So, a client got me thinking. He was discussing waiting until marriage to have sex. He expressed his respect for that choice, but also his concern as a dating, single male. He said, “What if I marry her and then find out that we are not sexually compatible?”
I can certainly understand his concern. Some people would say if you have never had sex before, you won’t know any difference, and it won’t matter. But the majority of people who are abstinent are re-committing to abstinence (some coming out of marriages). They’ve had prior sexual experiences and are worried about sexual compatibility because, well, they actually will know the difference.
Should You Wait for Marriage to Have Sex?
So, I decided to do some research into this issue, realizing it is one that many couples are facing. In part, the idea of sexual compatibility is a modern construct born out of a culture with an abundance of sexual experiences. If someone gave you your new dream car, you would say, “Wow, thanks! Amazing!” But, if you receive brand new dream cars regularly and are offered another one while being asked to commit to only driving that one, you may be like, “Ummm. Let me test drive it first…”
In all fairness, research does demonstrate that a lack of sexual compatibility in relationships leads to frustration, resentment, hostility, emotional distancing, anger, and even infidelity. This may sway you to believe that we should all be test-driving to make sure we get this thing right, but an even more interesting tidbit is that research from a popular online couple assessment survey called RELATE has also found that the longer a dating couple waited to have sex, the better the relationship is in the long run.
In fact, couples who wait until marriage to have sex report higher relationship satisfaction, better communication patterns, less consideration of divorce, and better sexual quality (15% better) than those who started having sex earlier in their dating. For couples in between, those who waited to have sex later in their relationship, but prior to marriage, the benefits were about half as strong. So, just waiting actually increases your chances of being sexually compatible.
Wow. Why? I think it relates to increased emotional intimacy that gets thwarted when sex is introduced in a relationship too early, but that’s another article.
What Exactly Is Sexual Compatibility, and How Do We Know When We Have It?
Sexual compatibility has been defined as sharing common sexual desires, preferences, beliefs, and attitudes, feeling sexually close to your partner, feeling that they understand you sexually, and engaging in sexual acts that you both consider arousing and pleasurable. Sexual compatibility is comprised of factors, including desired frequency of sex, preferred sexual expressions, sexual values, and sexual personality type. The more common sexual ground a couple shares, the more healthy, satisfying, and enduring their sexual and overall relationships are.
So, I can understand why people may think we must have sex to test drive this relationship; otherwise, we could risk having a generally unsatisfying relationship for the rest of our lives or suffer a miserable divorce. But wait, you can start out being sexually compatible, and that can still change over time! Why? Because sexual compatibility is really most closely related to emotional intimacy, commonly held beliefs, personality similarities, and preferences—not really the sex act at all—but that’s for another article…
So, based on that knowledge, is there any way to tell…without actually doing the deed? Yes! You probably have already figured out that there is some chemistry and attraction between you two, or you wouldn’t want to be moving the relationship forward. The rest we can address with old-fashioned communication!
1. How did you learn about sex?
2. What did your family teach you about sex (values)?
3. What is your definition of sex?
4. What is the purpose of sex in a relationship? This might seem like a no-brainer, but seriously you may be surprised by the answer.
5. What sexual acts are off-limits for you?
6. What sexual acts do you think are must-haves?
7. What sexual acts are important to you but not deal breakers?
8. How often do you think about sex, and what do you think about when you do?
9. When you think about having sex with me, how do you imagine it will be?
10. How often do you envision us having sex?
11. At what times do you imagine that we would abstain from sex?
12. How important do you envision sex being in our relationship?
13. Have you ever had any extremely negative or traumatic experiences with sex? If so, what work have you done in this area, and how will it affect our sexual relationship?
14. Are you committed to regularly setting aside time to talk about our sexual relationship?
15. How will we negotiate it if one of us wants to do something sexually that the other is uncomfortable with?
16. What are your biggest hopes and fears regarding sex?
Major differences, disagreements, or issues on any answers may indicate that this is an area of incompatibility. Finding out that you are not compatible does not mean game over. Knowing that there is some incompatibility from the get-go and having the desire to work on it before you even get started can put you light years ahead of other couples just trying to muddle their way through.
You Should Be Talking about Sex
If there are significant differences, sex therapy is probably best done before any actual sex has occurred and really should be a part of any pre-marital therapy. If there is a sexual history, this is a wonderful time to talk about your experiences, desires, and preferences. Some may argue that you are bringing other relationships into this current one, but, news flash—that has already occurred. We bring all of our life experiences into our relationships.
Talking about sex with your partner should never be taboo. Mums, the word does not make your past disappear. Instead, it just creates distance and impedes your intimacy, causing damage in the long run. The beautiful part is that having these conversations beforehand can prevent future conversations that may feel like you are comparing your partner.
Of course, like any conversation, there is a right and wrong way to go about it. Be sensitive. Think about how you would want your partner to speak to you in this way.
So, bottom line: It is a myth that you have to test drive to find out if you are sexually compatible. And yes, sex is all in your head!
Photo by Hernan Sanchez.
For more articles about a grit + grace relationship, check out this episode of our podcast This Grit and Grace Life: An Intimate Look at Your Sex Life With Dr. Miller OB-GYN – 135