An Intimate View on Intimacy

By Manis Friedman


Conventional wisdom says that sexuality is a natural instinct. It's a very common and innocent human activity, it's what happens between a man and a woman, it's what people do and all we need to do is relax and enjoy it, right?

To be intimate means to go into a place that is private, that is sacred, that is set aside It seems so simple. But if it were so simple, why do we need to be reminded over and over again that it's natural, it's innocent, it's pleasurable, it's what we do, it's what happens, relax and enjoy it? In fact, the media has bombarded us with that message for so long and in so many different ways with such ingenuity that you have to wonder why the message hasn't been accepted. Why are we still so uncomfortable, so unsure, so mystified by our own sexuality?

In the world that the Almighty created, there are three conditions. First, there is the secular, weekday, mundane condition—ordinary, common things that we possess. Second, there is the holy, Divine condition—so heavenly that we don't have these things at all. These two parts, so far, are pretty easily accepted and understood. The difficult part is the third condition, the sacred. Although sacred means set aside and unavailable, the sacred is not totally unavailable. The sacred is that which is holier than the ordinary, but not so holy that we can't approach it at all. It's something in between what we have and what we cannot have.

Confused? Let's use a simple example. The Almighty grants us the blessing of children. So, we have children. Your children. My children. But when we say "my children," is that a possessive "my"? Do I own my children? The answer, of course, is no. They're not really mine. They don't belong to me. When I say "my wife," is that a possessive thing? Does "my husband" means that which belongs to me? Of course not. And yet, we can use a term so familiar as "my" in referring to these things in life. That's the sanctity in life, and if we're not careful, in our arrogance, we can lay claim to things that will never belong to us and lose their sanctity.

So, where does sexuality fit in? By its very nature—not by divine decree, not by religious belief or dictate—sexuality belongs to the arena of the sacred. We experience it, but we cannot own it. We can go there, but we don't belong there. We can be sexual, but we cannot possess our own sexuality. The reason for it is very natural and very basic. To be intimate means to go into a place that is private, that is sacred, that is set aside. Sexuality means one person entering into the private, sacred part of another human being's existence.

You cannot own another person's intimacy. It's not available. Even if the person wants to give ownership. Can't do it. It's not sharable. It's one of those things in life that the Almighty gives us that we can never possess. I cannot possess my children. I cannot possess my spouse. I cannot possess my Creator. I can't even possess my life. I, certainly, cannot possess the other person's intrinsic, sacred and unsharable part.

Well, if it's that unavailable, if I can't possess it, then what connection, what relationship do I have with it?

This is the sanctity we can experience, but cannot own. And that is why the pleasure in intimate relations is more intense than any other pleasure. You can enjoy a good meal. You can enjoy good food, and it's great pleasure, but it's not the pleasure of sexuality because you possess the food. It's yours. You planted the vegetables, you grew them, you plucked them and you ate them. They're yours. With the sacred, you cannot afford to become familiar There's no awe involved. The pleasure of sexuality is that it's a combination of having and not having. It's a combination of ordinary and other worldly at the same time. It's something that you are granted, but you cannot own and possess. And when you feel that combination, the pleasure of being in another person's intimate space while at the same time remembering that you don't belong there—it's not your place and can never be your place—that's what makes sexuality different.

The key word is familiarity. With the sacred, you cannot afford to become familiar. With the truly divine, there's no danger. It's out of your reach—forget about it. With the secular and mundane, well, you should become familiar. So where does familiarity breed contempt? Where is familiarity really destructive and unwelcome? In sanctity. If you become familiar, too familiar, with the intimacy of another person's life, whether physical, emotional or mental, then you've compromised the sanctity.

In our tell-all world, visualizing the destructiveness of familiarity might be difficult. But you don't call your parents by their first name... because that's too familiar. We don't use the Almighty's name in vain... because it's too familiar. And for our grandparents and our great-grandparents, intimate relations was a sacred thing not to be talked about... because that would be too familiar. The relationship between a husband and wife was restricted to behind closed doors. It was a sacred thing, something you don't squander, share, or even speak about. That's why our grandparents could not talk about their relationship. They weren't keeping secrets—they were keeping something sacred.

Today, human sexuality is something you're supposed to become familiar with. We claim to already be familiar with our sexuality and we are ashamed to admit that we are not. We've removed the sanctity, all because we thought our uptight parents were keeping a secret from us. The media continues to bombard us with these brilliant, subtle messages of the "naturalness" and "openness" of human sexuality, and it's not convincing us. Try as we might, we cannot ignore what our bubbes and zaides knew: the marriage bed is a sacred thing and the only way it works is when you treat it with sanctity.

Still need proof? Look at those same bubbes and zaides a little closer. Those two people, who have been married fifty, sixty, seventy years, are still a little bashful with each other. They still blush with each other. They still excite each other. That is human sexuality. That is sanctity. And that is the last word on intimacy.