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Friday, October 21, 2022

Sexual Compatibility Can Develop and Evolve Over Time

One of the most common problems that brings people into sex therapy is what they perceive as sexual incompatibility, including sexual desire discrepancy. Sexual desire discrepancy means that you and your partner aren't in synch with regard to what you each want to do sexually and/or how often you want to have sex.

Sexual Compatibility Can Develop and Evolve Over Time

As I mentioned in an earlier article, sexual desire discrepancy can occur at any time for many reasons, including but not limited to:
Sexual Compatibility Doesn't Always Happen Naturally
Most people assume that sexual compatibility just happens naturally during the early stage of a relationship.  They think it's either there or it's not.  

But the reality is that sexual compatibility often doesn't always happen naturally.

I'll unpack these ideas in this article.  For now, the idea to grasp is that since sexual compatibility isn't automatic, the most important thing is a willingness to put the time and effort into communicating and working on your sex life.  

More about this later in this article (see my articles: Is a Willingness to Have Sex Enough to Get Started - Part 1 and Part 2).

The Early Stage of a Relationship: Getting to Know Each Other
When you first start seeing someone new, you're getting to know all kinds of things about them, including what they want and don't want in a relationship, their beliefs and values, what kinds of activities they enjoy and so on.  

The Early Stage of a Relationship: Getting to Know Each Other

Over time, if you enjoy each other's company and you spend time together, you'll probably  discover you both like certain things and not other things. 

For instance, you might both share a passion for hiking, but you also love going to the gym a few times a week and they don't.  Or, you both love sushi, but they also like hamburgers and you don't.  

If you both really like each other and you want to see how the relationship develops, you wouldn't automatically rule each other out because of these differences.  You would probably try to find ways to make your similarities and differences work.  

Similarly, when it comes to sexual compatibility, you might not have swinging off the chandelier sex at the beginning of a relationship because you're getting to know each other and what each of you like (see my article: What is Your Erotic Blueprint - Part 1 and Part 2).

Obviously, if one of you believes that sex is the life blood of your existence and the other finds everything about sex repugnant, things might not work out between you.  But if your views about sex are similar enough, you can work out the differences because sexual compatibility can develop and evolve over time.

For instance, a common problem that couples talk about in sex therapy relates to sexual frequency.  A lot of people assume that if you and your partner have differences in how often you want sex, this means you're sexually incompatible and the relationship is doomed.  

But it's normal and common for two people in a relationship to have differences in how often they want sex.  

You wouldn't think it was unusual if you love to go dancing two or three times a week but your partner only likes to go once a week.  If everything else about the relationship is good, you would probably find a way to compromise.  

Similarly, a shift in your attitude can make a big difference when it comes to sexual frequency.  Instead of focusing on quantity, focus on quality.  

If you like having sex 2-3 times per week, but your partner prefers once a week, you could take care of your sexual needs by pleasuring yourself because, ultimately, you're responsible for your own sexual needs (see my article: Sexual Pleasure and the Erotic Self - Part 1 and Part 2).

Spontaneous Sexual Arousal and Responsive Sexual Arousal
Another common difference between people is how easily they become sexually aroused.  Some people, including many men and some women, experience spontaneous sexual arousal. 

Other people, including many women and some men, experience responsive sexual arousal (see my article: (see my article: Spontaneous and Responsive Sexual Arousal Are Both Normal).

Spontaneous arousal is what is frequently portrayed in movies and in mainstream pornography: Two people look at each other with desire and they immediately tear each other's clothes off because they can't wait to have sex.

Even though spontaneous arousal is portrayed as being better, in real life sexual arousal isn't always spontaneous at all.  

In addition, neither spontaneous nor responsive sexual arousal is better or worse.  It's just different.  And both types of arousal are common and normal.

Depending upon the couple, to overcome a difference in how each person experiences sexual arousal, it's often a matter of the person who experiences spontaneous arousal slowing down until their partner, whose arousal is responsive, gets caught up.  

Rather than this being a chore for the person with spontaneous arousal, slowing down allows them to savor pleasure so this can be a sexual turn on if they're able to enjoy the sexual anticipation (see my article: A Cornerstone of Eroticism: Longing and Anticipation).

Getting to Know Each Other's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes
Everyone is wired differently when it comes to sex and that's normal.

Sex educator and author, Dr. Emily Nagoski, discusses the idea of sexual accelerators and brakes in her book, Come As You Are, when she writes about the Dual Control Model of human sexual response.

Getting to Know Each Other's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes

The Dual Control Model, which is a theoretical model, was originally developed by Dr. John Bancroft and Dr. Erick Janssen of the Kinsey Institute in the late 1990s.  Briefly: This model says that sexual response in individuals is a balance between sexual excitement and sexual inhibition.

To simplify the concept of the Dual Control Model and make it understandable to the general public, Dr. Nagoski refers to sexual excitement (turn-ons) as sexual accelerators and sexual inhibitors (turn-offs) as brakes, similar to an accelerator and brake in a car (see my article: Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes).

Just like you're getting to know each other in other ways, you're also getting to know each other sexually.  And part of getting to know each other sexually is getting to know each of your turn-ons (accelerators) and your turn-offs (brakes) over time (see my article: Getting to Know Your Own and Your Partner's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes).

Some people's sexual accelerators are more sensitive than their brakes.  For those people, getting turned on is relatively easy, and their turn-offs don't usually get in the way much.  

Other people have sexual brakes (inhibitions) that are more sensitive.  In order for them to get turned on, they need to deactivate (lower) their inhibitions before they can get turned on.  

If you're someone whose sexual accelerators are more sensitive than your brakes but you're in a relationship with someone whose brakes are more sensitive, there's nothing wrong with this.  In fact, it's common and normal.  It just means that the two of you will need to find a way to make it work for both of you (I'll give an example of this below).

As you get to know each other, you'll also discover sexual differences in terms of turn-ons and turn-offs. For instance, you might enjoy sex when you're really stressed out.  Maybe stress helps you to feel energized to have sex.  Not only does it make you feel closer to your partner, but sex is what you need to relieve stress.  So, stress is a sexual accelerator for you.  

But for your partner, stress is a brake.  They can't relax enough to have sex if they're under a lot of stress.  Stress really gets in the way for them.

So, you can find a compromise.  Maybe when you feel energized by stress and you're eager to have sex, you slow down a bit to help your stressed out partner by giving them a massage to help them relax.  The physical touch can be sexually invigorating for you and calming for your partner.  Then, when your partner is relaxed enough to have sex, you can both enjoy it.

According to Dr. Nagoski, for most people to become sexually aroused, it's a matter of deactivating the brake and activating the accelerator.  

A Willingness to Have Sex and Work on the Differences is Often Enough to Improve Sexual Compatibility
As I mentioned earlier, a willingness to have sex is often enough to get people started.  

This often means that one or both people aren't necessarily turned on when they start having sex, but they know they will become turned on once they get into it.

A willingness to have sex and to be open to novelty can go a long way to improving sexual compatibility.

Clinical Vignettes: Sexual Compatibility in a Relationship Can Develop and Evolve Over Time
The following vignettes are composites of many different cases with all identifying information removed to protect confidentiality:

Tom and GinaWhen Tom and Gina first met, they clicked right away.  Their first conversation started at a mutual friend's party and continued over drinks later that night.  They had a mutual attraction, and they discovered they had a lot in common in terms of their interests, family background and values.  

Two weeks later, Gina asked Tom to come over one night for drinks.  As they kissed and cuddled on the couch, she invited him to spend the night.  They had both been anticipating and looking forward to this night.  But things didn't go as smoothly as they had anticipated. 

