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It's better than sex and it's more than just love. It's a feeling, a closeness.

Intimacy.

A legion of columnists, advice givers, therapists and pastors say society is starved for intimacy. In the been-there, done-that '90s, people are sexually saturated, yet strangely disconnected.

Intimacy even has a smell: Jasmine, Bulgarian rose, sandalwood and ylang ylang, as marketed by First Herb Shop. But its essence is strangely absent from day-to-day life.

In an interview with USA Today Weekend, Dr. Drew Pinsky, co-host of MTV's "Loveline" sex-advice program, says young adults are unable to establish intimacy because they're too into sexual thrills.

His advice: "Get away from the sex part and into intimacy. Commit yourself to a relationship and don't look for ways to get out."

"Intimacy is the way people find happiness. Monogamy is required for intimacy to flourish," he says.

Marked by close association, acquaintance and familiarity, intimacy also pertains to one's deepest nature. People assume this means one's sexuality, but a hunger for intimacy cannot be satisfied through unlimited sex, says Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of the recent book "Kosher Sex." He bluntly informs readers that sex often works against intimacy. To really know your spouse, abstain for two weeks a month, he says.
"I am trying to identify what [the public] really, really wants," he said. "The overwhelming desire for sex is a manifestation of an inner desire for intimacy."

He continues: "Sex thrives specifically in a veiled arena, where fantasy and allure are allowed their place. Moreover, without modesty, there can be no intimacy. When sex is too public -- when it is broadcast to the world -- it is then no longer about two people sharing something special and exclusive.

"Modesty dictates that there is a curtain that separates my private space from the rest of the world. Intimacy dictates that there are times when that curtain is raised by us in order to invite in a special person for exclusive and intimate acts."

The lack in our culture of knowing and being known echoes back to Simon and Garfunkel-esque 1960s songs of silence and loneliness, when fame was 15 minutes long and people got shot in places like New York while bystanders stood mutely by.

Intimacy has its own cliche; namely, that men fear it but women relish it. However, fear of intimacy "runs almost like an epidemic through the lives of young women today," writes Boston psychotherapist Mira Kirschenbaum in her new book, "Women & Love."

"The keynote of fear of intimacy is that falling in love feels like bad news," she writes. "When your heart sends you that letter that you're falling in love, it feels like you've gotten a letter from the IRS telling you they're auditing you."

Too much intimacy can be painful. Joyce Kovelman, a psychotherapist quoted on the www.cupidnet.com Web site, says few people can be intimate and honest for more than a few moments at a time.

"The more invested in a relationship, the harder it is to be honest," she writes. "The risk seems greater. Each of us [is] so used to being told 'don't,' 'shouldn't,' 'mustn't' and 'can't,' and how we're supposed to be. It's no wonder that we hesitate to reveal our innermost ideas and needs."

The religious world has caught onto this felt need, with vocalists such as rock star Carmen Licciardello promising fans that his music ushers one into "an exciting and intimate experience with our Creator."

God is portrayed as the one safe place for intimacy in recent releases such as "Intimate Bride: Gentle Worship for Soaking in God's Presence" from the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. Late last year, Vineyard Music Group, a California-based company, released a CD titled "Intimacy."

"Intimacy is critical to relationship with God," says VMG General Manager Alex MacDougall. "We don't sing about God. We sing to God.

"I think we're all pretty disconnected," he said. "If a Christian has intimacy with God, it's a way of feeling connected. Most of the time, relationships with other people are devalued. People are selfish. They have no time.

"There's a difference between lovemaking and sex. There's a difference between a relationship with God and a belief system. People want to experience a deeper level of love for God. The response is a flooding of peace in your heart and in your mind. That is one of the key payoffs here," Mr. MacDougall said.

Intimacy should be sought even in the working world, says Brian R. Smith, author of "Beyond the Magic Circle: The Role of Intimacy in Business."

He writes, "Choose your own work and your own feelings about it. Create a reality where your work serves as a vital extension of your celebration of your most intimate acts, thoughts and emotions. . . . See yourself and what you do as the result of intimate meaningful choices right now.

"Then and only then will you experience the intimate, quality reality available far above and beyond that offered by even the most exalted magic circles currently in vogue in American business," he says.

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