About intimacy

What is intimacy?

As humans, we naturally need love and closeness. From babyhood into adulthood, loving relationships make us feel valued and cared for, help us to develop emotionally and give us confidence. As adults, many people feel the desire to develop loving and intimate relationships with others and eventually find a partner.

We all have our own thoughts about what intimacy means to us. Common understandings are:

  • Having a deeper emotional connection to another person
  • Feeling love for and love from another person
  • Having a physical (eg. touching, caressing, hugging) relationship with another person
  • Having a sexual relationship with another person
  • Feeling a spiritual connection with another person.

Many of us can feel nervous or worried about intimate relationships. How we feel about relationships can be affected by our past experiences – with our families, friends, previous partners, as well as how strangers respond to us. Starting a relationship can feel challenging and scary. We may feel cautious – we all worry about being hurt or rejected. When we grow closer, this may mean sharing our private thoughts and feelings – this can make us feel exposed or vulnerable – but, it can also bring happiness, love, passion and security.

At Changing Faces we hear from people who are nervous or worried about intimate relationships. Having a visible difference can mean that you feel more nervous about your body, and in particular the area of your body that is affected by your condition, mark or scar.

I’m frightened of getting physically close to anyone

The thought of getting physically close can also be tough. You are not alone. Generally, many people worry about sex and physical closeness and find it difficult or embarrassing at times.
If you don’t like the area or areas of your body which your visible difference affects, you may be worried about a partner getting close to it or touching it or having to explain. You may imagine that a partner doesn’t like it either – or that it will put them off.

“I found becoming intimate another obstacle to overcome. Explaining about my face had become easier over the years, but then when you become intimate with someone there are the scars you’ve always kept hidden to explain about. I then realised, for me, that it was better to explain about the whole lot together and to include it with my explanation of my disfigurement.”

Alison

This is an understandable fear – but not one that cannot be overcome. With the right preparation and the right person giving the right responses, many people have overcome this worry. It may seem hard to think about the first step, but take it in stages rather than worrying about the whole process at first.

I’m scared my condition will ruin my sex life

Having a visible difference can sometimes add other physical worries, for example:

  • Functional difference or not being able to move in a certain way, such as not being able to open your mouth wide or limited ability to move your tongue
  • Little sensation in some parts of your body or you may wear a prosthesis
  • Previous surgery or medical treatments causing you to see your body as something painful and unable to experience pleasure
  • Sex may be painful for you

You may be worried that you won’t be able to enjoy the physical and sexual aspects of your relationship. You may even see yourself as ‘unsexy’. These thoughts can affect your confidence and also your sex drive. It can also be hard to talk to someone about these things. All this can make you feel pressured and worried when getting physically close to someone.

Only you can know what feels good or not to you – and, hard as it may feel to talk about it, your partner cannot know how you feel if you do not tell them. Communication is the key thing here – it is up to you when and how you become intimate and how you decide to tell someone – you are in control and you will judge when you are ready.

I’m worried about telling my partner about my condition

If you have a condition that is not visible when you are wearing clothes, or wear skin camouflage or a wig, you might be worried about when to tell your partner about your condition. You might be anxious about how to bring up the topic or how your partner will react the first time they see your visible difference. These concerns are perfectly normal.

You might decide to tell your partner at the beginning, before you are invested in the relationship – some people choose to do this so that they don’t become too invested in the relationship in case their partner has a negative reaction. Other people wait to get to know their partner better and feel more comfortable. One reason for this is so that you don’t show a part of yourself to someone if you don’t think the relationship will progress.

Telling your partner prior to intimacy can help to reduce some of your anxieties as they already know, and you might have already shown them this part or parts of your body.

You might find it helpful to think things through beforehand – when you very first meet someone, to give yourself some thinking space. Again, it is entirely up to you when and how you tell your partner, but you could try to see the communication about this as a part of being intimate with them – and trusting them. Trust is not always easy, but take it in steps and try to gauge the right time for you. Also, if you communicate with them, it gives them permission to ask you about things too.

You can see more about this in relation to sex in Let’s talk about sex.

Let's talk about sex

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What can affect relationships?

Read

More people are using Changing Faces services than ever before. We want to be here for everyone affected by with a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different.

We’ve made all our services, factsheets and information free for everyone. It takes time and money to do this, but we think it is really important.

That’s why I hope you’ll understand why we need to ask for your help. If you’ve found our website or services helpful, and your circumstances allow, then please consider donating. Every penny counts and you can give at www.changingfaces.org.uk/donate Thank you.