What is “Sexual Compatibility”? And Does it Matter?

by Kathleen Quiring on October 27, 2010

A while back, I wrote a post asking for bad marriage advice. I gave the example of my pastor’s wife telling us not to have sex before marriage because if we didn’t abstain we wouldn’t be able to make it through the first year.

In the comments, a couple of people brought up the question of “sexual compatibility.” This topic comes up quite often when people discuss the merits or dangers of sex before marriage.

I have found that it’s quite popular among my peers to believe that couples ought to have sex before marriage in order to “make sure they’re sexually compatible.” You wouldn’t want to be stuck for life with a partner with whom you are incompatible, the argument goes.

And I just realized today that I have no real idea of what it means to be “sexually incompatible.” Finding out that your partner is in fact a eunuch? That would obviously be a pretty big problem, particularly if you were hoping to have children.  But otherwise?

I have no idea whether or not my husband and I could be considered “sexually compatible.” We’ve never known anything else. It’s kind of hard to judge your compatibility when you have nothing else to compare to.

So what do you think defines sexual compatibility? Or what do you figure most people mean when they talk about it? Let me know in the comments.

One thing that I do know is this: for couples like me and my husband, the issue is almost completely irrelevant.  We were willing to make it work no matter what we learned about ourselves and each other after marriage.  We didn’t need to “test the waters” before jumping in because we were determined to swim one way or another. (Sorry about the dreadfully cliche metaphor. The metaphor-making part of my brain is currently out of order).

Infinitely more important to us was the matter of whether or not our values were compatible. Did we understand marriage the same way? Did we share the same level of commitment? Did we have the same ultimate life goals? Were we both equally determined to make things work if they turned out to be harder than we anticipated?

And fortunately, these matters can be cleared up without the risk of becoming pregnant or contracting an STD. It just takes a good deal of old-fashioned “talking.”

Once we had all these things sorted out, we felt confident in our choice to get married and learn about sex, adulthood, and family together. And so far, things have worked out for us pretty well. We didn’t have much for expectations, given that we’d never had any other sexual partners before, so it was hard to be disappointed.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Molly W. October 27, 2010 at 9:23 pm

I don’t think “knowing your sexual compatibility” necessarily means having to be sexually active before marriage, but rather making sure that you and your spouse have the same expectations. If you’re a once or twice a week kind of expectation and they are an every night expectation kind of person, than you’re not immediately compatible in that area and, yes, it can cause tension when one person expects more than the other is able or willing to give.

Often I see this argument between the most radical extremes… the “I need to test the waters with multiple partners to know my expectations”, which is risky and quite dumb, to the “if we wait to have sex it will automatically be amazing and perfect right off the bat” (what I call the Twilight syndrome, or chastity/purity = an amazing perfect sex life from the wedding night on) which is also quite dumb as it gives you unreal expectations of the effort it can often take to being comfortable with your new physical relationship.

Do I think everyone needs to be sexually active before marriage? Nope, not at all. Do I think we need to encourage realistic expectations and make sure that sex isn’t a taboo topic to discuss before marriage for couples who choose to wait? Absolutely.

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2 Kathleen Quiring October 27, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Hahaha . . . “Twilight Syndrome.” An apt name.

Great thoughts, Molly. I agree there are serious dangers in the popular idea (among evangelicals) that if you save sex for your wedding night, you are guaranteed to have an amazing sex life.

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3 That Married Couple October 28, 2010 at 6:54 am

Excellent post, Kathleen!

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4 Lori Lowe October 28, 2010 at 9:22 am

I think being open in talking about sexual needs and desires, and showing genuine care and concern for one another, is more important than being initially “compatible”. I agree that other compatibility issues are more important.If the hearts and brains desire one another, and we communicate well about sex, the rest tends to fall in place. IMO

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5 Sarah October 28, 2010 at 6:10 pm

I once had this discussion with someone who thought it antiquated to wait until one was in a monogamous, exclusive relationship to engage in sex. He cited sexual compatibility as the reason. “Oh come on, ” I said. “Have you ever had bad sex with a partner?” The answer of course being no. It’s sort of like pizza.

