Let’s talk a little about relationship longevity. Most relationships aren’t going to have what it takes to go the distance. In fact, many relationships simply can’t last because of a simple fact: you’re not sexually compatible.
It may not seem like it at first, while you’re caught up in the throes of new relationship energy. Even if you’re not quite at the same level, you believe You see, new relationships are easy. All those chemicals flooding your brain – the deluge of oxytocin and dopamine making the neurons in the pleasure centers of your brain fire off like the fountains in front of the Bellagio – make everything seem amazing.
There’s nothing that the two of you can’t do because you’re in love – the kind of love that nobody has ever known before!
Unfortunately, it rarely takes long for reality to set in. Once you’re out of the honeymoon period, then you’re faced with finding out whether there’s really any long-term potential here… and if you’re not sexually compatible, then you’ve got a ticking time-bomb hidden, waiting to blow your relationship apart. And like adventure games of old, if you don’t address it in the beginning, it can often be too late to fix things.
So before things get serious, you need to sit down and work out whether you have what it takes to go the distance together.
The Importance of Sexual Compatibility
We tend to have a complicated and conflicted relationship with sex. Even in the 21st century, we live in a profoundly sex-negative culture – just one that likes to think that it’s progressive. Our sexual education system is at best a glorified anatomy lesson; at worst, it’s a collection of lies and deliberate misinformation designed to (theoretically) keep children from having sex ever. We tell women to be sexy but not sexual – to be desirable but to not feel desire – while men are told that their worth depends on much sex as possible, setting men and women up for an inevitable conflict. Even the concept of making sure everybody is an eager participant is a new and radical concept.
Small wonder, then, that we tend to make such a hash out of our sex lives.
See, sex and being sexual compatibility are one of the most important parts of maintaining a relationship. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons why relationships end. But at the same time, sex remains incredibly important to relationships… right up until it suddenly isn’t. When we complain about being dissatisfied with our sex-lives then you rish plunging head-first into a wall of razor-sharp judgement from just about everyone around you. If the sexual dissatisfaction doesn’t conform to a very specific narrative… well, you’re really being selfish at best and a perv at worst.
Not getting enough sex? Well boo-goddamn-hoo; maybe try realizing that sex isn’t the most important thing in the world. Or maybe you should do more housework. Or maybe be grateful for what you are getting. Partner wants sex way more than you do? Quit humble-bragging, do you know how many people would love to have your problem? And if you happen to leave your partner over, say, wanting non-vanilla sex… well, then you’re almost instantly the bad guy. What kind of freak are you?
This, incidentally, remains true for men and women. Anyone who vocally strays from the dominant cultural narrative surrounding sex in relationships faces being judged by everyone. A woman with a high libido, or who wants consensual sex with multiple partners is a slut. A man with a low (or even non-existant) libido is insufficiently manly. A man who wants more sex than his partner does is inconsiderate at best and a monster at worst. A person who wants to indulge in a kink or fetish is a pervert or freak. People who complain will be told “really, isn’t that just a small thing in comparison to everything else in the relationship? Isn’t the love or companionship worth more than indulging in footplay or only having sex once every three months?”
Well… no. No it’s not. Because sex is a part of the relationship. It’s not something that can be excised when it’s inconvenient. Relationships are holistic partnerships, with every aspect tied to the others. Feeling as though your needs or desires are being neglected or ignored in one area is inevitably going to affect the other areas. And while it’s easy to simply say “well, that’s the price of entry” to the relationship, a lack of sexual satisfaction isn’t something that can be brushed under the rug. If it’s left unaddressed, it will grow and fester, turning from dissatisfaction to bitterness and resentment.
Most of these issues tend to result not because of any inherent perversity or flaw in one or both partners; it’s simply a matter of the fact that they’re sexually incompatible. They simply have needs that the other person can’t (or won’t) fulfill. They’re a square peg trying to fit into a round hole; you might be able to wedge it in there, but it sure as hell isn’t going to be a good fit.
It’s important for couples to talk with one another – especially early on in the relationship – to determine just wether or not they’re a match, sexually. The last thing anyone wants is to go into a relationship under the assumption that they’re both on the same page only to find out that they have radically different views on sex or, worse, finding themselves in an apparent bait-and-switch scenario.
So what are some of the things you should discuss to determine if you’re sexually compatible?
Do You Have Matching Sex Drives?
The most common sexual incompatibility that people run into is a case of mismatched sex drives. There is always going to be an imbalance in terms of libido – the odds of having perfectly matched sex drives are slightly worse than the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field in a busted-ass Corellian freighter – but it quickly becomes a matter of degree.
It’s one thing if one partner wants it every day and twice on Sundays and the other prefers it once a week. It’s another entirely when the partner with a lower libido wants it once a month if that. There simply isn’t a way to find a compromise that’s going to be satisfying to both partners; the mismatch in their relative horniness is simply going to be a bridge too far.
The accepted rule of thumb is that the partner with the higher libido should default to the desires of the person with the lower libido… but this isn’t always an acceptable or even tenable solution. It’s easy to say that an orgasm is an orgasm and one should be satisfied with jerking it or using a sex-toy, and in fairness, those are ways that the hornier partner should attend to their own needs. However, sex in the context of a relationship is more than just about getting off. It’s about fostering and maintaining the connection between partners, about feeling emotional intimacy along with physical intimacy. It’s about feeling desired by the person you want to desire you. It’s about feeling as though your partner sees your happiness as a priority, rather than an inconvenience or an annoyance. There is only so long before a mismatch in sex-drives causes a rift in the relationship – possibly a permanent one.
