Step 5 of Intelligent Lust: Discerning Sexual Compatibility
Just as we take into account such variables as personality, religion, family background, and education in choosing a perspective mate, sexual compatibility should be high on the list of considerations. Ideally, the process of self-discovery that takes place by following the steps of Intelligent Lust should happen before we choose a partner with whom we make a long-term commitment. Too often we deny, suppress, police, or keep our erotic lives secret. In the process we disown an important part of who we are and may, as a result, choose the wrong partner. But if we set out to consciously identify our true sexual desires and the unmet need from which they originate, they will tell us what is needed and who is best for us now. We can specifically choose a partner with whom we are deeply sexually and otherwise compatible, and who has the qualities that can enable us to further heal from those unresolved feelings for which our fantasies may act as antidotes.
After our initial attraction draws us to someone, we usually engage in a flirtation or acquaintanceship that can last a minute or for hours. During this engagement, we are more or less “turned on” depending on more subtle observations. When we follow the steps of Intelligent Lust, we become conscious of whether a potential partner actually measures up to our fantasies and should be considered a prospect for moving forward. Though romance can certainly be an aspect of this, our pursuit is generally more substantial.
Of course, understanding our own sexual attractions and their psychological significance is only half of the sexual equation; discerning a potential partner’s is the other. Feeling strongly attracted to someone doesn’t necessarily mean that his or her wants in bed will satisfy our deepest needs and desires. Whether we are already in a relationship or beginning one, what we learn from this step, about the way we fit with a partner, will determine the direction of the relationship. What we do next depends on what we discover about the similarities and differences in our desires.
Why? Because an essential element of sexual compatibility is the capacity to create a healthy restorative experience. And this requires openness, honesty, trust, and respect. Whether it’s in the context of a brief encounter or ongoing relationship, we give preference to self-awareness, exploration, and authenticity over sexual performance or reaching an orgasm.
In a restorative experience, we create a safe and consensual encounter in which we act out with our partner a fantasy we have imagined in our private thoughts and whose symbolic meaning we have already come to understand.
Whether the scenario is as conventional as romantic seduction, or as unusual as extreme bondage fantasies, we connect – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – with the deepest part of our psyches, recovering what was previously suppressed or denied. In the process, we restore ourselves to wholeness. A restorative experience can have a profound emotional and spiritual effect on us.
Of course, the deepest and most lasting healing comes when we have the opportunity to experience our true desires and work through the mastery of the conflicts behind them over time. Whether it’s with a lover or spouse, a restorative relationship assumes an emotional posture that is often diametrically opposite from the dysfunctional ones we experienced in our childhood. Characterized by openness, intimacy, and mutual respect, the new relationship allows us to derive a new settlement to old conflicts or needs. Within this friendship, sex is not separated from the joys and struggles of daily life, nor diminished by its challenges. Instead it offers a rich and fertile ground for a meaningful and satisfying life.
If we’ve come this far in following the steps of Intelligent Lust, we’ve learned that it’s not just good sex we’re after, but also an experience that takes us to a level far from the mundane into the realm of the ecstatic.
How do we find out if we are sexually compatible with a potential partner without first having sex?
The answer is one that cannot be found in the typical dating guide. We can take a proactive approach, gradually engaging a partner in open, honest, and frank conversations about their sexual experiences and desires. Respect, understanding, affection, and friendship are inseparable when two people enter into conversation fully present. Its radiance branches out. Directly talking about sex not only helps us discern someone’s sexual preferences and whether they match our own, but also gives us a strong indication of the level of intimacy that we could achieve with someone.
Talking about sex with someone we’ve recently met may feel embarrassing or uncomfortable at first, because it requires breaking social or familial conventions, perhaps challenging our current taste and values. But such direct communication is the best way to help clarify the similarities and differences in attitudes and desires. If we are already in a long-term relationship, we can gain greater insight into the truth about the sexual difficulties we are experiencing with a partner. If we are to become truly sexual, we need to be vulnerable and open, even willing to be shocked by the nature of a partner’s response.
