When we hear the word intimacy, the first thing that springs to mind for many of us is sex. In reality, there are lots of different types of intimacy in romantic relationships, and they are all important for different reasons.

Whether you're feeling emotionally disconnected from your partner, or you're keen to reignite a lost spark in the bedroom, we spoke to some of the UK's leading experts to help you understand how intimacy plays a part in your relationship and how you can give it the boost it deserves.

What are the different types of intimacy?

Physical intimacy

While this does include sex, it's not all about sex. Physical intimacy consists of everything from hand holding to cuddling on the sofa. "It's any form of physical touch that lets your partner know they're safe and they can relax with you," says Megwyn White, Director of Education at Satisfyer and certified clinical sexologist.

"This type of touch is important to all relationships but is especially important in intimate relationships to help reinforce a feeling of being 'at home' with each other," Megwyn adds. It allows couples to feel more relaxed around each other and, in turn, communicate better. Anna Williams, relationships expert and author of Where is the Love?: The Honest Guide to Dating and Relationships (out 17th February) adds that a lack of physical intimacy is often triggered by a lack of emotional intimacy.

Emotional intimacy

Emotional intimacy underpins all types of intimacy. It's about connecting to your partner on a deeper level and creating a strong bond. "The need to nurture emotional intimacy can’t be understated," says Dr Jacqui Gabb, Chair of Sociology and Intimacy at The Open University, and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired. "That sense of being there for each other in the relationship is really important because without that, it can feel quite alienating."

"Couples that learn to cultivate authentic sharing and nurture emotional intimacy will benefit in all areas of their relationship," Megwyn adds.

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Spiritual intimacy

While this type of intimacy can include mutual religious beliefs, it doesn't have to. "It might include rituals or pastimes that help to encourage personal self-growth and development like mindfulness or meditation," says Megwyn.

"Whatever your spiritual connection is, exploring aspects of it with your partner can help to deepen your connection and encourage you to slow down and reflect together as a couple," Megwyn adds.

Experiential intimacy

Experiential intimacy often occurs when you're faced with challenges as a couple. "Experiential intimacy challenges couples to work collaboratively to move through experiences in life as a team," Megwyn says. "Many couples that successfully work through challenges are closer because of it and their overall trust and intimacy will grow."

These challenges can come in the form of family issues, work changes or financial struggles. Megwn adds they are often "forced" experiences that bring you together as a couple.

    Intellectual intimacy

    Engaging with your partner through healthy, intellectual dialogue creates intellectual intimacy. "Intellectual intimacy can be incredibly stimulating and even spark desire within your relationship by developing greater respect between partners," Megwn says.

    This could be a discussion about the plot of a film you've both watched or a healthy debate about current affairs.

      What causes a lack of intimacy?

      In the first blush of romance, aka the honeymoon period, intimacy often comes more naturally with couples having more sex, sharing mutual experiences and getting to know one another for the first time. As the weeks, months and years roll by, with children or other responsibilities in the mix, life can take over and connecting with your partner can easily fall to the bottom of the priority list. Sound familiar?

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      "The couples that seem to work through this strain most effectively are those who make time for each other" Dr Gabb tells us. "That's not a pressure to think, 'Oh we've got to have sex, it's a Saturday night.' It's more saying, 'Let's make time for intimacy and closeness and being together,'" Dr Gabb adds. Megwn agrees, she often finds couples make the mistake of waiting for intimacy to happen, instead of making it happen.

      How to boost intimacy in your romantic relationship

      1. Establish what you need

      "It's important to establish what you need... and what you'd like to have before you can get to the point of communicating it to your partner," explains Anna. "Timing is really key and sometimes intimacy can wait when people don't have the time or space to think about what they need [to be fulfilled]" she adds. Anna advises letting your partner know you want to have a conversation about your relationship so you both have time to consider what you want before, together, you come up with a plan.

      2. Talk about it

      You may feel awkward broaching the topic of intimacy with your other half, but communication is key in any relationship and vital if you want to make changes. "It's about having those awkward conversations, and having them openly, being empathic and listening to what your partner says, and thinking about how you can solve those things together," explains Dr Gabb.

      Make plans together

      Planning is your new best friend – whether you're scheduling sex or a walk in the park. "It's about acknowledging that sometimes, when something is so far down the to-do list, you need to be open about it and schedule it into your calendar," explains Dr Gabb.

      While the idea of planning sex might not be an instant turn-on, it can still be sexy and exciting. Once you've got a day in mind, you can enjoy the build up to the moment, treat yourself to some new lingerie or a sex toy for your both to explore, discuss your wants and desires or text your partner and simply tell them you're looking forward to spending time together (or, if you really want to amp up the foreplay, see our best sexting ideas).

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      4. Use apps or games to connect

      "Playing an intimacy card game can be a wonderful and fun bridge to exploring desires while also learning about your partner," says Megwn. "The act of playing a game can also help to take the edge off of communication and initiate topics that would otherwise be difficult to bring up."

      Similarly, apps like Paired offer couples an easy way to start up a conversation about an aspect of their relationship they're pondering. Daily questions and quizzes prompt conversations about everything from your sexual fantasies to how you handle conflict, encouraging couples to start the conversation on the app, and continue it in real-life with the ultimate aim or strengthening their relationship.

      5. Practice attentive listening

      Despite the fast pace of modern life, taking time out to really listen to your partner will do wonders for the intimacy in your relationship. Attentive listening requires you to carve out time to really engage with you partner – no distractions.

      "Show them that you're engaged with what they're saying, and that you're interested in what they're saying," says Dr Gabb. Ditch TV over dinner, put your phone away for a cuddle on the sofa or take time out for a walk and a chat. Ask them how they are, what they've been up to at work or what they'd like to do this weekend. If the topic of intimacy comes up, listen to how they feel and hear them out. "Then you can say, 'Ok, let's think about how we can get that sense of emotional closeness back in our relationship if we feel we've drifted'," adds Dr Gabb.

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      6. Look forward to the future

      "Sometimes when things are tough, having eyes on the relationship horizon is really important because it can help us get through those difficult times in the present," explains Dr Gabb. So, while relationships are about the past, present and future, sometimes talking about how you'd like to move forward in the relationship and what you want to achieve together can deepen your bond.

      7. Get to know your love languages

      Understanding the five love languages, which summarise the key ways we receive love, could be a game-changer for your relationship. Quality time, physical touch, acts of service, gifts and words of affirmation make up the five languages – and knowing your language and your partner's could totally transform how you show appreciation for one and another. If previously your partner has shown love through gifts, but your primary love language is quality time, it can help you understand their intentions and allow them to learn how you feel love most.

      "You can then focus on doing those things that will enable your partner to feel loved and appreciated," Anna explains.

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      8. Care for your relationship

      When we first get into a relationship, we invest lots of time and energy into our partner. And, when a relationship is struggling, there's therapy, counselling and intervention services available to help partnerships in crisis. But, what about all the time in between?

      It's important to care for the relationship we're living in, Dr Gabb explains. This is where ongoing relationship care comes in – putting in the daily work to allow all aspects of relationship intimacy to thrive.

      "A relationship is formed by three things – it's you, your partner, and the relationship. And it's the dynamic of those three parts, that make a relationship," reminds Dr Gabb. Think about the time you both put into working on yourself, on your career or on your home, and dedicate similar time to working on your partnership.

      "Even the small things, like making them a cup of tea in the morning, are really important things that let your partner know you're there," explains Dr Gabb. "They start to help us to feel more connected, because it shows that they're prioritising the relationship, too."

      And after all, the key to boosting intimacy in a relationship is to make it happen, together, as a team.