Are couples sexually compatible or incompatible?

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Dear Cat,

Firstly I would like to thank you for all your free articles on your website.  I’ve been following your facebook for the past five years and have learnt a considerable deal from your posts.

I sincerely hope you can help me with my dire situation. I have previously believed  I was a fairly sexual man. I coyly admit I’m not sexually wild like some, but I know how to please a woman. I feel confident in my looks  and have never had difficulty finding female interest. My girlfriend is the most sexual woman I’ve ever met but there are cracks beginning to show.

Now my girlfriend wants to break up with me. She says we are not sexually compatible. She states this is something that couples either are or aren’t. She says she needs to find someone she is sexually compatible with and so do I. She says she is sure there is a woman out there who is sexually compatible to me. This breaks my heart because I don’t want this relationship to end.

She’s sexually more “wild” and “experienced” than me.  I admit to being more sexually conservative. I know what I like but she’s always talking about new sexual things such as new positions and the stupid idea of bringing people into our bedroom. I don’t want to do any of those things and nor should I have to. I am happy with our sex as is and I do not want to change anything but she tells me our sex life is stale and boring. Because of these reasons and because she wants a lot more sex than me she says we are not sexually compatible.

I’ve noticed her previous relationship history is an echo of what is happening here. She dates someone for two to three years and then ends the relationship.

Thanks for any help you can give me.
Regards,
Blake”

Hi Blake,

Thanks for getting in touch and your kind words. I’m glad my work has helped you.
I’m sorry to hear what you’re going through, it sounds quite tough.

I could definitely help you  more in a confidential skype session to work deeper on the issues but will answer briefly here.

This idea your girlfriend is presenting is a widely accepted one in our society however it’s simply not true! There are such a wide abundance of fanciful sexual and relationship myths out there I can’t blame your girlfriend for believing this one- but it’s a myth and not based on any evidence.

I’ve heard all sorts of variations of this myth- in particular that a couple MUST be sexually compatible to last the distance, they HAVE to have sex early on to make sure they’re “right” for each other and if sexually the first few interactions weren’t amazing then they aren’t meant to be and should break up. PHEW! I’m exhausted!

What a towering inferno of a pedastal this puts sex up on!

There’s no such thing as a perfectly sexually compatible couple! Sexual compatibility actually has nothing to do with preferring the same sexual behaviours as each other.

Sexual compatibility is not about liking the same types and  styles of sex as each other at all. .

Expecting someone to be perfectly sexually compatible to yourself sounds frightfully boring and stifling if you ask me!

It assumes that we are sexually rigid beings unable to evolve, grow or expand.

It assumes our sexuality is like an island with a high fort all around the perimeter searching for a perfect replica island that also promises to never grow or change.

This mythical concept would have to be based on the idea that this imaginary ‘sexually compatible’ other that exits out there somewhere has the exact same and identical sexual hang ups. It’s a term which absolves all responsibility from the people in the relationship and the work they can do to create this compatibility.

The real defintion of ‘sexual compatibility’ is about being able to be flexible and adapt to one other’s sexual desires and preferences.

As you spoke about your girlfriend’s previous relationship history it may be that when she gets sexually bored she moves on or perhaps it’s something else like confusing the end of the honeymoon phase with disinterest rather than progressing to the next stage of attachment.

In a long term relationship it’s important to break outside of the safe comfort zone of staying sexually with the same old thing you like. It does sound a bit like that’s what you’ve been doing in the way you’re digging in your heels and refusing to try anything new.

It sounds like you’re both quite stubborn about what you like.

Breaking out of this safe comfort zone of stubborness about both of your sexual needs could be very benefical to you both.

Sexual compatibility should be defined as a relationship where people are willing to expand themselves sexually. As I said in a previous post about relationship compatibility, you must stop thinking of the notion of compatibility as a noun and start to look at it as a verb.

It’s not about finding someone with an identical sex drive because sex drive waxes and wanes over time in response to stress, what’s happening in the relationship, the seasons, medications, work life, family pressures and lots more.

Women of fertile age have a cyclical sex drive which peaks mid cycle when they are fertile and ovulating which is very different to men’s who are fertile every single day 24/7.

Sexual compatibility is the ability to adapt to differences in each other’s sexual preferences. This becomes sooo very important if sexual boredom sets in, and one of you suggests something new. Both of you need to adapt sexually to each other.

Think of sexual compatibility as two people being willing to stretch themselves sexually, rather than stick with the same old things they like in common.

