Women ask, 

"Why Do Men Fear Intimacy?"

Actually, men are not afraid of intimacy. Men need intimacy. Men crave intimacy. They are only afraid of emotional intimacy.

We need to look more closely at what intimacy means before we can explore men's relationship to intimacy.

Define Intimacy

How should we define intimacy for a man? Let's start with the dictionary (actually, several online dictionaries):

intimacy — definition:

  • "close or warm friendship"; "a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group"
  • "a feeling of belonging together"
  • "closeness"
  • "an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like"
  • "an affair, usually a secretive sexual relationship"
  • "an amorously familiar act; liberty; sexual intercourse"
  • "the quality of being comfortable, warm, or familiar"
  • "close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history"

Intimacy generally means a feeling of closeness. The meanings most relevant to men in relationships are highlighted.

Fear of Intimacy in Men

Women accuse men of being afraid of intimacy. What women mean is that men are afraid of emotional intimacy — talking, sharing feelings. There are numerous reasons why men can be afraid of emotional intimacy, some practical, some having to do with cultural training and perhaps even human evolution.

Here are some practical reasons men can be afraid of intimacy:

  • They may have been hurt in the past by a woman they were, or wanted to be intimate with.

  • They may not be able to trust a woman, even without being hurt personally.

  • They may fear the pain that comes when relationships break up, as most do.

  • They may be afraid of the responsibility, particularly the loss of freedom, that comes with intimate relationships.

In these cases, if you know what you're dealing with, you can make a case that he can trust you, that the prize of a fulfilling relationship is worth the risks of breakup, or that you're mature enough to respect his autonomy and not be clingy.

The cultural and evolutionary causes are more speculative, but more interesting. We will consider them next.

Kinds of Intimacy

Men need a feeling of closeness as much as women do. No one would care to live without friends.

There are three kinds of intimacy. Only two of which are readily available to men.

The best way to understand two of them is to observe friends:

  • Women friends you can see in coffee shops leaning across the table, head-to-head, talking about their feelings about the things going on in their lives (often while their toddlers dissect muffins).

  • Men friends you will see side-by-side facing the same experience, whether they are just watching a football game or are lined up facing the opposing team.

These are the three kinds of intimacy:

  • emotional intimacy, talking, sharing feelings. This is what women are referring to when they ask why men are afraid of intimacy.

  • physical intimacy, the "play of touch and beating hearts and breath,/and pleasuring to take and pleasures give."

  • camaraderie, going through the same experiences, working together.

Emotional intimacy is the realm of women. Women are allowed to have many women friends and talk to them about their feelings. Women have practice talking about feelings. They have the vocabulary. In the formative years of our species, women sat around the village together, taking care of the young and the old and the infirm, talking about everything that was going on.

Men are discouraged about talking about their feelings. Boys are told to "act like a man," "don't be a sissy," "don't cry." It all means "don't show your emotions." Boys compete, and they learn that a way to win is to make the other guy get emotional, and a way to lose is to let your emotions get the better of you.

Women ask men to divulge their feelings, but men have learned that women lose respect for them if they do.

The important thing for men is accomplishment. Men need success. Men exist to solve problems.

The price of failure can be death, and men have evolved to take those risks. In the formative years of our species, the men had to hunt muscular animals weighing more than ten times their weight and having horns and hooves. In this environment:

  • It is better not to be in touch with your emotions. It doesn't help get the job done to know how terrified you are.

  • Men had to work together, facing the same danger, needing to accomplish the same objective.

So emotional intimacy is not easily available to men. The other two forms are.

Most men are not afraid of physical intimacy, but crave it all the more because emotional intimacy is not approved for them. Kara Oh makes the point to women that they are their man's sole source of intimacy and that men crave it deeply, but the intimacy starts with physical intimacy. Only when physical intimacy is established can men risk emotional intimacy.

Kara doesn't give much attention to camaraderie, which is not called intimacy, but is the other closeness that men are allowed. When you have gone through the same experiences, you have the feeling of closeness and belonging together. You do not have to talk about your feelings. You know each others' feelings because you have experienced them together. Men thrive in this side-by-side, goal-oriented, problem-solving environment.

Women in the past had difficulty with this camaraderie intimacy, because they did not play team sports. One of the men in the Second City comedy troupe remarked on this. When they were improving and nothing was working, the women would step back and demand "What's going on?" The men kept saying, "Just to do it. Just to keep going," because the men knew that things were always chaotic before they fell together. This is part of the implicit knowledge of camaraderie.

Stages of physical intimacy

For completeness, it is worth reviewing here how men and women grow physically intimate. These are the twelve steps Desmond Morris presented years ago, with an optional thirteenth step interposed between the last two of his steps:

  1. Glancing at the other.

  2. Meeting eyes.

  3. Talking.

  4. Holding hands.

  5. Hand on shoulder.

  6. Hand  around waist. (These two steps constitute touching the superior dorsal region.)

  7. Kissing on the lips.

  8. Touching the head.

  9. Touching the inferior dorsal and superior ventral regions.

  10. Touching the superior ventral region with the mouth.

  11. Touching the inferior ventral region. 
    11.5 (Optional) Touching the inferior ventral region with the mouth.

  12. Intercourse.

Some studies have found more stages, for example distinguishing between holding hands without vs. with the fingers interlaced, or his arm over the shoulder to touch the breast vs. his arm under her arm

Interestingly, people can get the reputation for being "fast" even though they do not progress through the stages any faster than other people, if they leave out a stage, or if they do stages out of order.

Tips about intimacy with men

Understand that it is difficult to start with emotional intimacy. Men have no skill in it and little positive experience with it.

Intimacy between a man and a woman, a feeling of closeness and belonging together, grows most easily from physical intimacy. There are exceptions. Men and women can become friends. There is a problem though, when men choose a woman for a mate, they choose her because they want her as they know her. A man is likely to want to choose a friend. Women almost never agree, because they "don't want to spoil the friendship." Why is that?

You can also make use of camaraderie. Work on projects together, including in larger groups. Charity and civic improvement work gives you the intimacy and does good. Some activities, such as community theater, provide an especially intense camaraderie.

Kara Oh devotes two chapters of Men Made Easy to intimacy. Chapter 4 tells why men crave intimacy more than women do. Chapter 5 discusses how most men express intimacy, making the point that you are your man's sole source of intimacy. Click here to download Men Made Easy now .

To get more pieces of the puzzle of how men are different from women, one piece a day, sign up for our Understanding Men mini course in the sidebar.