by Margaret L. Stoll, Ph.D.

Intimacy is a central element for success and satisfaction in personal relationships.  This applies not only to romantic partners but also to anyone we care about and want to feel close to and compatible with.  This may include, for example, friends, siblings and other family members. 

Intimacy can be defined as closeness between people in a personal relationship.  It includes feeling supported by and emotionally connected to another.  It also implies being able to share yourself with another on many levels. 

Intimacy is a basic need that we, as social beings, never outgrow.  It gives us the opportunity for physical closeness, tender touch and in romantic relationships, meaningful sex.  Intimacy allows us to be known by another person and to feel understood and validated.  This can occur on physical, intellectual and emotional levels. 

Intimate relationships offer a sense of security and consistency to our lives.  They also give us the opportunity to grow and develop over time as individuals as well as in relation to another person.  Intimate relationships can protect us from loneliness and isolation and add to our fulfillment in life. 

People vary in their capacity for intimacy including their desire for and ability to create and maintain it.  The term Intimacy Quotient has been developed to estimate one’s ability to share themselves with others.  It is modeled after the concept of Intelligence Quotient or IQ.  The IQ is a score determined from a set of standardized tests used to measure how smart or intelligent we are.  The IQ is an estimate of one’s ability to use logic and reason to solve complex problems in comparison to others. 

To assess your Intimacy Quotient or ability to share yourself with others, there are short questionnaires that can be found on the internet.  One of these is the Intimacy Status Interview developed in 1973 by psychologist Jacob Orlofsky.  It is a measure of one’s desire and capacity for intimacy in relationships which takes into consideration an individual’s capacity to have a healthy balance between identity and intimacy.  It is based on the beliefs of Eric Ericson, Ph.D. who stated that for true intimacy an individual must have a solid identity or sense of self.  Otherwise their close relationships tend to be more of a dependent merging than of two separate individuals becoming close by choice. 

Another measure of Intimacy Quotient is presented by David A. Gershaw, Ph.D. under LOL (A Line on Life) Intimacy Quotient on the internet.  This is his adaptation of the work of Wilma Kirk-Lee’s “What’s Your Intimacy Quotient” in Sexuality and Health Forum, Benjamin Cummings Publishing, Spring, 1993, Pages 5-7 and  Jeffery Turner and Laura Robinson’s  Contemporary Human Sexuality, Prentice Hall Publishers, 1993, page 165. 

Essential components of intimacy are reflected in the questions in both of these intimacy quotient questionnaires.  Valuing another’s experiences, listening to and empathizing

with them are assessed.  Wanting to join with and share time and experiences with another versus preferring to be alone and keeping things to oneself is another area questioned.  The questions inquire about one’s desire for and use of touch, physical affection and sex as an expression of emotional closeness.  Needing the use of alcohol or drugs to have sexual closeness is also questioned.  How one deals with conflict, namely, avoiding it, reacting with strong emotion or behavior or discussing it is also an aspect of intimacy that is assessed.  Finally, the questionnaires ask about the ability to express a range of emotions as well as to share vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams with another. 

If you find yourself scoring a low intimacy quotient or if you already sense that you have difficulty with intimacy, you may want to explore options to understand and improve this.  Challenges in childhood are a common source of intimacy problems.  Loss of a parent or primary caretaker as well as childhood abuse and neglect can result in fear of intimacy.  Trust in others, a basic building block of intimacy, is often damaged by these and other childhood traumas. 

Some mental disorders such as Schizoid Personality Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Avoidant Personality Disorder are characterized by discomfort with and fear and avoidance of intimacy. 

Starting psychotherapy is a good way to begin understanding and working on intimacy problems.  The gradual sharing of oneself with a safe person who listens attentively and is non-judgmental can help develop the capacity for trust.  Within this safe space one can also face and work out some of the childhood trauma that created the anxieties about and defenses against attachment and self-exposure. 

The capacity for intimacy can also be practiced and developed in relationships starting from the minimum, least threatening levels.  Simply spending time together, sharing conversations about general, non-personal topics, listening to the other person and attempting to be present are beginning steps. 

Moving toward greater levels of intimacy might include sharing personal thoughts, news and feelings, talking about an area of conflict or disagreement without blame or arguing and making a commitment to talk on a regular basis to “check in” with each other. 

Initiating physical touch or sexual contact or conversation and talking about the relationship itself are some of the highest levels of intimacy. 

Both people in a relationship need to be moving through the levels of intimacy together in order to reach true or the fullest intimacy.  Finally, there needs to be a commitment by both people in a relationship to remain in it to grow and work things out in order for the trust and development to work. 

Dr. Margaret Stoll is a Clinical Psychologist with offices in Redondo Beach and Glendale, California.  She is a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network.  Dr. Stoll can be reached at (310) 375-3607 or

Copyright 2022 by Margaret L. Stoll, Ph.D.