Another reason that idea is a myth is that you can’t extract sex from the broader relationship. Isolating sex from the broader interplay of emotional connection and all the things you do for each other outside of the bedroom- is a reductive view that can lead to relationship breakdown.

Think of everything you do for your partner outside of the bedroom as foreplay!

This firmly places sex within the context of your relationship.

Sexual intimacy is about being vulnerable with each other. If one of you feels like it isn’t safe to be sexually vulnerable with each other – such as she might be feeling judged by you because of how you view her sexual past or your blocks to wanting to try new things- then problems can arise.

Your sex life mirrors the rest of your relationship and life together.

Sex reveals to me the type of emotional connection you have together. I’m curious if you need to do a lot of things in the relationship the ‘way you’ve always done them and like them.’ I wonder how breaking out of that will change things?

I’d be curious to see in a session how you both communicate and resolve issues together as you are currently at a sexual impasse. This stand off can be negotiated in sessions with me and your relationship can become sexually vibrant again.

This does not mean it has to be the end of the relationship if you are both willing to try it can be an opportunity for improving and transforming your relationship.

Photo-Felipe P Lima Rizo

Is marriage is the death of sex? Myth or fact?

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I hear this loads! If you get married – your sex life will die. There is no sex in the marital bed. Single people have more sex etc etc.

Sure, sometimes couples of all ages may go through phases where sex fades out temporarily but this doesn’t mean sex is gone forever! Re-igniting that sexual connection together has huge  potential for emotional development!

This is a myth!

All the research points to marriage still being the hot seat of more and more varied sex than what singles experience. Oral sex is much more common in marriage than with singles.

Marriage is not the death of sex and intimacy like so many wrongly believe. It’s by going through these interpersonal problems in a long term relationship that can transform a couples sex life.

Does sex always die in a long term relationship?

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There’s this commonly held myth that you will be all over each other at the beginning of a relationship but it’s normal for sexual desire to just end after a year or so.

This is codswallop! It only dries up if you haven’t worked on your own self development.

The answer to this problem about sex drying up is about becoming more emotionally mature and autonomous. Starting to work on a stronger sense of self can help bring back sex into a long term relationship. A strong sense of self means you aren’t dependent on having a positive reflected sense of self from your partner. This is an idea that sex therapist David Schnarch came up with and is an extension of Bowens Theory.

Tell me, do you want to have sex with someone who needs you to prop them up all the time and needs constant validation from you? I didn’t think so. Maybe at the beginning of the relationship that did it for you but it’s not going to last the distance.

Working on a stronger sense of self means that you will be:

-less reliant for your partners attention and not take differences in libido personally or to heart.

-less likely to force your partner to go along with your ideas or be forced to compromise on things you don’t want to just to keep the peace.

-less likely to always need validation and being ‘propped up’ constantly from your partner.

It’s usually not about sex at all. Sex is the battleground these conflicts are fought on but it’s about something much bigger.

I had someone scoff at me in my therapy room about the idea of self development. However it’s key to our sexuality and inextricably linked.

Working on issues surrounding our selfhood means we can resolve sexual problems in a relationship much better.

Art- Nathan-Dumlao

 

What is self validated intimacy and its relationship to passion?

I love this excerpt from an interview with sex therapist David Schnarch.

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Q: What exactly do you mean by intimacy?

A: Intimacy involves self-confrontation and self-disclosure in the context of a partner.

In 1991, my first book …. pointed out the difference between other-validated intimacy and self-validated intimacy.

Other-validated intimacy requires your partner to validate and accept all your disclosures.

Self-validated intimacy involves validating what you say when your partner won’t.

Most couples-and most therapists-confuse getting acceptance, validation, and understanding from your partner with the process of intimacy itself.

The problem is that other-validated intimacy allows the partner with the least desire for intimacy to control their partner’s disclosures and the level of intimacy in the relationship.

We all want to be validated, but our dependence on it leads to what I call the “tyranny of the lowest common denominator,” and destroys passion, eroticism, and desire in emotionally committed relationships.

This is why I said earlier that our capacity for self-soothing and self-validation determine our tolerance and capacity for intimacy.

Q: What’s the relationship between profound intimacy and passion?

 
A: What really turns you on is personal and unique, like your thumbprint.
 
People who can’t validate their own eroticism hid it in their most important relationship, and passion always suffers.
 
When you’re capable of self-validated intimacy, you can let yourself be known at a very profound level-including what you really like sexually and daring to try out new things.
 
You stop worrying about your partner’s reaction and become deeply engrossed in the sexual drama unfolding with him/her.
 
This involves more than just “getting into sex” and getting the sex you like.
 
