Some people have a lot of sex in their relationships. Some people don’t have any at all.
Sexual satisfaction is not determined only by how often you and your partner tumble into bed. It’s not about how often your partner makes you orgasm. It’s not even about how adventurous or vanilla you are.
Sexual satisfaction is based on how compatible you and your partner are.
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Let’s define sexual compatibility.
Sexual compatibility is when the sexual preferences of two or more people are generally similar. That includes how often they want to have sex, what they like in bed, and their attitudes toward sex overall.
Beyond being a source of physical pleasure, sex can improve feelings of mental and emotional connection. Sexual activity releases various hormones. One of them is oxytocin, the love hormone, which increases feelings of attachment1.
Sexual compatibility, therefore, can be very beneficial for a relationship. If the partners have similar sexual needs and preferences, they are less likely to reject one another’s invitations to the bedroom. They are more likely to reinforce their feelings of connection regularly.
Incompatibility describes a lack of similarity when it comes to sex. Partners might have different opinions on how important sex is, or how frequently they want to have sex. There might be a significant difference in libido. They might have different ideas of what sexual activities qualify as actual “sex.”
Chemistry is about attraction and initial interest. It’s not necessarily an indicator that you’re sexually on the same page. It’s possible to have great chemistry with a person and then see signs you're not sexually compatible.
Sexual differences do not mean complete incompatibility2.
Many couples begin with some level of sexual incompatibility. Until you learn one another’s preferences and habits, it can be a bit difficult to get in sync. Maybe you don’t know how to initiate sex. Maybe your dirty talk needs work.
Others might deal with incompatibility later in the relationship. Lifestyle changes, work stress, and having kids can alter how one or both people prioritize sex. Health changes can impact how much energy one or both partners have.
None of these situations mean that sex can’t improve. But the differences can be hard to move past.
While it might be uncomfortable, it’s totally normal to experience sexual incompatibility. Here are some signs you're not sexually compatible.
Unless you and your partner are reading each other’s minds, a sexual relationship requires explicit communication. Not talking to each other is a very common reason couples feel distant and disconnected when it comes to sex.
One of the driving forces that keep people from talking to each other is a fear of judgment. People are less likely to talk about sex if they feel their partner will look down on them.
Unfortunately, not talking tends to reinforce itself. The more they don’t talk, the more anxious they’ll feel about bringing up an embarrassing subject.
When was the last time you and your partner talked about what you like in bed? Do you feel comfortable letting him know things that make you uncomfortable?
One of the signs you're not sexually compatible is that it’s hard to initiate intimacy. Often, this looks like one partner feeling rejected while the other feels like they missed something.
Everyone has cues that they look for or put out to indicate that they’re aroused. That might be a touch, a certain phrase, or making eyes at each other. Maybe one of the cues you’re looking for is a deeper kiss than usual. If your partner touches your hip to indicate he’d like to take things to the bedroom, you might miss it and move on to something else.
Do either of you claim the other often isn’t interested in sex? Do you feel confused when he tells you he’s feeling rejected?
Human variation means that you and your partner are likely to have sex drives that don’t line up exactly. But for some couples, one person is content to have sex every other week, while their partner would eagerly have sex every other day.
You might be surprised to hear it, but men are not always the partner with the higher libido. Sex drive isn’t determined by gender3 but by various individual factors. The idea that men will always naturally have a higher sex drive than women is a myth.
When one partner’s drive is lower than the other, they might feel pressured to engage sexually when they really don’t want to. That stress makes it even harder to engage. For the partner with a higher sex drive, they are likely to feel rejected when their partner declines their advances, which can make them not want to initiate.
Do you feel like you and your partner want sex at different times? Do you feel anxious thinking about your partner’s sex drive?
Life is busy. We have to juggle friends, work, and family expectations. We need to do chores. There’s a book you want to read, a podcast to listen to, and a show to watch. If you’re lucky, you can do some of these with your partner, but you’re most likely distracted from each other.
We are often pushing ourselves to multitask. That makes it difficult to stay in the moment and practice mindfulness. Instead, your mind uncontrollably starts shuffling through topics. Often, that distraction is enough to reduce or interrupt physical arousal.
You might notice your partner is not as engaged as you’d like. It might make you feel ignored or unattractive. Then you might be distracted thinking about his distractions. That is not a recipe for sexual satisfaction.
Do you feel like it’s hard to be intimate because you can’t turn your brain off? Do you feel like it’s hard for either of you to get in the mood because you can’t give intimacy your full attention?
If I’m being honest, it’s not difficult to get bored with sex. When things are very predictable, you might just go through the motions. Having an orgasm is nice, but if you’re just plain bored, you’ll have a difficult time getting there.
Boredom can come from a few different sources. For some people, it’s a byproduct of a predictable sexual script. But for some people, the lack of excitement results in a general prone-ness to be bored.
Do you feel like you’re in a rut when it comes to sex? Do you find yourself fantasizing about sex but unenthusiastic about the actual event?
Everyone has their likes and dislikes when it comes to the bedroom. Yes, that includes frequency and position, but there’s more to it than that. Preferences influence dirty (or not-so-dirty) talk, how gentle or rough you get, and even how you wind down.
