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Sexual compatibility is as hard to explain as intimacy, Burning Man, or the internet.

And yet, most of us use sexual compatibility as a guiding force in gauging how “right” a relationship (or potential relationship) is — regarding sexual incompatibility as the ultimate deal breaker.

Below, three experts explain what this make-it or break-it factor really means, and share best practices for determining whether it exists, can be worked on, or is a lost cause.

There’s no official definition of sexual compatibility.

“This simply isn’t something that would be listed in the DSM or dictionary,” Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with a specialty in sex therapy, says.

But Psychology Today offers this definition: “It’s the extent to which a couple perceives they share sexual beliefs, preferences, desires, and needs with their partner. Another form of sexual compatibility is the extent to which similarities exist between actual turn ons and turn offs for each partner emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally.”

Good question. Basically, sexual compatibility comes down to how well your individual beliefs, needs, and desires around sexual activities mesh.

Dr. Jones says this includes your:

  • definition of sex
  • frequency and duration of desired sex
  • preferred “environment” for sex
  • turn ons and turn offs
  • relationship orientation

“The more similarities you have in your answers to those things, the more sexually compatible you are,” Dr. Jones says. Makes sense.

Being up-front about your sexual preferences (that likely requires some self-reflection!) is only way to know how sexually compatible you truly are.

Ask 100 sexually active folks what “sex” means to them, and you’ll get 100 different answers. That’s because everyone has a different understanding of what “counts” as sex.

Some people see P-in-V as the defining feature of sex, while others see anal, oral, and manual sex as, well, sex.

There’s no wrong definition of sex. But “having similar definitions of sex, or at least sharing your definitions, is an important element for operating within similar expectations sexually,” Jenni Skyler, PhD, LMFT, and AASECT certified sex therapist, sexologist, and licensed marriage and family therapist for AdamEve.com, says.

Further, some folks view marriage as a prerequisite for sex, and others don’t.

According to Dr. Jones, two people with different beliefs around whether sex before marriage is OK can be in a happy healthy relationship. “More important than sharing that same view is having a proper understanding of each other’s views on sex, and respecting that.”

But there are some places there shouldn’t be compromise. “Couples have to be on the same page when it comes to the structure of their relationship and level of commitment,” Skyler says. “If not and one person wants monogamy and the other wants an open relationship, the relationship is doomed.”

Keep in mind: Whether you’re monogamous or not, you’ll need to discuss what counts as cheating.

For instance, if you’re poly and reserve fluid bonding for your primary partner, but have unprotected sex with someone else, that would constitute as cheating.

Sexual compatibility is about more than just if you have sex before or after marriage and with just each other.

Environment: Things like where you like to have sex, whether the lights are on or off, if and what music is playing, and room temperature all factor into your preferred sexual atmosphere. There’s probably some wiggle room here, but if you want to bone with the lights off to Lana del Rey and your partner wants to bone to The Grateful Dead in the day time, there might be some rub.

How long you go for: Face it, 5 minutes of getting freaky looks and feels way different from 5 hours. If you enjoy marathon sex and they do too, go ahead and get after it like bunnies (or jackrabbits)!

Specific sex acts: Do you more or less enjoy the same moves, or does everything you do in bed require that one of you compromises?

How often you do it: Just on anniversaries? A few times a month? Once a week? Multiple times a day? There’s no “right” or “normal” sex frequency, but you want to be in the same ballpark.

Libido: Because libido waxes and wanes due to things like pregnancy, kids, work, health, environmental changes, and medications, most couples will face the challenge of mismatched libidos at some point.

“These other factors are less important than being on the same page around sexual exclusivity,” Skyler says. “Most of these are more negotiable and can be figured out with enough communication, compromise, and respect.”

Eh, potentially. “Sometimes trying to ‘feel it out’ works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Dr. Jones says.

“I strongly believe communicating is the best way to figure out if you’re sexually compatible,” he says. And that means communicating throughout the relationship — before, during, and after sex.

P.S.: Communicating isn’t just important for figuring out the puzzle of sexual compatibility. It’s also an essential component of consent.

There are some things that can give you an indication that you’re operating within the same realm. For example:

They respond positively when you do ask for something sexually. If you’ve already gotten down and dirty and given some direction about what you want, think about how they responded. Did they seem shocked/confused/disinterested or did they get an eager look in their eye?

