I made the decision early in life that I was going to wait until I got married to have sex. This was not a popular belief in high school. Many of my friends would say things like, “but what if he sucks in bed?” or “what if he’s kinky (or not kinky enough)?” or “what if he looks ugly naked?”. The general sentiment was that it’s always a smart idea to test drive the car before you buy it, so you should “test-drive” your future husband before committing to a lifetime together.
As a high schooler, I would just blush and change the subject. I was not prepared to have those kinds of conversations. However, now as a wife and a future marriage therapist, I feel like I have a better understanding of what sex means in a relationship. So as a favor to my high school self (and others who are wondering) let’s break down the myth of sexual compatibility.
Sexual compatibility is the idea that two people could simply not mesh together sexually. Many people believe that they could fall in love with someone, only to discover that they can’t be sexually satisfied by that person. Others get married but then decide to get divorce on the grounds of not being compatible sexually. Is this true? Let’s dive in!
What’s the Sexual Compatibility Myth?
The sexual compatibility myth is that although this person you love is a good match for you in many areas of your life, you won’t be compatible in sexual matters. It ignored the fact that people grow sexually, and treats one’s sexual preferences as fixed and inflexible. It perpetuates the myth that there is a perfect “soul mate” out there for each person, and the only way to discover if they’re a good match deserving of your lifelong commitment is to have sex before committing to marriage.
It’s the idea that a marriage is the meeting of two individuals that are perfect for each other in every way because they fit together just as they are. Therefore, before marriage you have to test drive the car, searching out and weighing every tiny detail of its performance before you commit to buying in.
Is There any Truth to this Myth?
Wait, so my spouse and I aren’t soul mates? Could I be married to anyone? A marriage does need to be built on some commonalities. Shared values, similar beliefs, maturity level, and likes in common are important to building a loving and lasting marriage.
This includes similar values when it comes to sex and sexuality. Discovering someone’s sexual values is very different than having sex with them. Sex has far more to do with your heart than physical or mechanical details. You can discover as you date if this person is selfless or selfish. Are they open to new experiences? Are they kind? Do they like to be silly, and does that mesh well with your humor? The principle is, they way people present in life is what they will bring to sex. Sex is a form of intimacy, and intimacy is about being your deepest, truest self. I would recommend discovering all these things out before committing sexually to a person.
Before you commit to someone, do all you can to discover the core of this person. However, once you have committed you need to have patience with their flaws and seek to understand the places you differ from each other.
Why is this Myth Harmful?
It is okay to be choosy about who you marry. So why is it harmful to believe in sexual compatibility? While it is best to marry someone who has similar sexual values as you, it can be dangerous to enter into a sexual relationship with one foot still out the door. If you believe the myth that some people can’t ever please you sexually, you will always be looking for ways you are dissatisfied. And when you find a way in which your partner (or spouse) isn’t satisfying you sexually, sexual compatibility thinking will lead you to the conclusion that they were never right for you to begin with and that you need to find a new partnerrather than problem solving with this person.
Dissatisfaction in Marriage
One of the leading causes of divorce is sexual dissatisfaction. Many people will leave their spouse, or start affairs, because they believe their spouse will never be able to satisfy them. Others will stay committed to their spouse, but settle with the idea that sex will never be satisfying for them. This does not need to be the case! Two people who love each other and are committed to working it out will be able to find ways of being intimate that will work for both parties. It will require a lot of patience, humility, learning, and a shifting of expectations. But two people who share their lives and values can create a blissfully happy sex life.
Tammy Hill, a sex therapist and educator, has a Boombox analogy. She has her students imagine a “relationship boombox” with dials that control all the different aspects of a relationship. In her experience, the physical dial can’t be out of tune with the emotional and spiritual connections. If a couple cranks up the physical before the corresponding level of commitment is present, the relationship will have dissonance that can be confusing. The “test driving the car” idea would mean connecting physically to “test it out” before being ready to show your intimate soul to this person. That means this sexual experience is not going to be founded on a desire to connect, but merely to see if this person can please the carnal and selfish parts of you.
Test driving sex before full commitment will never lead to a true sense of what committed, loving, intimate sex would be.
Research About Premarital Sex and Long Term Satisfaction
There have been a few studies done on this topic. Dr Andrew Magers referred to some of there studies here saying, “Researchers found that those who wait to have sex until marriage, compared to those who don’t, report significantly higher relationship satisfaction (20%), better communication patterns (12%), less consideration of divorce (22%), and BETTER sexual quality (15%)”.
Another study reported by the Institute for Family Studies found that women who had had 0 -1 sexual partners before marriage were the least likely to get divorced.
These and other studies challenge the myth that we need to have sex with someone to know if we belong together. In fact, this data seems to suggest that commitment before sex leads to higher relationship satisfaction and lower chance of divorce.
What’s the Truth?
The truth is that our sexual desires and arousal patterns are not set in stone. We are constantly changing based on our maturity, personal growth, environment, sociality, and context. We grow and evolve in life and in our marriages. Therefore, our sexual desires are not concretely defined. We as humans are always changing.
Marriage is all about changing together. We don’t come to marriage hoping to change our partner to be more what we want. However, we do accept that a lifetime with this person means being there as they continue to develop. I believe God instituted marriage as a way to help His children grow more selfless, loving, and more like Him. So instead of holding onto the myth that we are simply incompatible in this specific area, the truth is that we are meant to join together and grow closer through sex!
I was explaining this concept to my cousin, and he said something rather profound. Sex is a form of communication. You can learn how to better communicate specifically with this person that you have chosen to spend your life with. You can also use that communication to share the most intimate details of yourself.
Once we get down to it, sex is less about the position, technique, toys, etc. and is very much about becoming emotionally, physically, and spiritually close to your spouse. Instead of focusing on ways our spouse isn’t satisfying us, let’s instead choose to focus on the person they are that we love. Let’s find joy in learning about your spouse and yourself through sex! Change your mindset to view sex as a super fun way to learn about communication, intimacy, and becoming the person we want to be.
Most of our readers are married, meaning you have already chosen and committed to your spouse. So why is this important to you? It can be freeing as a spouse to learn that it’s not possible for your and your spouse to be “sexually incompatible”. If your sex life isn’t all you want it to be, there is room for change and growth! Take time to learn about sex, your spouse’s sexuality, and your own desires. Be patient and humble as you both learn together how to build intimacy. Be aware of the fact that different phases of life will bring new challenges and joys to your sexual relationship. Ask God for help as you seek to use sex to become truly intimate with your spouse.
If you are a parent, teach your kids about the sexual compatibility myth. Teach them about the purpose of sex; to build intimacy and connection. I’m sure things haven’t gotten much better since I was in high school. Create a safe place for your kids to come to you with their worries and confusion. If you would like more help is how to talk to your kids about sex, check out our workshop on the topic!
A marriage does need some common ground to build on. However, the idea that you and your spouse need to be sexually compatible can lead to toxic stagnation of sexual growth. Instead, focus on growing sexually with the person you love and continuously learning together.
Written by Amanda Severson with Get Your Marriage On!