While watching a movie last night I had this epiphany: Have you ever noticed that in American media (books & movies, mainly) the archetypal way of showing intimacy is inevitably sex?
OK, so maybe that's really obvious. But I was thinking about the reasons for that, and why it bugs me. If I think of it as an archetype, it doesn't bug me as much, because it's just the form, the way of getting into our subconscious to tell us that intimacy is going on in that relationship. If that's the case, great--the problem is, when we see sex over and over as the only expression of intimacy we tend to try to live that way as a culture. The fact that movies, books, etc. use sex as the only way to show intimacy means that we have a large proportion of the people who grow up in this culture not knowing how to be intimate without being sexual. This, of course, can cause many problems, from parents who sexually abuse their children, to difficulties having deep friendships even with the gender we wouldn't otherwise be attracted to because we don't know how to separate our feelings of intimacy between sexual feelings and other forms of love.
I think this is an important piece connected with the topic I posted about the other day in my post invisibility & the other: we both want and refuse intimacy, because we both want and refuse responsibility for the other. In our media, showing a couple having sex shortly after meeting is what works because a) people don't want to sit through a several year-long movie showing the development of a healthy relationship based on something other than sex, and b) sex gives the illusion of intimacy even if that intimacy doesn't really exist (or couldn't at that point if it were real life). Moving straight to sex is often (but not always) in media a way to show intimacy without responsibility: we see the couple get together and be happy and "in love," and the movie ends, happily ever after. Sometimes we see one or both of the characters working for that love to some degree--being responsible for the other--but mainly that is a small little glitch in an otherwise perfect-looking relationship where there are no lasting struggles, nothing that might make one develop a deeper sense of true intimacy by being responsible for the other and sticking with them through thick and thin. (Obviously this is a gross generalization--there are movies and books out there that show true intimacy and people show each other unconditional love that is not based only on sex.)
But I think making a relationship move directly to sex like this makes people invisible to each other, because it either assumes that all there is to know about me/you can be known in a glance and we can therefore be completely and immediately intimate with one another (which of course is an all-time wish, love at first sight), or that there is no need to know the other before being physically intimate, because all we need to do is satisfy our sex drives and that will make us intimate. But neither of these brings responsibility for the other into the equation, and therefore the intimacy is flat.
In my opinion, this is extremely damaging to the health of our culture's relationships. We have a generation (or more) of people who don't want to, or don't understand the need to, put work into a relationship, and that from this working and struggling over obstacles together and learning each other day in and day out, from all of this comes intimacy, not from a meaningful glance and a tumble in bed (although both of these are good things, too!).
So, sex as an archetypal image for intimacy is OK, but if we take it literally it makes us invisible to one another: we just become bodies to fulfill physical urges, rather than true partners in life, each striving to be more responsible for the other than we even are for ourselves.