12 Stages of Human Intimacy

Marc and I spend a lot of time discussing theories about writing. So a few days ago, I came across a list of “The 12 Stages of Human Intimacy” that fellow writer Jenny Hansen compiled after reading Desmond Morris’ Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy. Morris is a behavioral scientist, and reading his book is certainly a benefit for anyone studying intimacy.

I will briefly summarize the 12 stages of physical intimacy here. If you want to know more, you can follow Jenny’s link – or go straight to Morris:

Check it out

The first palpation, the first acquaintance, the first test. No approach without this first step. In creative writing, this is a good opportunity to introduce a protagonist, because the critical eye of a character can help you avoid clichés.

Eye contact

The first interaction. A lot depends on how this eye contact is formed. Everything that lasts longer than two seconds becomes conscious and moves something in the psyche. In most cases, it is already clear at this point who can do something with whom.

First verbal contact

The first exchange of words. We hear what kind of voice the other person is using. Platitudes are forbidden in creative writing. In this respect, these first sentences say a lot about the protagonists. They must contain the nucleus of the protagonist’s life.


The first contact, usually via the ritual of shaking hands. But even in a casual pub conversation, touching the hands of the other person is the first step that indicates: I want intimacy.

Hug 1: The arm around the other person’s shoulder

Whether casually, to continue the journey together, or as the first sign of a sought-after closeness: An arm around the shoulder is a symbol of belonging. Later, it often becomes a gesture of possessiveness – the reason why some people are quite allergic to it. At least if the sympathy is not equally distributed.

Hug 2: The arm around the other person’s waist

The dance begins. If the hand or arm finds its way from the shoulder to the waist or at least the back, the friendly gesture becomes an intimate one. Finally, the hand moves towards the abdomen. The boundary of intimacy is extended.


When this level of intimacy is reached, the first kiss usually follows. Emotionally, a lot should happen in our protagonists; biochemically, saliva is exchanged. We can feel how we react to the other person, because saliva contains messenger substances that we can do something with – or not.


Time for caresses. A hand on your partner’s hair or cheeks is an extremely intimate moment.


The moment the hand moves from the head over the neck towards the shoulders or touches another naked part of the body, necking, the preliminary stage of foreplay, begins.

Lip play

As a rule, the fingertips that glide over the naked skin are followed by the lips. At some point, they find men’s lips on the woman’s chest. In most cases, the woman has at least taken off her top and shows herself to the man. Perhaps the leap in intimacy that requires the most trust: Does he find me beautiful the way I am?


Call it foreplay, call it safe sex. The hand on the partner’s genitals presupposes an extensive willingness to engage sexually with the other person. This is conscious arousal, regardless of whether it is carried through to orgasm or is intended as foreplay for the actual sexual intercourse in order to arouse each other.


Stupid word. The stage of intimacy in which genitals rub against genitals and two people become one. At least for the moment.

For us as authors, each of these twelve stages offers the opportunity to interrupt the progress of intimacy with doubts or tangible problems. At each stage, both partners have the chance to decide whether they want to continue or whether they want to send a “stop” signal at this point.

Depending on how self-confident your protagonists are, there may be days between the individual stages. Or – especially when a charmer is on the move – everything happens very quickly. But one thing is clear: the more you color in the individual stages, appeal to all five senses and color in the psyche of your protagonists, the easier it is for readers to find themselves. And that’s exactly what readers want – from romances as well as from tangible erotic literature.

All my love,

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