I’ve found it kind of minor compared to everything else. If you’re compatible in other ways, as you mentioned, it’s kind of irrelevant. It is what you make of it. If a person is respectful, kind and considerate outside of the bedroom, logic says those qualities will transfer (and vice versa, of course.) It certainly allows you to grow closer as a couple, however, and for those who do not have any religious affiliations, there doesn’t seem to be any major argument against pre-marital sex (with the notable exceptions of possible pregnancy and STDs/STIs). I really do believe that getting involved too early on in the relationship can be very detrimental and hinder the chance of you finding something really great with each other. A slow dance is sweet and gives you a chance to get acquainted as friends first.

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6 Grace October 29, 2010 at 1:30 am

Sexual compatibility is really, really important. Possible compatibility issues: sexual orientation (marrying a gay person when you are straight is going to lead to constant misery); mismatched sex drives (one person wants to have sex every day, the other wants to every two weeks: this is going to cause constant negotiations and tension); mismatched sexual preferences (most people, especially men, have particular and constant sexual turn-ons; if your partner finds your turn-ons boring, icky or disgusting, this will be a huge problem). Also, there is a physical aspect to sex (how your bodies/genitals fit together) and occasionally this can be a mismatch too.

I don’t think that you necessarily have to have sex before marriage to address these issues (except the last one), but you do need to be 1. extremely honest with your partner and 2. extremely honest with yourself (what actually turns you on? what is your sex drive like?). In my experience, very few devoutly religious people (the only ones waiting until after marriage) are willing to do this. Thus the potential for badness is high.

Since the whole point of marital sex is to act as a bonding agent between husband and wife, if it becomes a constant source of strain instead due to sexual incompatibility, your marriage is going to be severely eroded. (Especially because bad sex lives make people so miserable).

I’m glad things worked out well for you, but I think you were lucky.

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7 Lee September 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Grace, I couldn’t agree with you more, you have hit the nail on the head. The list of turn-ons and offs is as long as a piece of string and what soem people “need” others can’t give. Nothing to do with sex before marriage, but everything to do with both parties being honest about themselves, to themself and their partner. People that are arguing that you can just work it out if you are committed were either lucky, or at least one person in the partnership is being less than honest.

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8 David Patrick October 29, 2010 at 4:50 am

The Sexual Compatibility Argument is the motto of the impatient. To suggest that there is some level of compatibility like Leggos is absurd. By design the sexual relationship between two married people is meant to be “discovered” and worked on together. That’s the beauty of sex within a marriage because it’s more than just sex, it’s commitment, its friendship, its communication and its doing the hard work of learning how to please each other until you just “jive” together. It’s a symphony, really.

Few couples hit it out the park upon first sexual experiences. Sex, particularly in a marriage gets better over time. Having all of this “test sex” before marriage is just that. Testing, and therefore the reality of what sex would be like in the marriage is not truly achieved in the first place. It’s actually like test-driving a car. Driving it around the block with the salesman in the passenger seat is not the same as actually using it day to day.

No, saving yourself until marriage doesn’t automatically equal a great sex life. Working on your marriage and sex life within marriage does. Saving yourself just saves you a lot of drama and potential disease

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9 Scott October 29, 2010 at 9:41 am

I love what David said, “No, saving yourself until marriage doesn’t automatically equal a great sex life. Working on your marriage and sex life within marriage does.”

Yes having sizzling sexual intimacy is important to a strong and healthy marriage, but it’s not really different than developing intimacy in the other areas of your life together (spiritual, emotional, and intellectual intimacy). All of these arenas have issues, baggage, preferences, and differences that have to be addressed and worked through.

When it comes to sex, we all have our individual preferences, but I think only a minor portion of it is “hard-wired” toward certain things, and as such a couple should be able to find enough common ground, through the lifelong process of sexual discovery and adventure, to find complete delight in one another.

