Michille: Stages of Intimacy

Desmond_Morris_(1969)With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I was reminded of an RWA session I attended a couple of years ago with Linda Howard in which she presented Desmond Morris’s 12 Stages of Intimacy as a means to build sexual tension in a story. I believe it comes from his Intimate Behaviour: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy, but I can’t confirm that because it is out of print. I would love to get a copy of it.

Of course, with the recent deluge of sexual harassment/assault accusations and subsequent consequences, the can apply to that conversation also – as in – how far down this list can you go before it is considered harassment/assault.

The list is below:

1. Eye to body. This is the first step in general awareness, when one person gets a good look of someone else. It’s more than a glance that allows a person to notice the height, weight, and dress 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. It seems to me that this should be first, but I’ll admit that The Des probably knows more about the topic than I do. He says this is the second step, but the first step of active interaction between two people.

3. Voice to voice. Okay, now we’re talking. Literally.

4. Hand to hand (or arm). This is used to acknowledge a possible relationship. Nora Roberts uses this a lot. I remember in the McD Romance program, several of us had trouble with how touchy Nora’s characters are early in the story. I believe Jenny put it succinctly (as she usually does) with something like, “Touch me again pal and you’ll pull back a bloody stump.” Obviously some people are more okay with this than others.

5. Arm to shoulder. This strikes me as the classic yawn-and-drop move at the movies. This is upping the intimacy stakes because bodies are getting closer together.

6. Arm to waist, or back. This indicated a growing familiarity and comfort level in a relationship. I like the hero’s hand on the small of the heroine’s back. Why I think that is romantic, I have no idea.

7. Mouth to mouth. It would seem that The Des doesn’t differentiate between the lip kiss and the tongue kiss. Once someone else’s body part has entered mine, a hand to my head is, to me, less intimate. Again, I guess he knows more.

8. Hand to head. I keep picturing a pat on the head, but I do love it in a story when one of the members of the couple holds the other’s head while kissing.

9. Hand to body. This is the beginning of foreplay, but still clean (see stage 11).

10. Mouth to breast. And again, I’d put 11 before 10 because I lump sexual body parts together. A hand to the breast seems less intimate than a mouth. The Des must just mean the vagina or penis.

11. Hand to genitals. We’re rounding the bases now. And if one follows the mores for writing romance fiction these days, this is when the participants are stone cold sober or they stop.

12. Genitals to genitals. Home run, baby! A funny aside: when I was noodling around on the web looking for input for this post, I stumbled across one that uses these steps for business relationships. This step for a business relationship means the customer becomes an insider. Ha.

Relative to the sexual harassment/assault thing, it can start at number 1 depending on how one is looking at another’s body. Generic contact for 1 – 4 between people who know each other should be fine. But again, it depends on the intent. If it’s a friend, it’s fine, if it’s a creepy co-worker, not so much. I remember in the McD program, several of us had trouble with some of the stories in which the hero was touchy early in the story. Too much, too soon. Nora Roberts’ characters touch early in her stories. Sometimes I okay with it in her stories, if she has convincingly connected the characters early.

Relative to the writing aspect of these, do you use this in your writing of relationships? Or do you follow a different path?

6 thoughts on “Michille: Stages of Intimacy

  1. I was attributing the 12 stages of intimacy to Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love, which we discussed during McD. Didn’t we also discuss the 12 stages at some point during our course work? It all rings a loud bell, and I know I didn’t attend that RWA session.

    Thanks for this reminder, and handy-dandy list. It really can be helpful when thinking about where characters are/how they are progressing in their relationship. Sometimes when I’m watching movies and I catch a few of these movements, I pay closer attention to see how the creators use the other stages, and whether I think they’re in the ‘correct’ order :-).

  2. Funny how I unconsciously am working my way through these stages in my book. In fact, I get all the way through step 5 in Chapter 1 (albeit slightly out of order, and it’s all one-sided, as Susannah hates Nate’s guts…he’s the one doing all these thing). I definitely don’t think about this actively when I’m writing, but clearly it strikes a chord with my subconscious.

    • I don’t actively think about it when writing my first draft. I don’t generally think of craft at all for that. It’s only later that I start layering this stuff on top to make sure it progresses well.

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