2412 intimacy

Privileged knowledge gained through close phy
sical association is not a sufficient condition to
ensure this type of intimacy. People living side
by side can feel trapped together as strangers
who know nothing of each others inner worlds.
Studying how people generate and sustain
intimacy leaves open the issue of what types
of intimate relationships (sexual relationships,
couple, kin, specific family relationships, friend
ship) are significant to people in different times
and places. Popular and academic commentators
of trends in affluent western societies make
a range of claims and counterclaims about the
nature of intimacy, its meaning and significance
in everyday lives, and patterns of social change.
These include claims that a focus on private
intimacy has helped displace civic and commu
nity engagement, that individualized forms of
intimacy have undermined conventional family
values, and counterclaims of heightened equal
ity and democracy spreading from personal life
to other domains.
Self disclosing intimacy as an element of
good couple, family, and, ultimately, friend
ship relationships has had widespread endorse
ment among the growing ranks of relationship
experts, psychologists, psychiatrists, psycho
therapists, and sexual counselors. This view
point was increasingly marketed and advertised
in the late twentieth century through a range
of cultural products advocating talking and lis
tening, sharing your thoughts, showing your
feelings to achieve and maintain a good rela
tionship, often privileging self expression over
more practical forms of love and care. Advo
cates of self disclosing intimacy claim partici
pants in conversations of mutual self revelation
create a quality of relationship more intense than
the knowing and understanding that can be gath
ered without such dialogue. Sexual intimacy
may play a part, but for some advocates of this
type of intimacy it is neither a necessary nor a
sufficient condition, as an intimacy of inner
selves is conceived as possible without an inti
macy of bodies. However, if, as some theorists
have argued, sexuality has come to be seen in
western cultures as expressive of the very essence
of the self, then sexual familiarity inevitably
enhances the intimacy generated by verbal
self disclosures.
Academics across a range of disciplines have
provided metacommentary on this cultural turn
to self disclosing intimacy, generating both
pessimistic and optimistic analysis of changes
in intimate relationships. An influential optimis
tic analysis was produced by British sociologist
Anthony Giddens in The Transformation of Inti
macy (1992). Giddens argued that a qualitative
shift in intimacy began to occur in the late
twentieth century. In this period, the faster pace
of social change and heightened awareness of
risk and uncertainty meant that conventio
nal ways of doing things, including being a
family and constructing gender and sexual
identities, were increasingly open to rework
ing, as people became more self conscious of
being makers of their own narrative of the
self. In this climate, Giddens argued, people
increasingly sought self disclosing intimacy
to anchor themselves in one or more particularly
intense personal relationships. Relationships
became more fragile, only lasting as long as
they provided mutual satisfaction, but they were
also potentially more satisfactory, equal, and
democratic. Sex was no longer harnessed to
set scripts; instead couples negotiated their own
rules of sexual conduct on a what we enjoy
basis. Although people continued to choose
long term intimate relationships, including mar
riage like relationships and parenting rela
tionships, diversity in styles of personal life
inevitably also blossomed.
There has been continued discussion of
whether and why womens relationships appear
to involve more self disclosing intimacy than
mens (Duncombe & Marsden 1995). Some psy
chological and psychoanalytic accounts map this
to the function of mothering and motherchild
relationships. Historically produced gendered
cultural discourses, together with inequalities
in social constraints and opportunities, are also
widely cited in the literature. Similarly, there
are discussions of differences by social class,
ethnicity, age, and life course stage in patterns
of intimacy. Giddens suggested that women,
and particularly lesbians and young women,
were at the vanguard of his alleged transforma
tion of intimacy: women because previous con
ventions and social conditions have made them
more skilled at doing intimacy; women in
same sex relationships because they are less con
strained by any prior script that suggests a par
ticular division of labor; and young women
because they have the most to gain in more equal