Let’s talk about our feelings: How different genders define intimacy
Last month an interesting piece of research was published entitled Intimacy and Emotion Work in Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Relationships. Because relationships between a man and a woman are more traditional than those involving two men or two women, what researchers know about how gender impacts intimacy in relationships is mainly based on research with heterosexual couples, and draws from fairly conventional ideas. But much less is known about how intimacy plays out in gay and lesbian relationships. The researchers in this study interviewed 15 lesbian, 15 gay and 30 heterosexual couples, and they really tried to swing the focus away from traditional ideas about gender by looking closely at how people’s experiences of intimacy might shift depending on the context people are in and who they’re with. They also focussed on the way that partners might manage their own emotions in an effort to create intimacy in their relationships.
The results showed that about two thirds of all the women compared with just under one third of all of the men put considerable effort into talking and sharing their feelings with their partner to bring them closer as a couple. Also, a number of women spoke about making efforts to bring their sexual desire in line with their partners in order to increase intimacy, while men often reported that they felt intimacy and sex could be separated matters. More men also said ‘boundaries’ might be positive for relationships, which included things like keeping thoughts, feelings and emotions to themselves.
When they went into more detail they found that gay and lesbian couples agreed with each other more than those in heterosexual relationships on the importance of boundaries. Though previous research suggests that those in same sex relationship are more equal on a number of levels (e.g. housework), this study shows that gay and lesbian partners might also make more equal efforts to achieve intimacy.
The disagreements between heterosexual partners about whether it was more beneficial for relationships to share or suppress emotions was often put down to men not valuing emotional support, or not knowing how to provide it. But interestingly, just because someone might not share their feelings, doesn’t mean they are taking ‘the easy way out’. For example, women in heterosexual relationships and gay men reported suppressing their emotions and making sure they gave their partner space, usually because they were trying to improve their relationship or their partner’s wellbeing.
This blog was written by OnePlusOne Researcher Debbie Braybrook.