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August 18, 2017

Abstinence. What About Sexual Compatibility?

So, a client got me thinking. He was discussing waiting until marriage to have sex. He expressed his respect for that choice, but also his concern as a dating, single male. He said, “What if I marry her and then find out that we are not sexually compatible?” I can certainly understand his concern. Some people would say, well, if you have never had sex before, you won’t know any difference and it won’t matter. But the majority of people who are abstinent are re-committing to abstinence (some coming out of marriages) who have had prior sexual experiences and are worried about that sexual compatibility because, well, they actually will know the difference.

So, I decided to do some research into this issue, realizing it is one that many couples are facing. In part, sexual compatibility is a modern construct, born out of a culture with an abundance of sexual experiences. If someone gave you your brand new dream car, you would be like, “Wow, thanks!! Amazing!!” But if you regularly received brand new dream cars and you were offered another one and were being asked to commit to only driving that one, you may be like, “ummm. let me test drive it first…” In all fairness, research does demonstrate that a lack of sexual compatibility in relationships leads to frustration, resentment, hostility, emotional distancing, anger and even infidelity. This may sway you to believe that we should all be test driving to make sure we get this thing right, but an even more interesting tidbit is that research (popular online couple assessment survey called RELATE) has also found that the longer a dating couple waited to have sex, the better the relationship is in the long run. In fact, couples who wait until marriage to have sex report higher relationship satisfaction, better communication patterns, less consideration of divorce and better sexual quality (15% better) than those who started having sex earlier in their dating. For couples in between, those who waited to have sex later in their relationship, but prior to marriage, the benefits were about half as strong. So, just waiting actually increases your chances of being sexually compatible. Wow. Why? I think it relates to increased emotional intimacy that gets thwarted when sex is introduced in a relationship too early, but that’s another blog post.

But what exactly is sexual compatibility and how do we know when we have it??

Sexual compatibility has been defined as: sharing common sexual desires, preferences, beliefs and attitudes; feeling sexually close to your partner, and feeling that they understand you sexually; and engaging in sexual acts that you both consider arousing and pleasurable. Sexual compatibility is comprised of factors including desired frequency of sex, preferred sexual expressions, sexual values and sexual personality type.  The more common sexual ground a couple shares, the more healthy, satisfying and enduring their sexual and overall relationships are. So I can understand why people may think, we MUST have sex to test drive this relationship, otherwise we could risk having a generally unsatisfying relationship for the rest of our lives or suffer a miserable divorce. But wait, you can start out being sexually compatible and that can still change over time! Why? Because sexual compatibility is really most closely related to emotional intimacy, commonly held beliefs, personality similarities and preferences, not really the sex act at all- but yes, that’s another blog post..

So, based on that knowledge, is there any way to tell, without actually doing the deed? Yes! You probably have already figured out that there is some chemistry and attraction between you two or you wouldn’t want to be moving the relationship forward. The rest, we can address with old fashioned communication!!

So what Questions should each partner be answering to help determine your sexual compatibility?

  1. How did you learn about sex?
  2. What did your family teach you about sex (values)?
  3. What is your definition of sex?
  4. What is the purpose of sex in a relationship? This might seem like a no-brainer, but seriously you may be surprised by the answer.
  5. What sexual acts are off limits for you?
  6. What sexual acts do you think are must haves?
  7. What sexual acts are important to you but not deal breakers?
  8. How often do you think about sex and what do you think about when you do?
  9. When you think about having sex with me, how do you imagine it will be?
  10. How often do you envision us having sex?
  11. At what times do you imagine that we would abstain from sex?
  12. How important do you envision sex being in our relationship?
  13. Have you ever had any extremely negative or traumatic experiences with sex? If so, what work have you done in this area and how do you think it will affect our sexual relationship?
  14. Are you committed to regularly setting aside time to talk about our sexual relationship?
  15. How will we negotiate it if one of us wants to do something sexually that the other is uncomfortable with?
  16. What are your biggest hopes and fear regarding sex?

