let yourself be rushed into anything for which you are not ready. It's completely reasonable for you to assertively require the use of condoms and other means of protection from STDs and unwanted pregnancy. It's also completely reasonable for you to refuse sex with a partner for any reason at any time if you don't want it. Don't see anyone again who at any stage of the game causes you to feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Rape is a crime. Anyone who forces you to have sex when you don't want it is a rapist.

If you're not comfortable with being sexual, that's okay too. It's completely the right decision to not have sexual contact with your partner if you don't want to. Keep in mind that your partner may not like it if you withhold sexual contact and may not hang around to date you again. If you're not comfortable with this person enough to want to be sexual with them then this is just as well.