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A battle between intimacy and desire

Contrary to the cultural narrative, there is a complex relationship between love and desire, and it is not a linear cause-and-effect link. Rather, there is an interesting paradox between these two fundamental aspects: as a romantic relationship grows emotionally and the intimacy between the people involved increases, including feelings of security, trust, comfort and belonging, desire tends to decrease.

It is quite common to assume that sexual difficulties are the result of a lack of closeness and connection between the couple. However, the way we build closeness can reduce the sense of freedom and autonomy necessary for sexual desire. When the intimacy of a relationship turns into fusion and entanglement, it is not the absence of closeness that impairs desire, but rather its excess.

Desire and love are two key ingredients in the recipe for a healthy and long-lasting relationship. Our need for togetherness and connection exists mutually with our need for autonomy and freedom. One does not exist without the other. With too much distance, connection and intimacy cannot exist. In the same way, with too much fusion the autonomy of two distinct individuals is eliminated, and consequently the desire for each other diminishes. This is the essential paradox of intimacy and desire/sex.

At the beginning of a relationship we go through a phase of intense emotions and we long for an increase in intimacy and closeness with the other, since distance already exists - a structural cleavage between the Me and the You - , and the emphasis is on developing the We of the relationship. Everything that is experienced in this initial phase is an authentic euphoria and the sexual desire we have for the other is intense and arises spontaneously, anywhere and anytime. As time goes by, we feel secure, comfortable, calm, and close to the other - feelings known as love - and a bridge is created between us and our partners. Yet, ironically, it is in this very space between the Me and the You that erotic/sexual desire takes place. Thus, by diminishing the distance between the elements of the couple, it is natural for spontaneous sexual desire to be transformed into responsive sexual desire. This means that sexual desire appears as a response to a sexual stimulus, such as kisses, touches, movies or other activities with an erotic connotation. To recover eroticism it is necessary to recreate the distance that has been eliminated with so much effort and dedication.

Creating distance in the comfort of closeness is the key to keeping desire burning in a relationship guided by love. It's natural to incessantly seek intimacy and comfort in the other to protect ourselves from loneliness and the fear of 'being alone', but enhancing the right amount of distance to enhance eroticism means making the opposite move - moving away from the comfort of our partner and feeling “more alone”, within ourselves. It is our ability to tolerate this distance, and the insecurities it generates, that allows us to keep the other pillar of a relationship, sexual interest, alive. In fact, this sometimes daunting movement should have a focus on building a connection to oneself rather than distance from one's partner. In a relationship it is inevitable that we share many essential parts of our lives, however personal intimacy represents a private zone, which requires tolerance, self-compassion and respect. It is a space, which can be physical, emotional and intellectual, that belongs only to you. Not everything needs to be shared, we should all cultivate our own "secret garden".

The capacity to build this "secret garden" is enhanced in the perception of love and desire as a symphonic composition of polarities and not as a dissonant and meaningless opposition. If, on the one hand, love likes to know everything, desire needs mystery; love likes to diminish the distance that exists between the Me and the You, desire is enhanced by this; if intimacy grows through continuity and familiarity, eroticism is deteriorated by routine and repetition; love is about having and desire is about wanting. Together, intimacy and eroticism, or love and desire, reinforce each other to create a dynamic, healthy and constantly-evolving relationship.

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