Great post and discussion!

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10 alison October 31, 2010 at 12:14 am

wow, i could not be happier you posted about this! as you may or may not know, my husband and i met each other right after we had each individually re-committed to remain chaste until marriage. this was something that was brought up to me by friends time and time again to me that would drive me crazy. “well what if you’re not sexually compatible?!” …wha?
I completely agree that its a null argument! In our case, our sexual pasts only proved to be unnecessary baggage in our relationship that we both wish we didn’t have, but, we did the best we could. how beautiful it would have been to have a completely clean slate of just our experiences with each other! i love that you have the courage to write about this subject. it needs to be said. compatible values are non-negotiable, but sexual performance is a learned skill!

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11 Becca November 1, 2010 at 5:01 am

I think that Grace makes some valid points. Especially in terms of sexual orientation, or turnons – for some people a specific turnon is very important, and they need their partner to go along with it to have a fulfilled sexual life.

But all the other posts also make good points, and to me it stands out that sexual compatibility, just like many other aspects of compatibility, is a journey that a couple takes together. There is a high chance that the journey will lead to fulfilment if both are truly “on board” for it, but I definitely think that a bit of luck is also necessary.

Personally, I agree that generally a journey in a longterm relationship is more fulfilling than brief encounters. But this isn’t to discredit the one-night stand, that is, for those whose religious beliefs permit it (and obviously best for singles in my opinion). It can be thrilling, adventurous, and open up new perspectives. Just like that hour-long conversation with a stranger in a bar or train etc., which happens by chance, and makes you see the world anew.

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12 Queen Ann D November 2, 2010 at 2:16 pm

My problem with what Grace said is that many of those things she mentions as essential elements of sexual compatibility are absolutely going to change over time. Sex drive changes as we age and turn-ons and needs change, too. That’s why we’re meant to start out together when we’re already 100% committed to each other and ready to make adjustments and sacrifices to meet our partner’s needs.

Furthermore, it is a gross over-simplification to say that the whole point of marital sex is to act as a bonding agent, but if that IS true, having to make adjustments and compromises to make sure each partner is fulfilled sexually would make the sex act even more effective at bonding a couple, not less. I know that sexual problems are a big cause of marital unhappiness, but I feel strongly that very few of those problems are genuine incompatibility. The vast majority of sexual problems in marriage are caused by choices the husband and wife make, not caused by how the husband and wife are made.

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13 Geoffrey D November 7, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Hear, hear! I heartily agree with this post and most of the comments to it. My wife and I have only got better at sex since we’ve been married. I think that those people that worry about finding out after your married that your partner is gay or a pervert must be completely blind to who their partner is before getting married. Secondly, I think that when people are concerned about their partner having specific turn-ons that must be fulfilled in order to for them to feel sexually fulfilled it means they are dating someone with problems with pornography or previous sexual relationships or both. If your partner is a virtuous person, this shouldn’t be a problem for you. You’ll find out what your turn-ons are as you go, and that is as it should be.

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14 Andrew December 17, 2010 at 5:15 pm

I’m so tired of people talking about virtues and porn problems. None of you have obviously felt sexually incompatible with your partner. I have been dating a wonderful girl for three years but my sexual needs have never been met so we are breaking up. Long before marriage and religion there was sex. So before you start preaching about virtues think about the physiological aspect of sex and how some people needs specific things to fulfill them. Sometimes all the communication in the world can’t fix the problems in a relationship.

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15 Emma April 10, 2012 at 1:35 pm

You tell him!

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16 ak May 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Grace brought up an interesting topic… “physical aspect to sex (how your bodies/genitals fit together) and occasionally this can be a mismatch too.”

Is it possible that a couple may never be sexually satisfied if there is anatomical incompatibility (small penis with large vaginal) or is this just a myth? If anatomical incompatibility in this area is a real issue, how can I find an anatomically compatible mate without sexual testing before marriage?

