|Professor Tanya Bass|
True love often evokes a sense of security, but Tanya Bass believes that all successful romances involve some level of risk.
“Whether it is a new relationship or a desire by longtime couples to become closer, it’s crucial to be able to share and take risks,” says Bass, who teaches human sexuality and other classes at North Carolina Central University’s Department of Public Health.
Bass is a Certified Health Educator whose focus includes minority health, pregnancy prevention, HIV/STDs and reproductive/sexual health. She is an alumna of NCCU’s Department of Public Health Education, where she earned a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Public Health. She has been a public health instructor for the past 10 years. She also works as an independent consultant, trainer and facilitator.
Bass says true intimacy begins when couples share feelings and thoughts with one another – especially those that may be private or potentially controversial.
“You really don’t get to know a person unless you are willing to take the risk of sharing with them,” adds Bass.
A number of studies have shown that the ability to bond intimately with another person gets its start in infancy. The kinds of relationships infants have with their primary caregivers become the model for adult connections. The 2005 publication “Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems,” edited by Frank W. Schbneider, Jamie A. Gruman and Larry M. Coutts, tied intimacy in adult romantic relationships to past parent-child relationships. Children who are securely attached to their mothers are statistically more likely to find satisfaction in adult relationships, and their adult relationships tend to last longer and demonstrate deeper commitment.
Bass points out that humans are sensual beings from the time they are born, as evidenced by babies cuddling in their mother’s arms. All close relationships require a certain amount of vulnerability, she adds.
“Intimate relationships are two-edged. You have to take a risk and they have to take a risk. You have to trust, and they have to trust. But you also have to be mindful of whom you are trusting. It’s not easy to put confidence in someone if you think they may let you down or not feel the same way.”
Many couples struggle with intimacy issues because of differing experiences in childhood, Bass says.
“Some males grow up in households where it is not okay to show intimacy or sensuality – it’s not considered a healthy part of masculinity,” she says. “People who have been physically or verbally abused may also struggle with intimacy. Some may see it as a weakness. And if you didn’t grow up experiencing or understanding it, you may just see it awkward. How intimacy is developed and nurtured in childhood can impact how you function and connect with others as an adult.”
But that doesn’t mean coupledom is doomed to fail if partners have had different experiences with intimacy.
“They really just need to do some self-reflection and ask themselves: Why don’t I like to hug? It’s OK if that’s the case, but they also have to be willing to tell that to their partner so he or she will understand what’s going on.”
Couples focused exclusively on sex rather than intimacy may lose steam as they pass through different life stages such as parenthood and aging, she adds.
“If it’s all about the sexual touch, a marriage can suffer when partners’ bodies don’t function the same way as when they were first together. That’s why a lot of our relationships get broken.”
For Valentine’s Day, she offers a few tips for strengthening intimacy in relationships: