Sex & Relationships

Why Sexual Incompatibility Doesn't Mean The End Of A Relationship

Don't throw in the towel just yet.

Can sexual incompatibility be overcome? Here's what experts say.
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Have you ever started dating someone amazing — who checks all the metaphorical “boxes” — only to have sex with them that was straight up… bad? The lead-up to getting down with someone you’re really into can build up visions of an orgasmic experience. But what happens when you finally hook up with your incredible new boo and it’s a huge letdown? You might be dealing with a case of sexual incompatibility.

When you’ve come across someone who doesn’t seem to have the same preferences, prowess, or stamina as you do in the bedroom, it can be tempting to chalk it up to a case of bad sex and nothing more. Intimacy coach and licensed psychologist Dr. Jacqueline Sherman, however, doesn’t see it that way — her take is that the majority of these people probably haven’t attempted to establish sexual compatibility in the first place. “Often they have not even communicated about the sex they hope for, or experimented enough to get different results,” she tells Bustle.

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, you’re certainly not alone. While it’s completely valid to be disappointed by a less-than-stellar hookup with someone who otherwise seemed totally promising, writing them off because of that experience may cause you to miss out on something great. So, can sexual compatibility be created? Here’s what experts have to say about how to become sexually compatible with a partner.

What Makes Partners Sexually Compatible?

It’s easy to assume that being sexually compatible with a partner only boils down to whether or not the sex you share is “good.” In a practical sense, board-certified sexologist and sex therapist Dr. Gloria Brame tells Bustle, this may be somewhat true — but can only go so far before deeper factors come into play. “On the surface, [the definition of sexual compatibility] seems straightforward: You feel physically attracted to each other, you like the same kinds of things in bed, and you share the same needs for frequency of intimacy ... unfortunately, under the surface, there may be other forces at work that sabotage that compatibility,” she says.

According to Cortina Peters, licensed mental health counselor, certified sexuality educator, and “The Girlfriend Therapist,” being sexually compatible with someone goes far beyond whether or not you can immediately have “good” sex together. “You and your partner do not have to enjoy the same things to be sexually compatible,” she tells Bustle. For example, Peters explains that you and your partner can even have opposite turn-ons that end up being complementary and satisfy both of you — like one partner who enjoys giving oral sex, and the other preferring to receive.

Beyond the more primal qualities of the sex life you have with your partner, Dr. Sherman explains that teamwork is a major factor that comes into play. “You and your partner are sexually compatible when you have established mutual sexual goals and are committed to working toward them, collectively,” she says. While your prowess in the bedroom or shared fantasies are great stepping stones toward being a great sexual pairing, your mutual openness toward and willingness to continue figuring out ways to better please each other and have a fulfilling sex life together are also very real marks of sexual compatibility.

How To Improve Sexual Compatibility

As one might expect, Peters says that the most influential way to promote positive behaviors in your sexual relationship(s) is communication. “When you and your sexual partner are open and honest about your sexual desires and needs, you create a space for sexual exploration to take place,” she tells Bustle.

One simple exercise Dr. Brame suggests to start building a better sex life is to agree on new things you both want to try in the bedroom. “This is not a screed where you state your wants, but an exercise learning how to work together towards goals,” she notes. “For example, if one partner wants sex three times a week and the other only wants it once a month, you may be able to work out a compromise which lets them both feel they're getting what they want out of their agreement.”

Dr. Sherman also recommends masturbating with your partner as a way to demonstrate exactly what turns you on, and show them how they can apply that to their own technique. “Mutual masturbation is one of the greatest teaching tools out there,” she says. Bonus: Both of you get to experience pleasure. Dr. Sherman notes it can also be helpful to guide your S.O. through verbal seduction or physical touch, too.

Gaining understanding and control of the sexual compatibility with your partner involves much more than just the act itself. Peters says that several regular behaviors outside the bedroom are what really build success in it. These three elements include “the ability to understand your partner may enjoy things you may not,” “open and honest communication about the things you like, the things you dislike, and the things you’d be willing to try,” and, “sexual evaluation throughout the duration of the sexual relationship.” Being flexible and open-minded, receptive to what your partner shares about their preferences, and making a consistent effort to continue building your sexual connection are all ways to get a sense of your true sexual compatibility.

Does Being Sexually Incompatible Mean The End Of A Relationship?

There are so many reasons why your first few encounters with a new partner might be lackluster. A mismatch in sexual experience, habits you’ve formed in the bedroom, or even a difference in libido can all cause your first romp in the sheets to leave much to be desired. As our experts all explain, however, these roadblocks can be overcome with teamwork and plenty of — you guessed it — communication.

Also key? Peters stresses that it’s important to change your perspective around “bad” sex — especially if wants, needs, and desires haven’t been communicated. “So many factors go into sexual incompatibility that it makes you wonder if casual sexual partners are exploring all the things that go into helping create sexual compatibility,” she notes. Guiding your partner to thrust harder if you find they’re doing so too gently, for example, can potentially change the quality of the sex dramatically. It all comes down to how open you are with each other about what is turning you on or off, both in the moment and outside the bedroom.

When it becomes evident that you’re dealing with a potential case of sexual incompatibility, it’s easy to become a bit defeatist and assume that the end is near. After all, you can’t be with someone who doesn’t match your erotic energy, right? According to Dr. Brame, that’s not necessarily the case. “Sex is not the whole of a relationship,” she says. “Different couples prioritize sex differently. Some couples tolerate little to no sex and sublimate their energies into other areas of their life.” Think hobbies, careers, children, etc. Then there are others who don’t want to miss out on all the fun of good sex. It’s the latter group, says Dr. Brame, who are more apt to give up on relationships and seek out new partners.

If you’re willing to work toward sexual satisfaction with a new S.O. who misses the mark at first, however, Peters says that many couples can overcome sexual incompatibility by simply staying open and honest to get what they want. So, next time this situation happens to you, if you “use your mouth” (pun intended), you might just find yourself feeling really glad you did.


Dr. Jacqueline Sherman, licensed psychologist and sex/intimacy coach

Dr. Gloria Brame, board-certified sexologist and sex therapist

Cortina Peters, licensed mental health counselor, certified sexuality educator, and “The Girlfriend Therapist”