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17 Ryan July 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Thank you for having some sense about this issue! I was watching a daytime talk show with my wife and one of the hosts mentioned the issue of “sexual compatibility.” She basically said that people should have sex prior to marriage so they can have the option to end the relationship if the sex isn’t up to their standards. Is this what’s being taught by our culture? And believed by our young people? And celebrated?? I love my wife. I’m committed to my wife. PERIOD. We are friends first and foremost. I enjoy having sex with her, but making her laugh is just as satisfying.

And the sad part is, this was not the first time I’ve heard this nonsense on a similar show. I’m tempted to name names, but there’s a spirit behind the deception; it’s the spirit that is the real enemy, not the messengers.

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18 John July 26, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I have a question for everyone. I have a lady friend I know for three years. We spent a lot of time together doing things the last three years. I started to have feelings for her. I told my friend I want to date her. She told me no. She does not have sexually chemistry with me. I asked her what she mean. She told me sex is important to her. She likes to have sex. How can my friend know if we are sexual compatible without having sex? The odd thing is a few weeks later she found a boyfriend. Should I end my friendship with her? Can a man and woman be friends? I say no. Spending time with my friends causes me to have feelings for her.

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19 Bob November 30, 2011 at 1:10 pm

This is a very interesting topic and it is the core of a breakdown that I am having with my girlfriend. I am 38 year old male with a very strong sex drive. Most of my past relationships sex was a daily activity. I am in very good health and extremely athletic. I have a healthy diet. I exercise 3 to 4 times per week.

I met someone who I love, respect, honor, and have a great time with. We have been together for 1.5 years. She looks like a model and is beautiful. For the first month of our sex life it was great and we were mutually attracted. We get along great, and I really enjoy my time with her. We live together and I love waking up with her by my side. She would make a wonderful wife and mother. I do want children and family. She is exactly what I have been looking for. I noticed after a couple of months that my desire to have sex with my partner was less than my normal. From there my desire to have sex diminished to the point where I stopped having sex completely several months ago. My urge to have sex increases when I am not with her (but of course I have not cheated on her) My partner feels scared and confused (as am I). I feel that I am not serving my girlfriend by staying with her. Any advice that you can offer would be appreciated.

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20 Kathleen Quiring November 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Hi Bob,

Thanks for sharing. I’m afraid I don’t feel qualified to offer any advice — I’m not anywhere close to being a relationship therapist. I will say this, though: it sounds like there are too many good things going with this woman to let this one issue completely destroy the relationship. It sounds to me like you (or perhaps the two of you) might benefit from seeking out a counselor or therapist. Your relationship seems too great to give up on! You might want to connect with Dr. Corey Allan, a marriage and family therapist with a PhD in Family Therapy and all-around great guy. He offers counseling here: http://www.simplemarriage.net/counseling. I hope you don’t give up!

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21 Luna January 9, 2012 at 1:05 am

Dear Bob,
I can’t help but think of so many of my guy friends that their first attraction is based on the physical, “She looks like a model and is beautiful.” You also do say, “I met someone who I love, respect, honor, and have a great time with.” That could be anyone from a good boss, to a new teacher you met at city college. I myself am not one to give advice on what success in love is, but I sure know what makes a relationship shy of perfection.

People are only truly compatable when they find someone they can grow with. Someone who challenges them mind, body, and spirit. Always. If that part of your relationship never existed or dwindled, this is the manifestation of it…your loss of desire to possess her mind first, body second. Failed marriages and relationships, from all the hundreds I have witnessed, be it my global friends, own family members and myself, stem from the lack of true compatability from the beggining. Many people are in realtionships where only the sex is great, but the other aspects are starving to death so to speak.

If someone only wants sexual satisfaction, you don’t need to have a “girlfriend” to find that. There are bars and brothels full of girls that have no issues with sharing their bodies and not their minds. But be honest with yourself. We are all at different spiritual levels. I have friends that think I’m crazy, as they cheat on thier girlfriends and spend their solo nights in frustration because they cannot find new people who will “fuck” them.