Spontaneous vs Responsive Sexual Arousal

Whereas Tom got so turned on immediately (spontaneous arousal) that he wanted to have penetrative sex immediately, Gina wasn't ready to have intercourse right away. She told him that she needed kiss more and be caressed to get sexually turned on (responsive arousal).  

So, Tom slowed down and kissed and caressed Gina in ways that were pleasurable to both of them.  He also learned from her that she didn't enjoy penetrative sex as much if she didn't have oral sex first (see my articles: Closing the Orgasm Gap - Part 1 and Part 2). 

So, he learned. how to please Gina so they could both enjoy sex (see my article: Rethinking Foreplay as More Than Just a Prelude to Sexual Intercourse).

Alice and Jane: Jane and Alice had strong sexual chemistry from the start.  They both enjoyed sex together, but whereas Jane especially loved to have sex when she was stressed out, Alice needed to feel relaxed before she could enjoy sex.  In other words, stress was a sexual accelerator for Jane, but it was a brake for Alice.  

Getting to Know Each Other's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes

So, over time, Jane learned to slow down to help Alice to relax before they had sex.  

Over time, Jane and Alice learned how to create an environment to enhance sexual pleasure for both of them.  Jane knew that Alice liked to listen to smooth jazz to help her relax and get into the mood for sex, so she made an effort to set up the music before they went to bed.  

Alice knew that Jane liked to watch feminist pornography (also known as ethical porn) to get her turned on, so Alice had certain videos on hand that turned them both on.  They also both liked to give and get massages.  For Jane, it was sexually stimulating and for Alice, it was relaxing.  

Bruce and Ed: When Bruce and Ed first met, they were both very passionate about having sex.  They had sex frequently, including long weekends in bed.  But several months into their relationship, they weren't as passionate with one another.  Some of that new relationship energy had decreased over time and they were having less sex--although Ed usually wanted to have sex more often than Bruce (sexual desire discrepancy).  

Sexual Compatibility Can Evolve Over Time

Sometimes Bruce was willing to start having sex with Ed because he knew he would eventually get turned on (responsive arousal and a willingness to have sex).  But there were times when Bruce wanted to have sex once a week when Ed wanted to have sex 3-4 times a week.  

At first, they argued about it because Ed felt rejected whenever Bruce didn't want to have sex as frequently.  Eventually they worked out an agreement where Ed would masturbate to pornography during those times when Bruce didn't want to have sex. 

This worked out for both of them for a while, but two years into the relationship, Ed wasn't satisfied with this.  As a result, they agreed to have a consensual nonmonogamous relationship (also known as an ethical nonmonogamy).  

They worked out a detailed written agreement until they were both comfortable with it.  Essentially, their agreement indicated that they were primary partners to each other, but they could have sexual affairs with other people as long as they each knew about who they were sleeping with.  The agreement also indicated that these affairs would be strictly sexual and not emotional, and they would be short affairs.  Over time, they revised their agreement to meet each other's needs.

Sexual compatibility can develop and evolve over time.  

Contrary to popular opinion, sexual compatibility doesn't just happen automatically.  Sometimes the newness of the relationship brings sexual passion and excitement. 

But sometimes it takes a couple a while to get in synch with each other at the beginning of a new relationship because each person needs to get to know the other in terms of sexual arousal (spontaneous or responsive arousal) and turn-ons and turn-offs (accelerators and brakes) and find a way to compromise.

A willingness to have sex is often enough for both people to get aroused and enjoy sex.  

Sexual compatibility also changes over time.  Once the new relationship energy subsides, a couple might need to find other ways to enhance their sex life.

The most important takeaway is that a couple who experiences sexual desire discrepancy--whether it's at the beginning of their relationship or later on--can learn to work out these issues.

Getting Help in Sex Therapy
Many couples experience sexual desire discrepancy as an overwhelming problem, especially if this problem is longstanding and resentment has built up over time.

Getting Help in Sex Therapy

Working with a skilled sex therapist can help a couple to find new ways to overcome desire discrepancy so that they both enjoy a fulfilling sex life together (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.