Are My Partner and I Sexually Incompatible?
Let’s talk about sexual incompatibility. First of all: What does it even mean? It’s an intense term; a harbinger of doom. Because an “incompatibility” means that two things literally cannot exist together. We’re not being hyperbolic here, either: The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of incompatible is “incapable of association or harmonious coexistence.”
If that’s the case, then saying you’re “sexually incompatible” with someone means that there’s no solution to whatever mismatch you’re encountering. Your sexuality cannot exist in conjunction with your partner’s sexuality. You think about having sex with them and it’s just an empty, windy desert down there. Dead. Unsalvageable. Dry.
Okay, so now we are being a little bit hyperbolic. But the point stands: The term sexual incompatibility isn’t useful if your goal is to figure out how to have a mutually pleasurable sex life with your partner. Instead, let’s think about difficulties around sex as “mismatches.” That means they’re not quite lining up, but with some work and rearranging, they can become something beautiful.
Some potential types of sexual incompatibility
But what does “sexual incompatibility” aka sexual mismatch look like in real life? Here are four super common sexual mismatches and what to do about them.
1. Mismatched desire
There’s a misconception that “sexual incompatibility” is a synonym for “different sex drives.” Sex drive is another term that isn’t super helpful (check out Dr. Emily Nagoski’s seminal book Come As You Are for an explanation on why “drive” is a misnomer for human desire) but mismatched desire is certainly an issue with, dare we say… every long term couple?
You read that right: Every single long term couple will have an issue with mismatched desire at some point in their relationship. Desire ebbs and flows based on so many factors, from stress to hormones to physical ailments to boredom. But mismatched desire does not mean sexual incompatibility in almost all cases, with the one major exception being someone is purely asexual who is partnered with someone who is sexual.
When you and a partner encounter a mismatched desire situation, the most important thing — and possibly the hardest thing — is talking about it truly without judgment. Open communication can lead to uncovering things like an interest in different sex acts or that your partner is just so stressed or they’re feeling bad about their body.
Uncovering the reasons your partner wants to have more or less sex than you do can help you work together toward finding solutions that work for both of you. Maybe it’s doing things other than having penetrative sex. Maybe it’s scheduling sex. Maybe it’s even going to a sex therapist to help you work it out. But whatever the solution is, the process starts by talking about it.
2. Pain during sex
Another type of sexual mismatch is genital size mismatch, which can lead to pain during sex. For example, if someone has a larger-than-average sized penis and their partner has a smaller-than-average sized vaginal canal, then it can be difficult to have penetrative sex without pain. (Reminder: there are a whole host of other reasons why sex can hurt, it’s not just about size.)
In this case, you have a few options. First: Remember that sex is not just penetrative sex. You’ve got oral sex, making out, mutual masturbation, rubbing up on each other, hand jobs — you get the idea. The point is that if penetrative sex is too painful, there’s a whole smorgasbord of other kinds of sex that you and your partner can experiment with.
But if you do want to have penetrative sex, first make sure the partner with a vagina is sufficiently aroused before attempting any kind of penis-in-vagina penetration. The vagina not only gets wetter when someone is turned on, but the vaginal canal also lengthens. Those two factors in combination can make it a lot easier for the penetrating partner to get in there without hurting their partner.
But if lots of making out and oral sex and touching before penetration isn’t enough, grab the lube! Ain’t no shame in that game: Lube can make sex so much better for everyone involved.
And, finally, Ohnut was designed specifically to help with depth penetration. That means that if your partner’s penis is simply to big for you to have comfortable and mutually pleasurable penetrative sex, they can pop on an Ohnut and you’ll be protected from sex that’s so deep it hurts.
3. Different turn-ons
Have you heard the expression “don’t yuck my yum?” In the context of sex, it means just because something that turns me on doesn’t turn you on, that doesn’t mean it’s bad or you should look down on it. But in the case of different turn-ons within a couple, not yucking your partner’s yum can feel a little tricky.
While no one should ever do something sexually that they truly do not want to do, sometimes your partner’s turn-on, kink, or fetish might make you just feel kind of… neutral. If that’s the case and you think you could be up for indulging them in it sometimes, then go for it! You might even have a turn-on that they’re not super into that they’re willing to do for you, too. Yahtzee! A great way to navigate this is by creating a Want/Will/Won’t list with your partner.
But if their turn-on is a major turn-off for you — like even thinking about it makes your genitals shrivel into a tiny little raisin — then that might be a true sexual incompatibility. If that’s the case and you still want to be with them, you might want to consider working out an arrangement for them to get that need met elsewhere.
4. Technique mismatch
Every body is different. Every masturbation technique is different. Every fantasy life is different. So it it any surprise that people’s sexual techniques might differ?
This is another sexual mismatch where you’re going to have to use your words — and also probably some other body parts. If your partner’s technique just isn’t working for you, tell them what does work. You can even make it sexy, by murmuring, “touch me like this” or “kiss me here.” They’ll learn from your physical responses what works and what doesn’t. OMGYES can be a great resource for exploring and learning techniques.
Look: Human beings are incredibly complex creatures. And sex is no exception! But a little mismatch here and there doesn’t mean you have to throw the partner out with the not-great-sex bath water. Add a little bit of communication, throw in some creativity, and you’ll likely find that you’re not actually incompatible after all.