As a sex therapist, I hear from innumerable couples who struggle with sexual compatibility. One partner wants it more than the other, or one partner is into different things than the other. Sex feels disjointed, and partners feel like they're not on the same page.
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There are a number of different factors that influence sexual compatibility. The first thing most of us tend to think of is how frequently we desire sex. The single most common reason couples come in for sex therapy is because of mismatched sex drives. There's also compatibility in terms of the sexual behaviours we like to engage in. We all fall on a spectrum of vanilla to kinky when it comes to our sexual appetites. One partner may be perfectly happy with missionary sex every single time, while the other might need ball gags and blindfolds to get off. Finally, there's the concept of your sexual personality type. Essentially, it concerns what you use sex to accomplish. Some people use sex to connect, others use it for a release, and others use it to fill a void.
It can be difficult to know how much emphasis to put on sexual compatibility; while most people enjoy great sex, we tend to feel uncomfortable with the thought of ending a relationship over sexual incompatibility. The good news, in my opinion, is that sexual compatibility is not a fixed value. It can actually be improved!
When examining your sexual compatibility with a partner, here are some areas to consider:
- How big are the differences? Having some degree of difference in your sexual appetites is perfectly fine. Couples can usually navigate minor discrepancies in sexual desires and drives with relative ease. Additionally, you can learn a lot from having a partner who is into different things than you. A partner with a higher sex drive may help you realise that you like sex even more than you thought you did. You could get introduced to a new position, a surprising technique or an exciting sex toy. Variety and diversity make sex interesting, and will keep the spark alive in your relationship. On the other hand, huge differences are going to be more difficult to navigate. A partner who wants sex twice a day is going to have a hard time dating someone who would be fine with once a month. Dissimilarities in the value you place on sex are going to be particularly impactful; a partner who could care less about sex is going to struggle with a partner who values their sex life above all else. One way to gauge the scale of your differences is to play with my Ideal Vs Acceptable worksheet.
- How flexible are you willing to be? Can you practise random acts of sexual kindness with your partner? The most successful couples I've worked with have been the ones who are happily willing to accommodate their partners every now and then. One partner will try out a new sexual behaviour that they had never considered before. The other partner is open to sexual contact even when they're feeling a little tired or run down. Notice that this is vastly different from feeling pressured or obligated to have sex.
- Are you both willing to put effort into your sex life? Your willingness to work on your sexual relationship is way more important than having identical sex drives and desires. Regardless of how compatible you are, you're going to have times where things feel off between the two of you. Couples that acknowledges this fact and are willing to devote time, resources and energy to restoring their sexual connection are going to go the distance.
- What is your gut telling you? In my experience, people know deep down inside when things aren't working. You may feel guilty or uncomfortable ending a relationship solely because of sexual incompatibility. As sex-obsessed as our society is, we sure don't make it easy to honestly acknowledge how much we value our sex lives. But chances are you recognise when you just don't have a great sexual connection with another person. Honour your intuition.
And now I'll close out this topic with one final point to keep in mind: you're probably not going to get all of your needs — sexual or otherwise — met by one person. And that's OK! Life just wouldn't be interesting if we got what we wanted 100 per cent of the time. Expecting your partner to give you everything you want puts way too much pressure on your partner and your relationship. It's important to have a base level of compatibility, but make sure you continue exploring and taking responsibility for your sexuality on your own.
Vanessa Marin is a sex therapist and licensed psychotherapist based in San Francisco.