When you’re dating someone new, how do you know if you’ll be sexually compatible in the long run?
Unfortunately, we can be terrible sometimes at assessing long-term sexual compatibility at the start of a relationship because our feel-good neurotransmitters are running the show. Most of us know that feeling of overwhelming passion the first few weeks and months, when you can’t imagine not being easily aroused by your partner. Plus, in the beginning, you really want the other person to like you, so you put your sexy side in full view. But just as you need to ascertain if someone’s life goals, values, and hobbies match yours, why not check out the likelihood of sexual longevity?
If sex is particularly important to you or your partner, and if it’s one of the primary ways you feel connected, express love, and stay grounded, then assessing sexual compatibility is vital to your relationship’s potential fulfillment. If I had it my way, it would be completely normal to talk about all these topics during the get-to-know-you phase of dating. But since it isn’t, below are some questions to help you ponder this sensitive subject.
1. Meaning of Sex
What does sex mean to you? What motivates you to have sex? There are many reasons people have sex, from the obvious ones of seeking pleasure, reducing stress, showing love, or to make a baby, to less obvious ones like seeking status, boredom, proving yourself, or even obligation. These meanings can change over time in different contexts. A simple way to address this with a new sexual partner is to discuss whether past sexual experiences fall into one of three categories: hot, exciting, and fun. Deep connection, expression of love, or sacred experience. Or obligation and expectation. This at least broaches a conversation about each of your perspectives and motivations.
2. Sex Drive and Fidelity
How high is your sex drive? How often do you masturbate? If one person feels compelled to masturbate daily and the other one only once a month, this could mean their physiology for desire is set at different levels. (Or if one person has never masturbated or thinks masturbation is shameful, see #4 below.) It can be helpful to ascertain if you maintain a relatively constant level of sexual desire throughout long relationships, or if it peaks early in a relationship and fades over time.
Also, have you ever cheated on a partner before, or do you find it difficult to commit sexually to one partner? I include past infidelities in here because the “cads or dads” researchers claim that some men are genetically wired for multiple partners, while others for lasting bonds. Although our cultural upbrining and gender education form a large part of our sexual beliefs, I do think physiology should weigh in as well.
3. Exploration and Open-Mindedness
Is your sexual appetite simple and vanilla, or do you like to be challenged in the bedroom? If you’re going about your sexual play and something is not working, are you able to think outside the box and try something different? Those who like to stick to scripted sexual encounters are not a good fit in the long run for those who like to explore their erotic potential. Sexual creativity can serve you well in a long-term relationship to weather the inevitable challenges (more on the resiliency needed for this in #6 below).
4. Negative Sexual Experiences
American society has a shame-based approach to sex, so it’s no surprise that many adults carry fear, embarrassment and shame around their sexual activities, past or present. Insecurities and negativity from past sexual difficulties can certainly interfere with a happy sexual connection, often arising from sexual abuse, erectile performance concerns, hearing that a body part is inadequate, or being taught that sex is dirty and dangerous. Are you willing to do the hard work of personal growth to reduce the baggage you carry? Or are you willing to patiently support a partner through her/his own processes? This leads us into . . .
5. Vulnerability and Emotional Expression
Open sex talk is not the norm in America, especially in terms of preparing our youth for happy sex lives. Since most of us never learn vulnerability skills, discussing your emotions around sexual topics can be very awkward and uncomfortable. But giving and receiving sexual feedback is an essential act of emotional vulnerability. Are you willing to talk through embarrassing and personal topics that make you feel uncomfortable, or do you push away these matters? Are you able to be truthful yet responsible with your emotions?
Pregnancy and childbirth, being new parents, illness, menopause, medications, and other bodily changes can all have a substantial impact on sexual functioning, frequency, and quality. Even without such significant factors, it’s not unusual for the initial sexual connection to fade. Do you believe you can endure these changes to your sexual interactions? Resilience is the ability to bounce back from hardships, which requires a belief in your own adaptability, and a belief in your ability to enact positive change in your life, even if it takes some creativity.
Where to go from here
There’s no scientific evidence that the questions above can predict your sexual compatibility. But these topics can lay a foundation of sexual self-reflection, honesty, and vulnerability for you and your partner. I see so many couples disappointed and resentful about their sexual paths together because they relied on early sexual chemistry and assumed compatibility. Our sexual blueprints can shift over time, but it’s helpful to own up to where you’ve been and the importance of sex to you in the future. If filling your love tank depends on sex and your new partner looks like a keeper, consider delving into these topics as a necessary act of courage.
(This was originally posted at The Good Men Project.)
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sexologist, Sexuality Speaker, Sociologist