Intimacy Essay

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Intimacy is a quality of relationships associated with particular ways of behaving. It is sometimes defined narrowly to mean the familiarity resulting from close physical association or, more specifically, sexual contact. In current usage, intimacy is typically presumed to involve something more profound, such as emotional attachment, love and care. For popular and academic commentators, intimacy is increasingly understood as representing a very particular form of ”closeness and being ”special to another person founded on ”disclosing intimacy, mutual self-disclosure leading to knowledge and understanding of inner selves. In The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) Anthony Giddens argued that equal and democratic relationships based on disclosing intimacy were ascendant as the ideal type of relationship in Euro-North American societies by the late twentieth century. His work was a counterclaim to more pessimistic accounts of private intimacy displacing civic and community engagement or of individualized intimacy undermining ”family values.

Discussion continues of whether and why women s relationships appear to involve more disclosing intimacy than men s with some commentators suggesting women routinely do more emotional work in relationships than men. In Intimacy: Personal Relationships in Modern Societies (1998) Lynn Jamieson reviews research on couple relationships, sexual relationships, parent-child relationships, and friendship relationships, demonstrating the continuance of a wider repertoire of intimacy than ”disclosing intimacy and that self-perceived ”good relationships were often neither equal nor democratic. Moreover, equal relationships were often sustained by working hard to have fair divisions of labor and to mutually negotiate practical care rather than simply self-disclosure. This is not, however, to deny the significance of self-disclosing intimacy in popular culture, or the discursive power of this ideal of intimacy to influence everyday perceptions of how to construct good relationships. Studies of personal life beyond the Euro-North

American contexts suggest the pervasive reach of this discourse about intimacy.


  1. Bauman, Z. (2003) Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Polity Press, Cambridge.
  2. Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A. & Tipton,   M.  (1985) Habits of the Heart: Individualism  and  Commitment in American Life. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

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