“Intimacy transcends the physical. It is a feeling of closeness that isn’t about proximity, but of belonging. It is a beautiful emotional space in which two become one.”
~ Steve Maraboli
In relationships, emotional and physical connection go hand in hand.
That is why it can feel frustrating and confusing when you feel close to your partner yet still encounter sexual issues.
The question of whether you are sexually compatible with your partner is more nuanced than you might think, and it goes beyond a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
Rather, you can begin by gaining a fuller understanding of how your own sexual desire and arousal system works.
Sex educator Emily Nagoski refers to the Dual Control Model, or your sexual response system, to understand sexual difficulties in relationships.
The Dual Control Model says that we have both a sexual excitation system (SES) and a sexual inhibition system (SIS) – things that turn us on and turn us off.
Nagoski uses the metaphor of accelerators (SES) and brakes (SIS) – things that either increase or decrease your arousal.
- For instance, accelerators might be physical aspects of your partner, such as how he looks or smells, as well as emotional qualities such as how he treats you.
- Similarly, brakes might be some aspects of physical appearance, bad habits, performance anxiety, relational conflict, risks associated with being sexual (such as fear or STIs), or past negative sexual experiences.
When you are turned on, your SES identifies sexually relevant information in the environment, or things that hit your accelerator.
When you are turned off, your SIS identifies aspects of your environment that counteract sexuality, or things that hit your brakes.
In either situation, your brain takes in things that you see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or imagine and sends signals to your genitals to either become aroused or avoid arousal.
Basically, your body is designed to let you know whether or not it is an opportune time for sexuality.
That said, when you think you are sexually incompatible with your partner, it may be that you are simply experiencing more brakes than accelerators.
Thus, the key to becoming sexually compatible is increasing arousal by avoiding these brakes and hitting your accelerators. This process involves working with your partner to identify each other’s brakes and trying to minimize them.
The good news is that, while your brakes will likely remain the same, you have power to change behaviors that trigger them.
For instance, you may not like being close to your partner after a sweaty gym workout, so you ask him to shower before being sexual.
Maybe you have trouble trusting your partner which negatively impacts your sex drive, so you go to counseling.
Perhaps you don’t like being sexual when you are tired, so you might work on getting more sleep.
If your partner can respond to your needs and make the necessary changes, then you are more likely to become sexually compatible.
If your partner cannot respond to your needs or make changes, then you are less likely to be compatible.
Ultimately, the most important factor in the outcome is a willingness to both communicate about and meet each other’s needs.
Tim Horvath, MA, LMFT – www.ChangeBeginsAtHome.com
Compatibility in a relationship is important and can be developed together.
In order to increase your sexual compatibility, you have to be honest about what is not working and what you want to improve.
These conversations are vulnerable and it is important to make sure your partner is in the right headspace before having these conversations.
Let him know you want to talk about your sex life and areas that could improve and ask him when would be a good time to discuss it.
Inviting him to the conversation and preparing him for the conversation can help him show up in a good headspace as these conversations can be difficult to have together.
When he is ready to have the conversation, start by acknowledging what does work, what you enjoy and what you appreciate in your sex life.
Naming the positive as you begin helps him be less defensive and more open. Then move into what areas you want to work on/improve and explain why this is important to you and what it will add to your sex life.
It’s important to use “I” statements such as “I feel, I want, I think” to decrease defensiveness on his end.
Ask him to reflect back what he hears you saying to ensure that he is understanding what you are saying and asking for.
When you are done sharing, be open to hearing what he wants more of in your sex life as well and be curious with him.
Work together to find a compromise or a plan that will work to increase your sexual compatibility and enjoyment.
To summarize, express what you appreciate in your sex life, identify and explain how you feel in your sex life, and name what you want/need to increase your compatibility.
Rachel Elder, LMHC, MHP – www.rachel-elder.com
When people look for a relationship most people are looking for emotional and sexual compatibility with their boyfriend. Whether starting a relationship or years down the road an emotional connection or a sexual connection might be stronger.
So what do we do when we feel more of an emotional connection than a sexual connection?
Some people are more or less sexual by nature. In most relationships no two people are going to be in the same exact with regard to sexual desire.
One person may be more sexual than the other.
You may find yourself less sexual than your boyfriend which is fine. You may feel like he is pushing to have sex more often and you may not want to be pressured to have sex when you are not in the mood.
I think a good and healthy way to deal with this is to have a conversation with your boyfriend.
You could start the conversation, for example, by saying you feel very compatible with him on an emotional level and love him but want to talk to him about your sexual compatibility.
Do some soul searching before and ask yourself questions like;
“Is there something me or your partner is doing in bed that is making you feel uncomfortable? Is sex fun? Has the frequency of sex changed at all?” Knowing the answers to these questions could be helpful in talking about your sexual compatibility.
Another important thing to talk to your boyfriend about are the different types of intimacy that go effect sexual connection.
These may include what type of environment you like to have sex in, specific sex acts, how often you want to have sex and whether or not you are looking for a monogamous relationship.
