River, I also think that vulnerability is a key element of intimacy, and that Western society doesn't have a clue about how to "handle" intimacy in all its forms. I will offer examples of what I mean by that.
Oftentimes, we will read that two actors met on a movie shoot or while appearing in a play together and got involved in a torrid love affair, only for it to all fall apart after the film or play is over. A film shoot, especially if far away from home, or a stage production, is an intensely intimate setting, where people are in close proximity with other people for an extended period, actors let their guard down to dig deep into parts of themselves in order to portray characters, and crew members have to cooperate closely with one another, all while everyone is, at the same time, immersed in this insulated small world working together on the project, and perhaps meeting personal challenges that they wouldn't normally have in their everyday life. They eat all their meals together, look out for each other, take risks, and find camaraderie with folks they never would befriend in real life. If one person catches a cold, everyone does. It is intense and it is intimate. So, oftentimes, two co-stars will start up a romance out of that situation, but it doesn't last after the film shoot or play ends.
Or we know people who met at an office job, and had to work closely together on some project, having become immersed in each other's "work life" in an intense way, and thought that the level of intimacy they experienced during this process was a basis for a relationship, so they start dating. But if one of them moves on and leaves the job or even just transfers to a different department, the relationship fizzles. This is because they tried to build a romantic relationship, not out of a connection that could be a strong foundation but, rather, out of the intensity of feelings they experienced in an intimate setting.
My theory is that people have a tendency to get confused about intimacy in a setting that is simply interpersonal and not sexual; they then try to turn the intimacy they shared and experienced together into a romantic and sexual relationship because they don't know what the hell else to do with all this closeness and revealing of themselves that went on during whatever situation they were in. They became vulnerable with each other, and then got confused about the intimacy. And especially if there is close proximity and some touch, even just hugs or hand-holding, for example, it is even more confusing because Western culture, or at least in North America, is much less comfortable with non-sexual touch and most people don't know how to handle it. So instead of allowing themselves to experience the intimacy, they rush into sexualizing it. They have sex and try to make relationships out of it. But when the intense situation, in which they first experienced the intimacy together, ends - whoa! - then they have the real person in front of them with whom they aren't actually compatible for the long term, and they didn't see that before because they don't really know each other as well as they thought they did, and they rushed into sex and let all those chemicals cloud their judgment and ability to see the actual person for who they are.
The initial period of intense intimacy was based on one aspect of who they are, the vulnerability might have been scary or risky and exciting to feel and share, the sex was based on confusion about what intimacy is, and then ultimately, the relationship didn't have enough of a solid footing to stand alone. Now, of course, some people are right for each other and make it work for years afterward, but more often than not, it doesn't happen. I think that, when intimacy - emotional, intellectual, sexual - can develop over time, in all aspects of being with someone, then there is a basis for a solid, loving relationship. And intimacy can keep growing. But, just because there is such a thing as sexual intimacy, we shouldn't just equate intimacy, per se, with sex or romance. We can be intimate in many ways.
I have thought about this a lot over the years. I hope that all made sense.