It’s important that both partners be honest with one another, especially in the beginning, about how much of a priority they place on sex and (ideally) how frequently they would prefer to have it. It’s also important to recognize the difference between being stressed, depressed, tired or otherwise less interested in sex due to external influences – which is temporary – versus a libido mismatch. It’s also important to recognize that libidos can change as we age and libidos that may have matched up can end up in conflict… and have plans in place as to how to handle it.
How Do You Feel About Monogamy and Infidelity?
One of the ongoing issues with discussing sex is the assumption that traditional monogamy is the standard, that it’s natural and effortless; that people who aren’t monogamous are somehow deviant or lacking in willpower. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: monogamy isn’t natural, it’s cultural and in fact many of us are bad at it. If it were easy, then we wouldn’t have nearly 50% of men and women in relationships reporting having committed an infidelity. We also tend to assume that monogamy is all-encompassing; that if you love someone, you’ll never ever desire anyone else. In reality, we will lust after other people or have crushes on other people all the time. Monogamy just means you choose not to have sex with other people, not that you don’t want to.
Now it’s important to keep in mind: this is not saying that monogamy is bad or even undesirable – just to understand that it is difficult. Some people are very good at monogamy and never experience a moment’s hesitation or temptation. Other people are very bad at it and inevitably cheat on their partner – even when they have the best of intentions. It doesn’t necessarily mean that either person is bad; it’s far more likely that they’re just not sexually compatible.
This is why it’s important to have an actual conversation about their feelings on monogamy and sexual exclusivity – and especially what you both consider to be cheating. One person’s acceptable behavior is another person’s relationship extinction event. It’s to be honest with yourself about it. If you have a history of cheating, then you may want to consider that perhaps monogamy isn’t for you. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a binary answer – either you’re monogamous or your not. You may be open to the idea of opening things up later on. You may be open to varying levels of non-monogamy. Or you may be open initially but eventually come to realize that you’d rather be exclusive. Making sure early on that you have similar views – and that you can talk about them openly and honestly – is important to a relationship’s success.
What Kind Of Sex Do You Want?
One thing that people rarely think of when it comes to being sexually compatible is the kind of sex they’re into… and what they can’t stand. As with most forms of sexual expression, people fall on a spectrum when it comes to types of sex. Some people are game to try anything once. Some people have very hard limits. Some people find fellatio or cunnilingus disgusting or degrading, while other people can’t live without it. For some people, sex with the lights on is just too kinky and female-superior is the height of sexual experimentation. Other people can’t get it up unless they’re wearing a baby seal-leather gimp mask and being strapped to a Saint Andrew’s Cross.
This is one of those areas that’s best addressed early on; there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding many forms of kink and power-exchange and the people who practice them. For some people, their kink is a nice addition to their sex lives, the fried pickles on the sexual cheeseburger. For others, however, it’s a requirement and trying to go without it means that before long, the pressure is going to build up to unbearable levels.
This is one area where not being sexually compatible can sabotage relationships. Because we still view kinks, fetishes and non-vanilla sex with suspicion, we tend to assign stigma to the people who practice it as well. It’s not a long leap between “that’s disgusting” to “you’re disgusting”. Many kinksters are afraid to share their interests with their significant others for fear of judgement – even when the interests are actually quite common and tame, like spanking.
Which is why…
The Key To Being Sexually Compatible is Compromise
Nobody is going to be a perfect match, sexually. There’s always going to be a certain amount of disparity in every couple, no matter how perfect their relationship is. Sexual compatibility takes work, and that means being willing to make sacrifices and reach compromises.
Dan Savage – official NerdLove Celebrity Patronus – summed it up best when he coined the phrase “good, giving and game” or “GGG”. In practice, this means being good in bed, giving of pleasure and game for trying anything within reason. Couples aren’t going to be perfectly in synch, sexually, but they’re both responsible for trying to fulfill their partner’s needs as well as their own.
When one partner is kinky – then the non-kinky partner should make a good-faith effort to help indulge in their fetish. This means actively participating, rather than making it clear that they’re being forced to do this and martyring themselves to their partner’s desires. Again, the operative phrase is “within reason” – you don’t want to do anything that’s going to leave you curled up and crying on the bathroom floor, but indulging your partner’s interest in light bondage or foot worship on occasion isn’t outside the bounds of reasonability. At the same time, the kinky partner needs to recognize that they aren’t necessarily going to be flogging or getting flogged every time; it’s going to be an occasional indulgence, especially if their partner isn’t super into it.
When there’s a mismatch in libidos, it does mean that the partner with the higher libido is willing to attend to themselves on occasion and to not badger or guilt their less-sexually active partner. At the same time however, it also means that the partner with the lower libido should throw their partner a bone1 even if they’re not completely in the mood. One thing that can help is to expand the definitions of sex so that it doesn’t just mean penetration. Redefining sex to include assisted masturbation, oral sex or even just talking dirty or putting on a show for them while they masturbate can help keep both partners satisfied and content.
If a compromise that keeps both partners happy and satisfied can’t be reached… well, sometimes that happens. Sometimes couples simply aren’t sexually compatible. It’s better to learn this early into the relationship than later.
It’s worth remembering: sex and being sexually compatible isn’t just about orgasms – it’s about the connection and intimacy that comes with sex. It’s less about frequency and much more about quality and communication. Sexual compatibility doesn’t mean you have to be exactly the same… just that you’re complimentary. When you can work together to meet each other’s sexual needs, you’ll find sexual compatibility – and sexual fulfillment – comes much more easily.
- fnar [↩]