Many people focus on sensations during sex as a way of keeping intimacy to tolerable levels-they tune out their partner and tune into their body.
 
But when you’re capable of self-validated intimacy, you can let your partner look into you during sex without pulling away.
 
This makes for what my clients refer to as electric “wall-socket” sex.

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Now I have some questions for you to ponder on your own or with your partner..

How do you hold onto yourself when you are in a relationship?

How do you feel about yourself?

How can you use sex as a window into who you are?

How can you become more uniquely yourself by embodying yourself in relationship with the people you love?

Let me know your answers!

 
 

How to be less defensive in a relationship

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Following on from my previous blog about the toxic effect defensiveness has in a relationship,  let’s look at how to stop being defensive.

Here’s a great example.

Partner A: “Did you call your friends to let them know we can’t go to dinner tonight like you promised me this morning?”

Defensive Partner B: “Oh seriously? I was so flat out and busy today with all the things I have to do. You know how stressed and busy my schedule is now! Why didn’t you just do it then?”

Partner B takes no responsibility for forgetting to do something they promised to do. Conflict escalates into blame and contempt because they blame their partner for their own breaking of a promise.

Solutions for defensiveness

Take responsibility

In a healthy relationship there isn’t room for this defensivenss. Partner B must learn to take responsbility for their mistake.

Partner A: “Did you call your friends to let them know we can’t go to dinner tonight like you promised me this morning?”

Partner B: “Sorry! I forgot to do it! I was so busy today I really should’ve asked you this morning if you could’ve done it. I will give them a call now!”

This is how a relationship works together as a team. Partner B recognises and acknowledges their part in the problem.

Don’t take complaints from your partner personally

If you find yourself reacting defensively to a complaint from your partner ask yourself:

Why am I getting defensive?

What am I trying to protect?

Remind yourself that this complaint is about your partners needs not about you.

Self Soothe

If you feel flooded and overwhelmed it is not about your partners words but about what personal meaning you are assigning to them.

Perhaps you are reacting thinking that they’re going to leave you, that this proves you’re a terrible person or projecting onto them the identity of a previous abusive person in your life onto them.

Self soothing means you can calm yourself in a state of emotional distress.
Sex therapist David Schnarch talks about how self soothing is stabilising one’s emotions and fears.

“We focus on developing self-soothing and self-validation because these abilities let us speak and hear difficult truths.”

How can you turn inward and access your own resources to regain your emotional balance and comfort without falling into excessive indulgences or compulsive behaviours?

As you can develop more awareness and mastery over their emotional reactions in the midst of relationship turmoil you can tolerate the discomfort of emotionally intense situations.

Many psychodynamic principles in particular Bowen Theory supports the idea that learning to experience the uncomfortable feeling of emotionally intense situations is essential to one’s growth.

Dealing with these feelings when they arise can develop a more long lasting and hardcore skill to be able to self regulate oneself.

There’s some very specific questions I ask my clients in our sessions to help them begin to self soothe themselves.

I”ll end with a quote from David,

“(Self soothing ….is about our)….. ability to validate our own perceptions, feelings, and self-worth, and soothe our own heartache and anxiety when the inevitable marital disappointments, frustrations, and misunderstandings occur.

These aspects of our “relationship with ourselves” determine how we handle the good and bad times in our relationships with others how intimate or erotic we can be, how much we can afford to love someone else, and whether we feel like we’re “loosing ourselves” or “bail out” as the relationship becomes more important or more difficult.

Paradoxically, the better we are at soothing and validating ourselves, the less we need our partners to “be there” for us and the more we can “be there” for others.

Likewise, we can let ourselves be influenced by our partners taking their needs and opinions into consideration without feeling like we’re weakening our own position or interests in the process.

Our ability to self-validate and self-soothe is absolutely vital to maintaining long term passion in marriage as well as expanding our sexual relationship.

How defensiveness poisons romance

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Chronic defensiveness in a relationship can turn it into a nasty battleground.

It’s one of the top toxic pollutant that poisons a happy relationship.

Dr Gottman defines defensiveness in a relationship as, “self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack.”

It’s where someone keeps protesting their innocence all the time and dodges any attempts at conflict resolution with a sky high defensive wall of defensiveness.

It’s normal for us to become defensive when we are actually being criticized, but the problem I’m talking about here is that the defensive partner isn’t being critized. It might be a complaint about their behaviour.

Maybe you’re the one in your relationship that uses chronic defensiveness everytime an argument comes along.