You’re on the same page with PDA. Some people love the public hand hold/hug/leg touch/shoulder squeeze, and others hate it. Either way, this could be a sign you have different expectations in how you relate sexually.

You both like (or dislike) flirty/sexy texting. Obvi there’s more to sex than sexting, but if they constantly want to sext and you don’t, or they respond to your flirty text with something that ruins the mood, it’s a red flag.

You find the same movie scenes/songs/podcasts hot. A shared look, a nervous giggle, an eyebrow waggle. If you think the same media gets you both a little flushed, it’s nothing but a good sign.

Having open, honest, and clear conversations with your partner is still a M-U-S-T.

“When couples have different sexual expectations and wants and they don’t talk about it, they end up getting into fights, become resentful, and sometimes the partnership becomes sexless,” Skyler says.

Congrats! You’ve committed to communicating — an essential step to figuring out if you’re sexually compatible.

To start, make sure you’re zipped and buttoned up (and not about to get your clothes ripped off!).

Next, do a location check — neutral locations are best. Think a long car ride, weekend brunch date, plane ride, or a long walk with the dog.

It might feel nerve-racking to bring up but experts recommend this template: compliment something that went well in your last sexual interaction + ask them how they felt + share what you’d like to see more (or less) of.

You might also choose to begin with an activity such as making a Yes No Maybe list or playing Sex Marks The Spot.

If texting feels more comfortable, that’s another option.

Here are some ways to bring up sex with your partner:

  • “I think it could be really hot to fill out a sexual Yes/No/Maybe list together. Does that sound like something you might want to do together?”
  • “I miss the way you taste. Would love to look at our schedules together to talk about how we might make more time for that.”
  • “I was reading about bondage and I think it’s something I might like to try. Is that something you have any experience with or interest in?”
  • “Before this gets serious, I want you to know that public sex is an important component of sexual relationships to me. How do you feel about having sex at a sex party or at a park?”

This shouldn’t be a one-and-done convo, says Dr. Jones. “Many people find that the things that they liked at 19 or 20 are different than what they enjoy at 40 or 50,” he says.

So you’re going to have to have the convo at least once every 20 years… Kidding! In reality, “these conversations need to happen throughout the course of the relationship.”

Ultimately though, if you and your partner aren’t on the same sexual page, you may have some choices to make. Some things to consider:

How big are the differences?

If you want to be having sex three times a week and you’re only have sex two times a week, but the sexual relationship is an otherwise good fit, you can probably compromise!

But if your partner is into kink play, wants to have sex every day, and likes public sex, and you’re not into any of those, these differences may be too big.

How flexible are you willing to be?

Yep, compromise is key here. That doesn’t mean do something you’re uncomfortable with, or sacrificing to the point of resentment.

“I’ve had one couple where one partner loved kink and bondage and the other much preferred vanilla style sex — because they were both happy to compromise,” Skyler says.

How much effort are you willing to put in?

Whether you’re down to put in the effort to improve your sexual (in)compatibility probably depends on how the other parts of your relationship look and feel.

“Maybe you’re willing to compromise on what’s ideal for what’s acceptable. Or maybe you’ll split,” says Dr. Jones. “But these are choices every individual needs to make for themselves, and not because they feel forced or guilted into it.”

Note that your relationship structure may affect how important this being a “perfect match” is.

If you’re in a non-monogamous relationship, maybe you can value this partner for what they do bring, and get your sexual needs met elsewhere.

Yes! In fact, you should expect your sexual compatibility to evolve over time.

“Sexual compatibility should grow over the course of a relationship!,” according to Skyler. “Consistent, constant, and open communication will inevitably make the sex better.”

But if your baseline expectations aren’t being met, your incompatibility may not be surmountable. For example, if receiving oral is your fave sex act (#relatable) but your partner is DJ Khaled (AKA it’s just never going to happen) or your partner loves being pegged but wearing a strap-on makes you feel dysphoric.

Sexual compatibility comes down to shared understandings, needs, and wants around sex.

If you and your partner aren’t “perfectly” compatible, it’s something that can be improved through open communication and compromise.

But if you decide that you’re not sexually compatible, that’s OK, too! Not all relationships are meant to stay the same — or last — forever.


Gabrielle Kassel is a New York–based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.