I am in the best relationship of my life at the moment. It is strictly based off looking at life in the same direction. Our virtues, our hunger to live new experiences, to let go of eachother and having enough faith in the universe that we are still One, no matter what comes at me, or no matter what comes at him. He is 18 and I am 33. And no. We have not had sex. Yet. The hardest part is dealing with what “other people think.”

At this point in my life, I don’t give a rat’s ass about what other people think about whom I love. I only care about what I THINK about whom I love.

This is why I am searching the topic of sexual compatability. But as I read on, I am starting to understand our relationship was never based of physical desire, but a solid foundation of love, trust, and friendship. He is my best friend. And one day, I will see him naked laying next to me.

It’s going to be a beautiful moment. And I highly doubt it will fade. If it does, I love him enough always to let him be free. With or without me.

Hope this helps.

Luna

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22 Jennifer January 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I feel that some o the people that commented on this blog are a little biased and closed minded. It seems like you put people that would like to have sex before marriage in one category: people that like to run around just having sex with everyone until they find someone that is good enough at sex to marry them. And it’s totally not true. there are some people (like myself) that simply believe that sex is an important dynamic of any relationship and that it should be OK to explore that dynamic before you decide to spend the rest of your life with someone. Does that mean that I don’t believe that compatibility in other areas of the relationship aren’t as important? Just because I’d like to have a sexual relationship with my partner before we make that investment? NO. I believe just as much as any of you guys that love, partnership, kindness, and getting to know your lover on deeper levels than sex are extremely important. I think so because I think that marriage is a lifetime commitment, and if I don’t know my partner on every level, the marriage could fail because we didn’t know enough about each other. My opinions don’t make me a sex crazed woman who thinks that whether or not the sex is good is SO much more important than any other aspect of the relationship.

For those of you that are saying that sexual incompatibility is nearly non existent, and that it won’t matter once you are married… yes it will. I am now actually dating a man that I have VERY LITTLE sexual compatibility with. He’s just not even decent at it and is tiny. Would I marry him? Probably not. I won’t because I know that sex is just that important and if I’m not happy with that part of the relationship with a man that I’m going to be with for the rest of my life, I will just be punishing myself.

So again, just because I’m a person that believes that after falling in love and being in a happy relationship with someone that you should explore your sexuality, doesn’t mean that I’d like to go around humping everyone until I find the right person (sexual wise). It just means that sex is an integral part of a relationship and waiting until marriage to experience that part of it does not make as world’s a difference as people say.

With that said, everyone has the right to live their life the way that they want to. Everyone has individual morals and values and even if I may not agree with what most of you said, it’s always interesting hearing things from another point of view. Just giving my two cents.

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23 K. Trice April 20, 2013 at 11:27 am

I agree whole heartedly. A lot of my past relationships failed, because we made the contemptible mistake of having sex before marriage. I dont compare. I treat each woman as individual. However, it has occurred to me that the women often compared. I am in my mid 30′s and it is nearly impossible to find a woman that is impartial, let alone indifferent by way of lack of sex. 30-ish Virgins dont exist, and the only women that dont compare are so desperate, any man would do. I dont like desperate types, so the result is that I am a pepetual bachelor. I can wait to have sex, and often it is the women that cant wait. Some have stated to me, “why dont you date someone of your religious beliefs?”, and to that I say, “Dating is a sin in my beliefs, and seeing as the oldest single woman in my beliefs is in her early 20′s, it wont work. I would have to have her parent’s permission, and that wont go very far. My Rabbi suggested (because I am a convert, myself) that I date someone outside my faith. that is the problem.”. So, I am trying to be paragon in my pursuit, but, alas, it seems that women want sex, and not a paragon man, that would rather wait. to be honest, I am on the brink of just saying forget it, and become a zealot hermit. LOL

However, I agree with your article that people who place too much value in sex, sex becomes a priority. If sex is the priority, you would find yourself lacking in other aspects of the relationship. We need to focus on the other parts.

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