Some relationships can have almost everything going for them – mutual attraction, good communication, well-matched personalities – but somehow still manage to be duds in the bedroom. How well partners are matched sexually relies on a various factors and those can change constantly for no real reason. Some mismatches are easier to address than others but, for couples who are having issues clicking carnally, the professional consensus is that there is almost always hope. Here are the factors to remember.
1. No One Is Bad At Sex
First things first, ask just about any sex therapist and they will tell you that there is no such thing as being bad at sex. "I don't think anyone is inherently bad at sex. You can be uncaring, you can be insensitive to your partner, you can be inhibited about sex but all of those problems are discussible and fixable," says Ian Kerner, sex therapist and author.
2. But Everyone Is Different
What makes for great sex in one person's mind may be mind-numbingly boring or certifiably insane to another. Particularly when people are inexperienced sexually or with a new partner, it can take some significant work to figure out what gets each person's motor running. What's more, preferences can change depending on the situation, each person's mood, or how the relationship as a whole is developing.
3. People Can Have Vastly Different Sex Drives
One of the most likely reasons couples feel sexually mismatched is because they have vastly different sex drives. It may seem like a trivial matter but libido differences can have a big impact. "When couples experience a desire discrepancy, it does have negative implications for their sexual and relationship satisfaction, particularly if this is happening regularly on a long-term basis," says Kristen Mark, director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky.
One of the best ways to combat this issue is through compromise, says Mark. Neither partner is in the wrong, so both may have to yield a bit to the other's whims. That may mean the partner with the higher libido supplements their sex life with masturbation (they can even ask to do this with their partner for added intimacy) and the one with the lower libido sometimes engages in sex, even if they aren't particularly in the mood.
4. Matching Sexual Temperaments Isn't Always Necessary
Everyone has their own unique likes and dislikes in the bedroom and sometimes people's preferences can be so dissimilar that their sex life suffers. One person may seek novelty, while the other likes things a little more tame. Again, neither is in the wrong. As might be expected, compromise is the likely solution here too. However, in a recent study, Mark and her colleagues found that the strongest predictor of sexual satisfaction in a relationship was perceived sexual compatibility. "We found that it didn't matter if you had the same turn ons and turn offs as your partner, what really mattered was whether you perceived to be compatible with your partner," says Mark. So, as long as you can put some faith in your sexual compatibility, whether or not it's really a match may not be crucial.
5. But Attraction Is Necessary
What might actually prove fatal to a sexual relationship is incompatibility stemming from a lack of general attraction. "There is sort of a basic level of physical attraction and overall attraction and if you don't feel attracted to your partner, that's going to lead to a lot of incompatibility," says Kerner. In all likelihood, people are in a sexual relationship because there was some semblance of attraction at some point but that may not be enduring. Once the initial spark and excitement wear off, people can find that their partner just isn't as desirable at they want them to be. Many couples experience a shift in their feelings toward their partner as their relationship ages and not everyone can make the transition. Also, as people get to know each other better, they may find that they don't have much in common and that can reduce their overall attraction too. Of course, the opposite – a lukewarm relationship that heats up – can also happen.
6. Sexual Incompatibility Might Not Be About the Sex
"You have to look at the total relationship to understand what 'incompatible' means sexually," says Zussman. For some partners, their dissatisfying sex life may merely be a symptom of a coupling that just doesn't work and there's nothing wrong with that. Relationships and the people in them are always evolving and even very long-term ones can change too much to sustain. "There is such a thing (in my unprofessional sense of things) as falling out of love," says Zussman. "For many reasons you just don't get along in general, so why would you want to make love to someone you're not turned on to?"
7. Communication Is Key To Overcoming Incompatibility
Feeling sexually mismatched with a partner at some point in a relationship happens to a lot of people and the best way to deal with it is head on. Opening up communication, whether it's just between you and your partner or with the help of a sex therapist, will help. Both Zussman and Kerner agree that sexuality can't really be separated from the rest of a person's life, so talking in-depth about the sexual incompatibility can be vital because it helps couples figure out if other parts of their life are feeding the problem. Incompatibility may be as simple as long-standing preferences but it can also be more complex, like sudden stress that's affecting libido or a partner who is recently feeling ignored. No matter what the basis is, it's going to be hard to figure out these issues without some discussion.
8. (Temporary) Sexual Incompatibility Is Quite Common
Here is the take home message: If your first couple of romps with a new partner didn't really work out or your longtime lover has lost some of their allure, understand that this is common. Very common. You can choose to jump ship if that seems like the right decision but don't blame it on a bad partner or your own sexual shortcomings. Sexuality is complicated and messy and challenging but no one is immutably bad at sex, some relationships just require extra effort.