Talking about all these different aspects will help you and your boyfriend get to know each other better and also enhance your sexual compatibility.
You could also seek professional help from a counselor if that sounds appealing to both you and your boyfriend.
A counselor can be an objective third party and help guide the conversation. Clearly both people have emotions involved, and it could help to work through those emotions with a counselor.
Hollis Wall, MA, LMHCA – www.wallehollis.com
It’s great when you and your boyfriend share common interests, philosophy, goals and dreams. Plus, your physical connection is also satisfying and fulfilling.
After all, intimacy makes your relationship more enjoyable and ideal.
But, if you or your partner are sexually out of sync, it could lead to frustration, misunderstandings and ultimately huge conflicts that could end in a breakup.
So, what do you do?
1. Examine your expectations (and he should too).
The relationship you have with your partner is special. Your partner is there to grow with you and to share in your life. However, if you expect too much from him or he’s expecting too much from you, you are setting yourself up for failure. In other words, can you talk about your sexual differences and compromise so you feel it’s a win-win situation?
When you know where your partner is coming from, you will be less likely to misinterpret his actions or behaviors and, therefore, not be disappointed.
2. Explore professional options.
Sometimes one’s sex drive is related to hormonal imbalances or other medical conditions. Your medical doctor can prescribe medication to create the balance you or he needs. Or there could be deeper psychological reasons you or your partner’s sex drive is low (high) and a mental health professional may be able to uncover the underlying causes.
Either way, you are doing something to improve your relationship and keep it stable. If the emotional foundation is there already, the physical foundation can also be remedied.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
So you’re attracted to your partner, both physically and emotionally, but you just don’t “click” during sex? Take a breath. Your relationship is not doomed. So what’s the remedy?
You and your partner must start to communicate more openly about sex.
There are so many reasons that couples don’t feel compatible during sex. It could be differences in libido, different fantasies, difficulty orgasaming, or having different tastes or styles in the bedroom (think kink vs. non-kink focused).
A lot of times, my clients are afraid to broach the topic as they are afraid it will hurt their partner’s feelings, make them self conscious, or that it will lead to a rift-or eventual breakup-in the relationship.
Trust me-NOT having this conversation is more detrimental to your relationship, and this conversation with lead to clarity (and hopefully enjoyable sex!).
In preparing for the conversation, ask yourself,
- “What’s my relationship to sex? (Do you anticipate it? Dread it? Does it make you excited? Are you glad when it’s over?),”
- “What do I enjoy during sex?”,
- “What do I wish was different about our sex life?”
If you’ve had sex with other partners, reflect on what has been enjoyable or pleasing in those experiences.
How is it different than the sex you’re having now?
I can hear you now…you’re saying, “It just WAS better. It just WAS different. We clicked!”
- Why did you click?
- Did you communicate differently?
- Did your partner meet your sexual needs?
- Was there a lot of foreplay that contributed to the overall experience?
- Was it spontaneous?
Challenge yourself to really get to know your sex life, and in turn, get to know yourself. Then, communicate what you’ve found out to your partner.
This conversation is best had at a casual, low pressure level, opposed to staring with “We need to talk,” or other indicators that a big, hard conversation is on the horizon.
Be honest, transparent, and kind. You aren’t responsible for your partner’s feelings, but only in how you communicate.
Lead with whatever feels true for you, whether it’s “I’ve been thinking about your sex life, and I’m wondering if you have been, too,” or “I’ve been really wanting to try something different in bed. Want to give it a go?” or even, “I don’t feel connected in bed, so let’s talk about where we go from here.”
Generally speaking, it is a good idea to let your partner know that you aren’t feeling connected during sex, and that you’re excited, willing, and eager, to try to figure it out together.
Lindsey Brock, LCSW, LCASA – www.thebreakupcoach.org
Could this be the distinction between a friendship and romantic partnership?
There are many aspects as to what comprises a good relationship.
They are not the same for everybody by any means, and pretty much anything is acceptable as long as no one is hurt.
That means that if you, and presumably your partner, are satisfied with the relationship sexually or otherwise there is no problem.
A sexual relationship can range from extremely sexual to non-sexual as long as you both are happy with it.
That said, most people want some element of sexuality as part of a romantic relationship.
Especially in the beginning, that component is often extremely important and it often creates the impetus to develop a relationship.
But as time goes by libido seems to lessen to some degree and the emotional compatibility becomes more important. However, if there isn’t or never has been a sexual attraction, I think you are really looking at a friendship albeit an intense one.
I think this question may really be about how to incorporate a sexual component into an existing emotionally satisfying relationship.
We have to define “compatibility”.
Does this mean that you’re attracted, but sex is not particularly satisfying?
That can be addressed either by more open communication, or by seeking professional help, such as a couple’s therapist or a sex therapist. However, if the sexual spark is and always has been absent, I don’t think it’s possible to ignite it.
Choosing to give up sex is asking a lot.
Maybe you could consider keeping the friendship and both of you looking for partners with whom you are both emotionally and sexually compatible. Finding that right person will give you the chance to have a fuller and more satisfying relationship.
Sally LeBoy, MS, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
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