Major differences, disagreement or issues on any answers may indicate that this is an area of incompatibility. Finding out that you are not compatible does not mean Game Over. Knowing that there is some incompatibility from the get go and having a desire to work on them before you even get started can put you light years ahead of other couples just trying to muddle their way through. If there are significant differences, sex therapy is probably best done before any actual sex has occurred and really should be a part of any pre-marital therapy. If there is a sexual history, this is a wonderful time to be able to talk about your experiences and desires and preferences. Some may argue that you are bringing other relationships into this current one, but, news flash- that has already occurred. We bring all of our life experiences into our relationships. Talking about sex with your partner should never be taboo. Mums the word does not make your past disappear, instead it just creates distance and impedes your intimacy, causing damage in the long run. The beautiful part is that having these conversations beforehand can prevent future conversations that may feel like you are comparing your partner. Of course, like any conversations, there is a right and wrong way to go about it. Be sensitive. If you need help with that, give me a call.

So, bottom line, it is a myth that you have to test drive to find out if you are sexually compatible. And yes, sex is all in your head!

So, weigh in! What do you think?

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  51. mzc says:

    For a couple where both partners are each other’s first sexual partners, a ‘test drive’ should be necessary because how could they possibly know what their sexual preferences and desires truly are when they’ve never even tried anything?
    Of course, for subsequent relationships, once an individual has had enough knowledge to define boundaries and answer those compatibility questions properly, waiting till marriage would then be a better idea.

    • Zoe Shaw says:

      Actually a test drive is even less necessary when you are both virgins. you don’t know any different. You can learn together. It’s when you have each had different experiences that compatibility really becomes the issue.

      • Rachael says:

        Having had no experiences means that what you think you would like is COMPLETELY a guess. Being a virgin doesn’t mean having a blank slate to mold, it means having zero answers.

        “What is your favorite fruit?”
        “I don’t know, I’ve never eaten fruit.”
        “Great! Then the first one you try should be great because you’ve got no comparison!”

        That not how anything works.

        • Zoe Shaw says:

          Except humans aren’t fruit. We change, grow, adapt, learn and respond. Because of this, two people with no experience can grow, learn and adapt together. A fruit can only be what it is today, tomorrow and forever. Either you like it or you don’t. This is not about judgement or right or wrong. I’m just talking about health and relationships.

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  53. Waiting says:

    Really concerned about this if God has it in His plan for me to marry again. I am not planning to have a sexual relationship with anyone unless I am going to marry them…and then not until after we are married. I’d rather build the relationship so we have the commitment and relationship depth to deal with any issues that might come up regarding sex. I love these questions you listed! I have to admit that the thought of trying to TALK about sexual issues without actually having sex seemed worrisome….wondering if talking would make either of us sexually frustrated….and cause problems. One of my biggest concerns is finding someone who is willing to wait as well, especially in this day of casual hook-ups.

    • Zoe Shaw says:

      Talking about sexual issues should not make you any more sexually frustrated than you already are, assuming you are not trying to be sexual, but just have open, honest conversations. Best wishes to you. Yes, this is the day of casual hook-ups, but there are also many men out there who desire to have a relationship not based on sex, but based on emotional intimacy that waits for sex! Thank you for commenting!

  54. Daniel Rose says:

    Although interesting, this article is hard to separate from the bias that you enter the conversation with. I can tell that you are a pro-wait advocate, which is ok, but if you are going to write a convincing article about this topic and reference research, you have to provide links to that research my friend. For example, you mention that couples who wait until marriage are 15% more likely to have more successful relationships. Well this means absolutely nothing if I have no clue into what the population was. Who was included, who was asked, who participated, was did the survey say, were there leading questions, where was the survey administered, etc. Nice writing, but this is nothing but an opinion piece that is not very helpful to shed light on what really is more beneficial – abstinence or not waiting.

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