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Love and sex are not the same things, though both contribute to our sexual identity. Only we can determine our own sexuality; that said, many terms fly around that may confuse anyone who is not a medical professional. "Sexual incompatibility" is one such phrase used in many different contexts, but what does it mean for you?
What Is Sexual Incompatibility?
Sexual incompatibility refers to a conflict between two partners' sexual needs. Examples include finding your partner's preferences offputting, being turned off by your partner, and one partner withholding from the other or not wanting sex as often as the other desires it.
Getting physical in the early stages of love can come with trials and tribulations, but does that mean you are sexually incompatible? Is sex just not fun? Are you having sex at all? Has this changed over time? These are a few starter questions to ask yourself before declaring a state of emergency. No matter your answers, if you find yourself nervous about the situation, there are always ways to maintain your relationship and grow from the experience.
Read on for steps to address your sexual incompatibility with your partner.
Unpack Sexual Compatibility for Yourself
What do you mean when you say you’re sexually incompatible? What does your partner mean when they say it? Start with yourself and try to get specific about the aspects of sexual compatibility you think are missing. Taking a step back to think about your own sexual history might also be helpful in this process.
It could be as simple as shifting the way you think and talk about sex with your partner to set you on the right path. Easier said than done, of course, but a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who believe in the idea of sexual growth—that sexual satisfaction is attained from hard work and effort—experience higher relationship and sexual satisfaction than those who believe in sexual destiny—the idea that sexual satisfaction is attained simply through finding the right partner.
It might be helpful to challenge your own beliefs about sexual compatibility and consider romance as more of a long-term learning experience.
Licensed master social worker Katherine Schreiber agrees. "It might be helpful to challenge your own beliefs about sexual compatibility and consider romance as more of a long-term learning experience," she says.
Approach Without Blame
Because of the high emotions and guilt involved when it comes to conversations about problems in the bedroom, it's easy to point fingers. You need to find a way to talk with your partner about this without blaming one another. It is rarely so simple.
Schreiber suggests you remind yourselves that, given your shared interest, trust, and attraction, being open-minded and patient with each other while you explore what works best for both of you is worth the effort.
It's possible that there are lots of options, but it may also be that you want such fundamentally different things sexually that it isn’t going to work. This doesn’t make either of you a bad person. It can be tempting to go into these conversations feeling defensive or offensive, as the topic can be painful. If you’re going to get into it productively, you need to establish some ground rules and work hard on the sexual communication.
Talk and Get Support
Once you’ve got something to share, you can start a new conversation with your partner. As social psychologist David W. Wahl puts it, "There is only one sex tip you truly need and it’s free…communicate. That’s it, open up and talk to your partner about what you do want, what you do not want, your sexual history, and what you feel about sex."
There is only one sex tip you truly need and it’s free…communicate. That’s it, open up and talk to your partner about what you do want, what you do not want, your sexual history, and what you feel about sex.
If possible, going together to talk with a counselor or sex therapist may be helpful. Particularly with issues that are so complicated and can be so emotional, having a third person in the room can really help make communication more productive.
Coping With Change
Getting out of old sexual patterns can be tough, but it may be well worth the effort. A study published in The Journal of Sex Research found that occasional changes in sexual habits for a partner can benefit a relationship and lead to higher levels of satisfaction and happiness. If you’ve developed a story about the two of you being incompatible, it will take time to write a new story. It may not seem like a fairytale relationship, but there are coping strategies that couples can use to deal with sexual imbalances that they don’t want to end their relationships. Here are a few to get you started.
- Do it for your partner: We all do things for partners because we want to please them. And as long as you aren’t doing something against your will or that feels bad for yourself, being sexual together even when you feel ambivalent can be one way of moving toward a different sexual relationship. Saying yes when you feel maybe is fine. Saying yes when you feel no usually isn’t.
- Compromise: Not unlike the first point, making compromises is part of any relationship, and compromising on sex shouldn’t be off the table simply because it's sex. You always need to feel fine about the compromises you’re making. But if it's the idea of compromise that is stopping you, know that it’s fine to take another look.
- Find the third option: The best option is one that neither of you initially thought of. Often when we have conflict, we take a position and dig our heels in. Between two people there is always a third option, and finding it means unclenching your fists and opening your mind to creative possibilities.
- Know what you can and can't live with: It may be that you can't find a happy middle ground. Despite your best efforts, one or both of you might lose faith in your ability to work it out and can't live with a sex life that takes a backseat. If this is the case, be honest with each other and yourselves, knowing you gave it your best effort.
There are no quick fixes to the issues you're dealing with. Unfortunately, most of us are not raised with a lot of creative options around alternative relationships. We're told to be monogamous and be happy. If that doesn't happen, we can feel alone. The irony is that it's something most people struggle with. Know that you're not the first couple to deal with issues of sexual incompatibility, and you won't be the last.
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Burke TJ, Young VJ. Sexual transformations and intimate behaviors in romantic relationships. J Sex Res. 2012;49(5):454-63. doi:10.1080/00224499.2011.569977.