Maybe it’s your partner that puts up huge roadblocks to intimacy by throwing defensiveness  at you everytime. They can react angrily or hurt or throw self pity at you instead.

Perhaps they say things to you like this;

“I haven’t had time to take care of that!”

“It wasn’t even my fault because …”

“I try so hard…”

“I can’t change the past…”

“You’re not my father/mother!”

It’s a clever way of deflecting responsibility. You’re telling your partner when they raise something with you that upsets them, “the problem isn’t me, it’s you.”

The problem doesn’t get resolved and the conflict escalates further.

Being defensive with your lover  invalidates, diminishes or suppresses their emotions and thoughts.  When a defensive person feels like they’re under attack they focus on protecting their reputation or honour when what they’re really doing is protecting a very fragile sense of self that’s full of negative feelings of self doubt.

Often defensive types see their partner as attacking them when they’re actually not being critisized at all. This is especially true if it’s something is a trigger of ours- whether from a past relationship or our childhood.

Defensive folk can sometimes be terrified of true intimacy and let it all bottle up inside themselves. Later they can react in a passive aggressive way to keep others at a safe distance. They can withold or say they will not co-operate or shut down.

If it is hard for all us to listen to feedback from our partner and these are skills we can all work on.

From a psychotherapy point of view, defensive people can unconsciously be very attached to the feeling of being critisized and unconsciously go searching for that feeling. This can be a lingering negative effect of how they felt as a worthless as a child. This feeling of being bad or in the wrong is a very familiar feeling for defensive people. There’s an unconscious pull towards feeling this way because it’s what they were used to when much younger. It feels comfortable and familiar and by default they can fall back into it.

“Defenders adeptly avoid the issue being discussed by drawn-out attempts to explain their behaviors, or by justifying themselves, presenting a case that they are innocent, or analyzing how they got the way they are. Here are some examples: “I talk too much because my father never gave me any attention.” Or, “I had too much to drink because I’m under a lot of stress.” Or, “If you worked as hard as I do, you’d be crabby too.” Acting indignant is another common defense: “How could you ever think I’d do such a thing?”

Becoming defensive denotes insecurity about yourself and your position. The intensity of your reaction may be an indicator of how truthfully your partner is describing you and your behaviors. The more you protest, the more you give yourself away.

Often the defender defends even when her partner’s judgments about her are unjustified. Almost any accusation makes her defensive because she resonates with feeling criticized or condemned. The accusations may represent how she really feels about herself and how, through the inner conscience or inner critic, she “hits herself up” with accusations of inadequacy and incompetence. For example, if her partner accuses her of handling a situation inadequately, even though she knows she did a good job, she may end up feeling inadequate because she used her partner’s criticism—unjustified though it might be—to soak up feelings of being judged and disapproved of.”

Sandra Michalson

Although a lot of people don’t realise they are defensive, it is possible to become aware of and change.

It is possible to calm down that inner critic that keeps us in perpetual defensiveness. We can stop acting out in our relationship the inner fights between our own inner critic and our own inner passive side.

We can stop taking everything so personally or learn from constructive criticism. If it’s rubbish feedback from a co-worker or someone else then we can laugh it off and not be easily offended.

Learning to listen in a new way and self soothe when you feel yourself falling back into a defensive place can help.

Focussing on our individual defensive techniques can help us to disarm them and work out the cause of the reaction. From there a couple can move forward together to lay down their weapons and change their reactions whenever conflict arises.

In the next blog I’ll speak more about how to overcome defensiveness in a relationship.

Art-Jonathon Harrison

My partner won’t have sober sex with me

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Dear Cat,

I met my girlfriend three months ago when we were both working in a rock n’roll nightclub together. Alcohol was always flowing, it was party central and we would always have drinks together after work. We hooked up the second time we met and had the hottest sex ever. Everything happened so fast and she was so wild in bed!

We moved in together in June three weeks after we first met. After living together a while I’ve started to clue in that she is never sober when we get down n’ dirty.  I thought cos of work that when we lived together we could have nice Sunday or Monday morning slow loving sober sex but it hasn’t happened.  She always has at least a few drinks before getting it on with me or maybe more.  One time I suggested getting it on and it was a Sunday arvo. She went to the bottlo and came back sculling tequila straight from the bottle. The sex was mind blowing but I felt weird about it.

I suggested we both do dry July to have a break from alcohol but she only lasted one week.

If she’s sober she isn’t interested in me sexually at all. No affection or nothing. She won’t fuck me, touch me or even pash me. It sucks and I feel unattractive.

She broke her dry July because she couldn’t hack it and our sex celibate spell ended.