If your partner likes things that are turn-offs for you, you’ll probably find yourself avoiding sex. Especially if your partner's desires clash with your beliefs about sex and roles in bed.
Do you feel anxious about sexual acts your partner prefers? Do you feel like your partner is humoring you, even though he’s really not into it?
Sex isn’t always picture-perfect. Over the course of a sexual relationship, a person can expect some occasional discomfort during the act. But if they’re always sore, or experiencing leg cramps, or even pain with penetration, that’s going to discourage sex.
Sex does not have to hurt. And it does not have to include any specific act, like penetration or oral. Even for people who experience vaginismus, a condition that causes pain with penetrative intercourse, sex can be a pleasant, downright fun experience. If you’re experiencing consistent pain, that’s cause for concern.
Do you usually hurt during or after sex? Do you dread sex because of how painful it is?
If a person doesn’t care to teach their partner how to please them, that can be a yellow-to-red flag. This goes beyond pulling out a vibrator once he’s had an orgasm. It tells me that a couple is not emotionally connected in the bedroom.
Masturbation is not in and of itself bad for a relationship. In fact, studies show that a lot of women masturbate the more often they have sex4. But if you’re engaging in solo play due to dissatisfaction in bed, it suggests an overall lack of relationship satisfaction.
Do you avoid letting your partner know when you’re in the mood? Have you told him to just focus on himself, so you can take care of yourself later?
If you noticed any of the above signs you're not sexually compatible, you’re not alone. It’s rare that sexual incompatibility can’t be improved in some way. Here are some tips for improving your compatibility.
The first, huge step to improving your sex life is actually talking about what you want. If you and your current partner haven’t had a sexual check-in in a while, schedule some time for it. Some people like having these conversations in bed, but you can also talk over coffee.
I recommend starting the discussion with what you want to feel and experience in the bedroom. Share your turn-ons and turn-offs. Tell him, in detail, what kinds of things help you get in the mood. Encourage him to share his perspective.
This discussion reinforces emotional intimacy. Giving each other space to be vulnerable encourages connection and a feeling of safety.
There are two general philosophies when it comes to sexual compatibility: sexual destiny and sexual growth. People who believe in sexual destiny generally believe that sexual compatibility is rigid. Those who follow the theory of sexual growth believe that sexual relationships can grow and change over time.
Studies show that people who are open to trying new things to improve compatibility tend to be the most satisfied with their sexual relationships5. They don’t just hope for a compatible partner, they encourage each other to compromise and have new experiences together.
Do you find that there are common threads to your fantasies? Ideas or acts that pop up in your fantasies that seem related to each other? Those related ideas make up an erotic theme6. Being able to identify and share these themes with your partner can help make sex more satisfying.
One of the biggest blessings that comes with communicating erotic themes is that you can change how you look at different activities. A change in perspective can turn a sex act you’re not really excited about into one of your biggest turn-ons.
If you don’t like being in control, for example, you might not like getting on top when it feels like you’re doing all the work. But you might like it a bit more if your partner guides your movements, or talks to you a certain way.
There are several reasons that a person might feel anxious about sex. They might feel that their partner shames them for their high sex drive. They might feel like they can’t have casual fun without committing to intercourse. They might feel like being sexually incompatible reflects badly on them.
By removing the possibility of sex, both you and your partner can relax. An intimate moment doesn’t have to be a precursor to anything. You can focus on the present moment and your current arousal.
(I promise this works. 4 out of 5 times I assign this as homework for a couple for a week, they end up having sex before the next session!)
Variety is the spice of life, so try something new. If you and your current partner are in a rut, shaking things up can bring a new level of excitement to the bedroom.
Consider going to a sex shop, watching porn, or reading erotica to each other. Explore something that might feel a bit taboo. Try different positions.
Even with the best communication and shared sexual preferences, spontaneous sex isn’t always possible. Friends, family, and work can interrupt. Mismatched sex drives may have one of you in the mood and not the other.
Scheduling sex can be a great way to make sure you are prioritizing your intimate time. Being on the same page about when sex happens can help both of you get in the mood. You can put aside distractions and just be in bed with your partner.
If you’ve tried everything and still feel sexually incompatible, consider sex therapy with a licensed psychotherapist, especially one certified in sex therapy. The perspective of someone outside of the relationship can help you address underlying issues.
Your relationship isn’t doomed if you see signs you're not sexually compatible. Your compatibility can improve with communication and a commitment to work on meeting each other’s desires.
Chemistry is about initial attraction, not overall preferences, so it’s not a great indicator of sexual compatibility. Until you’ve had sex, you can’t be sure how compatible you will be with another person.
Consider adding sex to your schedule. This way, both of you know the other wants to have sex at that time, instead of guessing.
Licensed psychotherapists, especially those certified in sex therapy, can help couples navigate difficult sexual topics. They’ll focus on improving your relationship, not just in bed, but outside of it.
If you see signs you're not sexually compatible, you don’t have to hope things get better on their own. Use these tips to improve communication with your partner and make the bedroom fun again.