Fear sex? Hate sex? Disinterested in sex? Tolerate sex? Need sex? Want sex? Addicted to sex? There is a sexual-spectrum from boiling hot to freezing cold and so many relationships suffer because of the very different meanings sex has for people. This can cause poor sexual compatibility. Luckily, partners can take steps to increase their compatibility with their partner – including in the bedroom.

Understanding what our own perspectives are and being curious about those of our partner are the first two steps to having healthy, intimate relationships and increasing our sexual compatibility with our partners.

Do you like one excellent meal a month?

Some people think of sex like a seven course meal – a lovely way to celebrate special occasions. For them, sex is something that takes forethought, a gentle touch, and a sensitivity to the other person at the table. I imagine that this is what so many people find about Jane Austen’s heroes and heroines – they are romantics and boy do they know how to do courtship. Raw physicality would come at the end of a considered and thoughtful process. It would be preceded by letters and walks in the meadow, and horseback riding, and a spat or two. All of which builds connection and emotional safety.

Do you drink when you’re thirsty?

Others think of sex something like water – if they’re thirsty, they want a drink. They will drink water alone, or with a friend, a or even a complete stranger. When they are thirsty, they want a drink, and they seem to get thirsty a lot. Generally if thirsty people get married, they want to drink water several times a week (or day) more than their partner does. – As a marriage and family therapist, I’ve met a lot of people who feel hurt (and sometimes say hurtful things) because they say, “Let’s get it on” and their partner says, “Nope.”

Would you rather eat liver and onions? 

Then, of course, their are the Liver and Onions crowd. These folks don’t really like having sex – they find it too overbearing for the senses – but if they are in a committed relationship, they will have sex simply because they don’t want their partner to suffer. Or because they want to have a baby. This can be immensely difficult for both partners, because after all, who want’s to be thought of as being like Liver and Onions: gross and overwhelming to your committed partner? And, hey, if you don’t like liver and onions, it would make sense that you wouldn’t want to eat it every week.

Your hunger can change over time

Obviously, there are a lot more forty year olds than seventeen year olds who like seven course meals. Maturity helps. Beyond that, we all know that during puberty or pregnancy; after having a baby, during menopause, or as bodies get more frail and creaky, our libidos can radically change. Other factors like stress or illness can also affect how we feel about our bodies and how much we desire being physically intimate with others.

Whether you fear sex, hate sex, tolerate sex, need sex, want sex, or are addicted to sex, it seems fair to say that sex is one of those universal things that just isn’t universal. And that your libido will shift and change over with age, wisdom, and experience.

Age and experience I get, but what about wisdom???

Compatibility takes more than chemistry. It takes the wisdom to tune into your partner, the capacity to actually hear what they like to happen and what really turns them off.

I meet lots of couples who have very different sex drives and are not at all sexually compatible. In monogamous relationships, one partner often enjoys sex more and having sex makes them feel attractive, loved, and accepted. In contrast, the other partner often enjoys sex to a certain degree, but only when the other emotional pieces are there, too. 

For people with medium and small sized libidos, kind words, a soothing hug, acknowledgment for kindnesses, listening to them tell you about their day are often the foreplay before foreplay. Those signals of emotional attunement are the foundation that make sex desirable for them. When they feel their partner is attuned (and not just horney), then they will likely feel emotionally safe. Only once that feeling of emotional safety is there will sex be something positive. Without it, they just feel violated and dehumanized.

That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? That emotional connection and vulnerability would come before love making?

Negative patterns

What happens if one partner craves love making, but the emotional intimacy  isn’t there? Sadly, this negative pattern often takes over: the pursued partner feels pushed into having sex when they don’t want to, while the initiating partner feels rejected and humiliated when they’re told, “no”.

This can cause all sorts of hurt and insecurity. The pursuing partner will feel like they aren’t good enough. This can lead to them shutting down,  into despondency, or into lashing out. When people feel humiliated and rejected they often say and do awful, regretful things.

The other partner then often feels like their wishes don’t matter or that they are being used for their body. They frequently crave simpler forms of affection such as a hug or being asked how their day went .

No matter how much or little you desire sexual intimacy, if you are in an intimate relationship the best thing to do, of course, is to try to actually listen to your partner. What does your partner like? What makes them feel close to you? Some people – including lots of teenaged boys, but not all – are pretty much always happy to have sex, and this can cause trouble. Most other people, however, need a little more attention to detail outside of the bedroom before they want to have sex.

Does she like it if you compliment her? Does it turn her off? Does he like lots of invitations to have sex or does it make him feel like you’re using him? Do they love it if you just let them put their feet up after a full day? Or do they yearn for you to take them out dancing?

Follow your partner’s lead, often enough

In short, if you know what matters to your partner and follow their lead often enough, you are well on your way to having a loving, intimate relationship. If you are just trying to meet your own needs, whatever they are, you might get what you want (or avoid what you don’t want), but it will likely come at the expense of a truer intimacy.