Contrary to what many people believe, intimacy doesn’t come naturally. It is something that is achieved in time, with both partners working hard and doing their part.
When it comes to sexual intimacy, does age matter? According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), our brains are not fully matured until we reach the age of 25. Between the age of 15 and 20, our prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that allows us to create long-term strategies, understand the consequences of our decisions, and helps us compare the risks and reward of our actions – continues to grow and develop. At this age, we are highly impressionable. Most of our beliefs and stance in life are based on what we see, read and hear from others, so as our view of sexual intimacy. Our knowledge and fantasies about sex are all borrowed from movies, books, family and friends, and the internet. So when we talk about what makes sex good, we say “according to… it’s the…”
As we reach 26 to 30, when our brain has fully developed, we start to think about what we really want in life. At this stage we start to assess how our careers have been and whether we should stick to it or pursue something else. In the romantic aspect, we may have gone through one or two serious relationships and our experiences would have helped us create our own views and opinions about intimacy.
According to psychologists, there are five levels of intimacy. Most people at 26-30 may have reached level 2 or 3. At these levels, we start to move away from the beliefs we get from other people to know our own. This is where most of us become highly vulnerable, although we are still open to changing our opinion to avoid conflicts.
At ages 40-50, our view about sexual intimacy starts to illuminate. At this stage in life, we are more open to having sex with the lights ‘turned on’. It’s because our wisdom made us realised that acceptance is a crucial aspect in a romantic relationship. We have become more willing to accept who we are, including our flaws and imperfections. We have also become more willing to accept our significant other of who they are and see not the flaw, but only the beauty and goodness in them.
At this point we would have reached the highest level of intimacy. But reaching this level is no easy job as it requires the greatest amount of trust. Without trust, we won’t be able to share our deepest self to our partner. Even a slight trace of doubt can prevent us from reaching sexual maturity. We may have sex during the first four levels but without the same amount of trust, sex may be associated with fear, anxiety and disgust.
This normal progression however is delayed among couples living in a co-dependent relationship – the kind that’s based upon the feeling that they are broken, abandoned, betrayed, unworthy and shameful. Many people who have experienced trauma and emotional rejection tend to develop co-dependent behaviour later in life.
Sexual drive may go high and low, depending on the quality of our relationship (and sometimes depending on our mood). But sexual intimacy doesn’t. Intimacy is a process. It necessitates time and effort. Many people go in and out of relationships without experiencing intimacy at its best. It is where we feel loved and accepted unconditionally. It is an emotional connection that matures with time and should be nurtured as we carry on with our romantic journey.