The 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy – What Are They?

Gustav Klimt ~ The Kiss

Gustav Klimt ~ The Kiss

12 Stages of Physical Intimacy
by Jenny Hansen


The day after Valentine’s Day seemed like the perfect time to clue y’all in on a secret the romance writers have been keeping to themselves. Since a good portion of the ladies out there probably curled up with a sexy book last night, I’m going to explain what makes these hot tamale novels so dang satisfying.

The most popular post I’ve ever run on More Cowbell was Using the 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy to Build Tension in Your Novel. Linda Howard, romantic suspense author extraordinaire, used to give a very popular talk on the subject based on the work of Desmond Morris.

Note: My favorite Linda Howard book? Son of the Morning. But you pretty much can’t find a bad read with her.

Below is the physical intimacy chart Linda taught me — use your new knowledge wisely!

1. Eye to body – this is the first “summing up” glance where a person notices the height, weight, dress code of another and registers an “overall impression.” A man will never approach a woman without this step and readers love it when writers get that first glimpse onto the page.

2. Eye to eye – the first step of active interaction between two people. There is a lot of tension to be found in eye contact. Whether it’s a menacing stare or a long glance, it ups the stakes for the reader and pulls them into the story.

3. Voice to voice – once two characters have met, they must speak. Who speaks first is important, as is what they say. In a book, if one character touches the other before they speak? Whoa! Serious tension. Why? Because they skipped some steps in the chart.

4. Hand to hand (or arm)“Mom, he’s touching me!” Don’t you remember how invasive you found the slightest look or touch from your siblings during a fight? It wasn’t about the touch, it was about crossing a boundary.

5. Arm to shoulder – Ah…it’s the old yawn and drop the arm around the girl move. Why is this a classic? Because this is serious intimacy. Up close and able to kiss or smell. This is a gateway move to more intimacy.

6. Arm to waist, or backOooh…the hand on the small of the back to guide a woman through the room. *sigh* Why is this so romantic? Because a warm hand against the small of the back sends the message to the woman and the rest of the room that this man is allowed to touch her, right above her bottom. This move signals physical comfort between two people. It’s a non-verbal behavior that’s nearly always sexual. Yummy.

7. Mouth to mouth – Have you ever wondered why a kiss is so intimate? You’ve skipped though half the intimacy chart with this one move. Depending on how the kiss progresses, several more intimacy levels may be skipped. WOOT!

Why do so many romance authors spend time and tension on the kiss, breaking it off or prolonging it? Because it works! Seriously, kissing creates tension in the pages of a novel, if it’s done right. Readers start fanning themselves and turning pages to see when those characters are going to do it again.

8. Hand to head Perhaps the first kiss back at Step 7 was a lip-lock, maybe it included some stroking of the back. Sexy and intimate, but not a “skip-a-level” moment. What about when a man holds a woman’s face or vice-versa? It’s hot, hot, HOT because it’s extraordinarily intimate to touch a person’s head or face.

9. Hand to body –This step moves the couple into the beginnings of foreplay. Those sneaky romance writers will often break the couple apart or have deep emotional issues at this point.

10. Mouth to breast –I always told my baby sister: “No matter what, keep your shirt on until you’re really sure you want to sleep with someone.” A woman can still turn back at this point, as can a man, but there’s likely to be some stomped feelings on both sides.

Note: That’s not why I told Baby Sis to stay clothed. Most women excrete oxytocin, the “bonding/love hormone,” when they have skin to skin contact. Why bond with some schmuck if it could have been avoided by just keeping that shirt on?

11. Hand to genitals – OK, this stage is pretty much the point of no return. If somebody changes their mind, labels like “tease” are likely to be assigned and major conflict will ensue. Writers gain major mileage by messing with their characters in these final stages.

12. Genitals to genitalsHe shoots, he scores! You’re at the sex act and both the readers and the characters will commit violence if the writer interrupts the BIG SEXY.

Enjoy your new knowledge, and use it well…


About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

© 2013 Jenny Hansen. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact me at the above links to request permission.

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