Typically, because of social training, women find intimate conversation easier, while men tend to be squeamish and avoid such matters, though men or women who have suffered sexual abuse may be reluctant to talk about sex at all. Gay men, on the other hand, seem to find talking about sex much easier. Since, from an early age, they have been forced to navigate issues of sexuality in a hostile world, ideas about sex are in the forefront of their consciousness. It’s not unusual, during a first encounter, for a gay man to ask a potential sexual partner, “what are you into?”
But for most of us, such conversation usually arouses strong emotional reactions. Some of us may feel ashamed, while others find talking about sex unromantic. Some of us are not great communicators, while others may be naive and find the idea of sexual compatibility too complex to consider. Some think that talking about sex takes its spontaneity away, that sex will lose its allure. And still others just want to “get laid.” A man who brings up sex early in dating might be considered creepy, if not a predator. Even couples having been in a long-term relationship often have an unspoken agreement not to talk about sex.
When we do talk about sex, we learn more than simply the content of someone’s sexual inclinations. How the person talks about sex gives us important information. Perhaps they are too shy or skittish or unusually overconfident. Maybe they blatantly refuse to discuss sex. No matter how strong the chemistry, these can be signs of incompatibility.
Introducing conversation about sex requires sensitivity. It’s important to choose the right time and circumstances, which should include privacy, an environment with no distractions, the opportunity for eye contact, and enough time for a conversation not to be rushed. It also demands a supportive, non-judgmental attitude. We need to open our hearts and imaginations and be willing to listen, regardless of what comes up. We suspend the usual rules of etiquette and enter as deeply as possible into the passion and imagination of someone else.
Some say the excitement of blindly discovering a partner’s sexuality is half the pleasure, but it just as often leads to misunderstand and failure. What we might lose in spontaneity, we gain in understanding and purpose.
Use these questions to help frame a conversation with a potential partner. If you are already in a well-established relationship, the intimacy necessary in completing this step – whatever the outcome – is likely to be beyond anything you’ve ever experienced before. You’ll find specific advice in future columns. For now, scan these questions to see how much you know about how your partner would respond.
For those of you who have found someone you’re interested in, choose the questions that are most relevant to you and put them in your own words. While some conversations develop naturally after watching a romantic movie or TV show, it’s just as likely you’ll need to orchestrate one. How a potential partner handles these conversations is as important as their answers.
- What’s the best sexual experience you’ve had with a partner?
- What was the worst?
- Are most of your sexual experiences satisfying?
- What do you find missing in your sexual experience with most partners?
- Is there anything you’ve asked a partner to do during sex that he or she refused to do?
- What’s your ideal sexual experience?
- Are there sexual experiences you’ve fantasized about, but never had?
- What do you fear most in a sexual experience?
- Is there a lot of variety in your sexual behavior or do you prefer doing one particular thing?
- Do you believe it’s more important to focus on getting yourself or your partner off, or focus on the experience of sex?
- How often do you like having sex? Do you prefer one time of day over another?
- What do you do when you want to have sex and your partner doesn’t?
- How important do you think sex is in a relationship?
- How sexually experienced do you think you are?
- How do you communicate what you want sexually? Is it more through actions or words?
- How open are you to new adventures?
- Do you like to take your time or prefer brief sex?
- Have your former partners complained or said anything negative about your sexual behavior?
- Are there places you prefer not to be touched?
- What do you like to do after having sex? Do you prefer to hang out in bed or get on with life?
After these conversations you will have a good understanding of where your partner is with their sexuality and also, if you’ve followed the previous steps of Intelligent Lust, a context for making sense where their feelings come from and what they mean. You will understand the childhood conflicts that underlie them and what they are attempting to heal. It will also naturally deepen your compassion for your partner whether or not you are sexually compatible.
Allow your thoughts and feelings to settle for a week of two. I’ll offer additional advice in the next few columns that will guide you, whatever the outcome of your discovery.
First published 0n PsychologyToday.com on October 5, 2011.