Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s is from a young woman asking about how important sexual compatibility is–and how can you tell if you’re sexually compatible before marriage?
Having grown up in the church and believing that it is important to wait until marriage to have sex, I have never heard anyone talk about sexual compatibility or whether it’s even important. On the other hand, among my non-Christian friends, it is standard to have sex while dating to find out if you’re sexually compatible. I have a very high interest in sex and I am sometimes concerned that I will marry someone who isn’t as interested, or doesn’t really care about figuring out what makes me happy in that area. My questions are — what does it even mean to be “sexually compatible”? How can you tell if someone is a good match for you in that way without being sexually active before marriage?
Great question! Let’s look at a couple of broad truths and then I’ll try to give my answer.
Usually when people talk about sexual compatibility, they mean “does sex feel good for us”?
Do we turn each other on? Do we bring each other pleasure?
But here’s the sad reality, as Andy Stanley shares in his book The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating:
You are sexually compatible with far more people than you are relationally compatible with.
I elaborated more on that point in my post on Andy’s best dating advice ever, but it’s worth noting again: just because you feel good sexually together doesn’t mean that you’re a good match. And often physical intimacy overshadows other forms of intimacy, and then we think we’re better together than we actually are. And soon the sexual fades, too. That’s why God wants us to wait for marriage for sex!
I’ve written before about sexual compatibility once you’re married; but today let’s look at how to think about sexual compatibility before you’re married, especially if you aren’t having sex.
A sexual relationship isn’t static over time
Here’s what people don’t realize when they talk about testing for sexual compatibility: sex changes over time. You may fit together great now, but what happens when she loses her libido right after she has a baby? What happens if he gets stressed at work for three years running and loses his libido? What happens if she goes through menopause and suddenly things that felt good for her once don’t feel good anymore? What happens if he experiences great healing in his life and suddenly becomes much MORE interested in sex now that he grasps real intimacy?
Changes in our health, our work situation, our age, or our kid situation will all make changes in our libidos and in our desires. They’ll even make changes in how our bodies react! That’s why this concept of sexual compatibility is fundamentally flawed, because it assumes that two people will always stay the same. We won’t. My husband and I have switched places at times on who has the higher libido. We haven’t always found the same things or positions fun. And that’s okay, because we change together.
Sexual compatibility is about giving grace to one another and being generous to one another
The whole idea of sexual compatibility, as it is usually framed, is essentially a selfish one. It’s asking:
Will this person meet my sexual needs?
But God made sex primarily to be relational. It happens between two people. So the essence of sexual compatibility is not finding someone who meets your needs; it’s deciding, together, that you will both be generous to one another and give grace to one another.
If you’re the lower drive spouse, you decide that you will go out of your way to meet your spouse’s desire for more sexual contact.
If you’re the higher drive spouse, you decide that you won’t withhold affection if your spouse isn’t able to make love as often as you’d like.
If your spouse has hang ups because of past abuse or because of shame in his or her background, you work through healing with that spouse, you don’t get angry.
If your spouse has chronic pain, or suffers from pain during sex, you become patient and make allowances for that.
You view sex as something which should bring you together, and you never use it as a weapon against each other. You don’t pressure your spouse to do something which makes your spouse really uncomfortable–or that your spouse thinks is gross.
Which leads us to this point:
One’s character is a far better signal about whether you’re sexually compatible than one’s sexual prowess
When you marry, there will be times when you need some grace. Being with a spouse who expects you to always meet their needs is a recipe for a marriage fraught with tension. Being with someone who loves you and is willing to put your needs first, though, means that your marriage will thrive.
Focusing on whether you match sexually, then, isn’t the right question. It’s really: is this the kind of person who will make demands of me that I’m not comfortable with? Is this the kind of person who will withhold sex if they’re angry or if they don’t feel like it?
But aren’t there things we SHOULD be worried about when it comes to sexual compatibility?
Yes, but likely not the things you think.
There are issues like: what if his penis is too large or too small? But honestly, you can deal with these things. Different positions can make you tighter if he’s on the small side. (lifting your legs above his shoulders; rear entry). Similarly, different positions can help if he’s on the large side (traditional missionary position; using lots of lubricant). Most people never really encounter many problems in this way.
And most things, like sexual skill, can be learned over time. You shouldn’t expect someone to know everything all at once, and it’s okay if it takes a while to get things right! Most women take a few years to reach orgasm during intercourse, and that’s okay.
The biggest causes of sexual incompatibility are not about how you connect physically when you have sex. They’re about what you demand of each other, expect of each other, and expect sex to be.
We think of sexual compatibility as primarily being a physical thing, but it’s actually more about one’s spiritual condition.
As I went to great lengths to explain in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, sex isn’t just physical. It’s about feeling like you’re one. It’s emotional and spiritual intimacy, too. And it’s these things which are most likely to mess up a sex life.
For instance, one commenter recently wrote that for the last twelve years her husband has been insisting on tying her up during sex, because that’s the only way he’ll feel loved. That’s not loving. That’s a sign that he has totally misunderstood what spiritual intimacy is.
If a man (or a woman) has used porn in the past, their views of what they want during sex are likely to be highly influenced by pornography. They may insist on things that make their spouse feel uncomfortable, because porn tends to objectify the sexual partner and feed into this idea that sex is impersonal, and all about getting my own needs met.
If a woman (or a man) has grown up thinking that sex is somehow shameful, then they may end up thinking that sex isn’t important in a marriage, and think that their spouse is “an animal” for wanting it too much.
If a woman (or a man) has been sexually assaulted or abused, or has been exposed to porn, they may find certain sexual acts so revolting that they can’t do them, even if they’re relatively run of the mill.
If a woman (or a man) has sexual confusion, they may want to get married so that they feel that the confusion is behind them since now they’re in a heterosexual relationship. However, that’s unlikely to affect their libido or sexual preferences.
All of these problems are caused by either sinfulness or woundedness. Some can be dealt with by a very loving and patient spouse who is willing to give the person time to heal. Others are a big red flag that marriage should likely be off of the table.
But none of these things is about how you physically fit together. They’re all about a sinful, or a broken, heart.
So how do we know if we’re sexually compatible?
Once you’re with someone you’re really interested in marrying, have some honest talks about sexual expectations. Talk about what you’ll do if your libidos don’t match. Talk about how sex is likely a learning curve, and it may not be great right off the bat. Talk about how you’ll decide what’s okay to do.
I know those conversations are hard to have before you’re married. You don’t want to make it harder to wait! But I think they’re important to have. Just do it outside, while you’re taking a walk, and not inside while lying on the couch alone.
Be frank about pornography. Make sure that you both have access to each other’s phones and search histories. Certainly we want to respect each other, but if you’re thinking of marrying someone, there can’t be secrets. If your beloved has used porn, make sure they’ve worked through how that has affected their sexual expectations.
And here’s a tip: if you’re in love and thinking of marrying, and your beloved is obviously NOT struggling with trying to stay pure, that’s a serious sexual red flag. You SHOULD be having a difficult time keeping your hands off of each other. If that’s not a struggle, then that’s where you have to question whether there’s an underlying sexual problem.
I hope that helps! Now let’s talk in the comments: What do you think the keys to sexual compatibility are?