Phill was beyond thrilled when he finally confirmed that his long-time crush was not only also gay, but also was interested in going out with him! Phill showered, shaved, and put on his most flattering outfit in anticipation of their first official dinner date. During dinner, they marveled at their shared interest in obscure French films and looked into each other’s eyes while playing footsie under the table. It was on.
They went back to Phill’s and couldn’t take their clothes off fast enough. They began kissing passionately, looking into each other’s eyes, and, as unlikely as it sounded, Phill could see a future with this person. As the passion continued to escalate, Philll and his date both reached for a condom at the same time. They both looked at each other and giggled worriedly, realizing that they were both tops.
Enter the conundrum of sexual incompatibility.
Sexual incompatibility can take many forms. The level of sexual compatibility with a partner can relate to the frequency you desire sex, the type of sex you like, and the number of partners you want to have. We are all unique beings with our own arousal triggers, desires, and relationships to sex. Having perfectly aligned libidos and fantasies with someone else is a rarity; therefore, most relationships involve some level of compromise and exploration to ensure that both partners get their sexual needs met.
Here are four ways you can find a healthy middle ground:
Often, we are nervous to tell partners about our desires because we think that our sexual wants will not align. However, gaining the confidence to share what we desire is a necessary first step to ensuring a satisfying sexual encounter. Ask your partner about their desires and fantasies. Share what sexually excites you and what you would like to explore together. Take note of where your desires overlap and where they diverge. Ask a lot of questions so that you can understand the root of your partner’s desires—specifically in the situations where you diverge—and discern whether finding a compromise is possible. The more you talk, the better!
For example, my partner and I are contemplating exploring group sex. The issue is that I am more comfortable inviting friends with whom I’ve already developed an emotional connection to join us. My partner would prefer we sexually engage with relative strangers to leave the emotions out of the mix.
Initially, this felt like a significant sexual compatibility issue because we seek very different types of encounters. However, I asked questions to get to the root of my partner’s problem with engaging with friends, and it came down to feeling that the relationship might be threatened by sexually engaging with another single guy. Through discussion, we discovered that he would not be jealous if we became friends with a couple, and perhaps things would eventually become sexual. We found a compromise where I could become emotionally connected and safe with potential new partner(s), and my partner would feel more comfortable with the situation.
A great way to work towards a satisfying sex life for both partners is to vary your sexual routine. For example, for Phill and his lover, perhaps both parties may be interested in experimenting with taking the role of receiver. Just because they are more into being a top doesn’t mean that they may not also enjoy switching it up.
Of course, it’s vital to respect your partner’s boundaries; if someone is not open to trying a new sexual activity for any reason, we should never pressure them. But it is through exploration that we can find the overlap between each partner’s desires—and perhaps even discover a new passion that was previously unknown. And that’s where the Venn diagram of sexual compatibility starts to take shape.
Ever order Indian food (even though you were more in the mood for sushi) because your partner wanted it? We are told every moment of sex should be ecstatic and life-changing for everybody, but the practical truth is that compromise can also play a role. You should never do anything that makes you uncomfortable. However, being open to trying something that your partner loves and you don’t mind can sometimes be a part of working on sexual compatibility.
The important thing here is equality, through which both partners explore what they desire in a way that also suits the other partner. For example, say your partner wants you to finger them in the butt, and you are not excited about it, but also not opposed to it. If you decide to give it a go, perhaps next time you want to have sex in a bar bathroom, your partner will accommodate you because they know you are aroused by public sex. This should not be thought of as an exact exchange, but there should be general equality where both partners voice and explore their fantasies.
Find other outlets.
There may be an extreme gap between partners’ sexual desires that can’t be easily solved through compromise. This can happen when one partner has a fetish that the other does not share or when there are considerable differences in terms of the type or frequency of sex that each partner desires. In this case, there are a few alternatives to explore.
In some cases, one partner can explore their desire through porn or fantasy, alleviating the need to explore it in the real world. However, if one partner feels that they genuinely need more sex (or a specific kind of sex) to be happy, an open relationship may be something to discuss. For instance, I have a friend who is really into BDSM, but her partner is not. She engages in BDSM practices with other partners but only has intercourse with her primary partner. In the case of differing sexual desires, there are ways for partners to get their needs met without having to break up—it just requires openness, clear communication, and experimentation.
One of the most exciting parts of getting to know a new person is learning about their unique sexual desires. Think of it as a fun challenge to explore together instead of treating the situations where you sexually diverge as a potential problem. Work on articulating what you want. Learn to be clear and communicate your boundaries. Figure out the difference between what you sexually need in a relationship vs. what you are happy to explore as fantasy.
Most of all, enjoy working on the puzzle of getting to know a sexual partner and finding where you can sexually align and how you can work on the areas where you diverge—turns out sexual compatibility is really like playing a titillating game of Tetris!