Is there something wrong with me that she needs to get drunk to have sex with me?

I thought she was a “wild child” but I think maybe she’s insecure and anxious but maybe it’s me? She doesn’t seem to be able to talk about her feelings to me.

Jen

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Hi Jen,

Thanks for getting in touch and sharing with us so honestly.  I can really feel your confusion and hurt about this and it must be a challenging time. It’s surprinsingly common that a lot of people struggle to have sober sex but there’s ways to solve this. I’m sure there’s a lot of people reading this that can relate to your experience.

In most of the instances I’ve come across like this, it’s usually nothing to do with your personally. The fact she can’t talk about her emotions with you is quite typical in people that use addictive behaviours to cope. Addictive use of drugs, alcohol or food can a smokescreen to avoid intimacy and looking within, getting too close or being too vulnerable.

It sounds like the sexual side of the relationship moved very fast before you knew each other very well and you’ve moved in very quickly together. This can be quite typical for someone with addictive behaviours and I will  talk more about that later.

Your partner is using alcohol to mask the deeper problems that aren’t allowing her to have sober sex with you. These are usually her own personal problems that interweave her use of alcohol in with her sex life and feeling vulnerable.

I’d love for you to come see me in person in my Sydney rooms or via skype to work through these issues. This would enable us to get to the bottom of what’s motivating the drinking before sex behaviour so we can overcome it.

Alcohol can relax us and make us lose our inhibitions. Some people rely on alcohol to “self medicate” themselves for their anxiety, fears or give themselves a false sense of confidence. It’s worrying to hear how your girlfriend is always using alcohol as a crutch to enable her to be sexual with you.

In our sessions together I would work with your partner with specific exercises where she can feel relaxed, less anxious and more confident without any drugs involved. These engage her unconscious and calm down her anxiety.  You can then do these exercises together to help you get in the right head state before intimacy occurs without relying on alcohol. We can also talk about creating the right mood and atmosphere before sex occurs for her to feel relaxed and comfortable.

I would like to explore her sexual history and previous sexual experiences in our sessions together to understand more what’s going on. Does she have any shame or trauma surrounding her sexuality or sexual expression? How is her self esteem and sexual self esteem?

The research shows us that women who are anxious, worried about or averse to sex, are more likely to drink. A Canadian study found a direct correlation with anxious, over stressed personality traits and being motivated to drink alcohol in order to cope better.

A study from the University of Washington concluded that people were much more likely to partake in risky sexual behaviour when they were drunk if they were people that generally experienced sexual fear, insecurity and were sexually averse.

If she’s using alcohol to escape sexual trauma then please get in touch with me to book some confidential sessions.

Alcohol can numb the sexual experience. Wasted sex  avoids intimacy and stays slightly disconnected with your partner. Alcohol abuse is a way people can escape true intimacy.

Perhaps talk about how amazing sober sex is with her and frame it in a positive light. Tell her you’d rather wait to have sex with her when you’re both sober as it’s going to be so much more enjoyable.

So many people these days confuse intimacy with sex and think that by having sex with a new partner they can create emotional relationship intimacy that they crave.  This never works because sex only creates an illusion that intimacy is there. Once the smoke fades the partners realise there’s no intimacy that they were ultimately searching for and it can leave you feeling lacking. Intimacy is a slow process that has to be worked on as you slowly get to know each other.

Being vulnerable to each other builds intimacy as you trust each other and open up to each other more and more. People with addiction issues have impaired the skill of intimacy. They’ll struggle with sharing deep sides of themselves, listening to feedback and unconditionally accepting their partner.

If your girlfriend had difficulty learning to trust as she grew up and her parents or caregivers didn’t provide a safe and trusting space for her,  this can make her overly protective and struggle to trust others. When this mistrust is present in our adult life it can make attaining intimacy in a relationship very hard. This might mean they get straight into a sexual relationship with someone without getting to know the other person emotionally first. It sounds like this is exactly what you’ve done. Sex straight away. Moving in together very fast. Realising you don’t know her.

When someone has been addicted to something like alcohol or drugs for a long time, they’re usually hiding from their reality and their true emotions. I’m concerned about the alcohol abuse and addicitive behaviours and how this would be affecting her physical health and your relationship. It’s a bad long term plan.

The good news is that in psychotherapy sessions you can build true intimacy together and it can be so exciting as you discovering things about each other that you may have been in denial about.

The below diagram explains a little about what I’ve been speaking about but I’d like to go into this with you in more details in our sessions.

intimacy

 

Art- Almos Bechtold