I’m pretty damn in love with my job, but one of my least favorite parts of what I do is hearing from couples who are sexually incompatible.
Sometimes it’s just an email with an initial inquiry. Other times they actually land in my office in front of me. Occasionally they realize they’re incompatible, but most frequently they can’t understand why their sex life is so unfulfilling and conflict-ridden.
The details are always different, but the heart of the matter is always the same. “I’ve never felt so alone,” “I feel totally powerless," and “I’ve given up hope” are common statements. I try to be as gentle and sensitive as possible, but there really is no good way to try to introduce the idea of sexual incompatibility to a couple.
Our sex-negative culture practically sets us up for failure. We’re not taught how to talk about sex or how to give value to our sexual needs (or that different people have different sexual needs). So I want to highlight some of the things to look for when evaluating whether a person is a good fit for you sexually or not.
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules here and every situation is unique, but I think these are some good questions to consider:
Do you know what you want?
It’s hard to find someone who is a good fit for you if you’re not clear on what you’re looking for. What sort of role do you want sex to play in your relationship? How important (or unimportant) is it to you? What feels healthy to you?
What do the early signs say?
You can get a sense of your sexual chemistry with someone before sleeping with them. Is there an indescribable pull between the two of you? How do you feel when they touch you? What’s it like when you kiss? Chemistry changes over time, of course, but you want to feel like there’s enough potential there to continue. So many people never felt this potential to begin with, but kept barreling along in the relationship anyway.
Are they open to talking about sex?
Good sexual communication is imperative in any healthy relationship. It’s something that we all struggle with, and it can be embarrassing at times, but your partner should be invested in making an effort. You need communication for so many reasons — to express your desires, to work toward making sex more enjoyable for you both, to overcome hang-ups, to develop trust, and to deepen intimacy.
Communication is also crucial because you’re bound to run into sexual problems at some point, regardless of how good the chemistry seems from the get-go. There are no guarantees with sex. Someone might get injured, someone might get depressed, someone might experience a decrease in their libido. What’s important is having a partner who is willing to talk about sex, even if it’s a challenge.
Do they actively seek your feedback?
How we show up in bed is different with every partner. There’s an adjustment process that has to happen where you learn about each other’s bodies and figure out how the two of you fit together. Things that you may have enjoyed with one partner might not be quite so fun with another, or you might discover new things with this partner that you never thought you’d like.
Perhaps the most valuable characteristic in a good sex partner is the ability to actively seek feedback and input. You want to be with someone who cares enough about your experiences to inquire about them. Someone who is invested in making sure you’re enjoying yourself. Someone who realizes that you’re a unique person who probably needs something different than their last girlfriend did. You could find a partner who has a dozen patented oral sex techniques, but do you really want to feel like someone is just painting by the numbers with you?
Do they make an effort?
Sex is amazing and awesome, but it can also fall off the rails pretty quickly. It requires continuous creativity and prioritization. You want to have a partner who is excited about exploring your boundaries with you and discovering new ways to deepen your physical connection. You want to feel like this person would be on your team in addressing whatever sexual problems or challenges might get thrown your way. You want to feel like you’re working on building something together.
This is more of a long-haul characteristic, but you can get early indicators of your partner’s willingness to put in effort. Does he or she make the time and space for intimacy, or do you frequently feel rushed? Do they exhibit creativity, or did you fall into a routine quickly? Do they recognize that good sex takes work, or do they seem to take sex for granted?
Do you like the same things?
This is perhaps the most obvious item on this list, but it’s still something that people tend to ignore. It’s important that you and your partner are interested in similar sexual activities and behaviors. It doesn’t matter if you have or haven’t tried the same things in the past, it just matters if you’re interested or willing to try them going forward.
Some acts may feel more like deal breakers than others. You might be fine with foregoing your cheerleader/football player fantasy if it doesn’t interest your beau, but would you be willing to give up cunnilingus?
How long have you been waiting?
Sexual skills are honed over time, and, like I mentioned above, they change with each new partner and experience. It’s not like we come out of the womb being fantastic lovers. Don’t feel disheartened if sex feels awkward at first. Sure, there are some people with whom you’ll have immediate sexual chemistry, but there are plenty of others where it may feel like a slow build-up.
That being said, there has to be a limit. You don’t want to hang around forever, wistfully waiting for your sex life to improve. In this regard, I implore you to pay attention to your gut.
It has been my experience that people tend to know if they’re compatible or not compatible with someone, but they feel too guilty or disappointed to take action. I hear so many sad stories about people who stay in relationships knowing full well that there isn’t enough chemistry. I’d say a good rough time frame would be about a month or two, but it might feel different for you.
The bottom line: Sex is important. It’s hard for most of us to value it as much as other relationship deal breakers like "Do we both want to get married" or "Do we both want kids," but it’s just as important. It’s horribly sad to have to end a relationship because you’re not sexually compatible, but it’s even more sad to spend the rest of your life feeling unfulfilled and disconnected.