Question of the Week: May 30th, 2017

What do you think of sexual compatibility?  What is it?  Is it important or unimportant?

I think someone who is unfamiliar with asexuality might get the impression that we don’t think sexual compatibility is important.  After all, we’re always talking about ace/allo relationships and how positive they can be.

But just because sexual compatibility isn’t necessary for a relationship doesn’t mean that I think it’s unimportant.  On the contrary, I think it might be especially important for us, because we can’t take it as a given.  While many relationships find a way to work around sexual incompatibility, I think the best way to do so is by treating it as an important issue.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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13 Responses to Question of the Week: May 30th, 2017

  1. Sennkestra says:

    I also think that sexual compatibility is actually very important for relationship – the key is just to look at actual compatibility, not assumed in/compatibility.

    I feel like “sexual compatibility” is often assumed based on like, general classes of major identities – i.e. “heterosexual men are compatible with heterosexual women, but not with men”, or “BDSM tops are compatible with bottoms, but not other tops” or “kinky people are compatible with other kinky people, but not vanilla folks”.

    So, based on that kind of logic, asexual people and non-aces should be inherently sexually incompatible – and statistically, that may often be the case. But we also know that it isn’t always true, which is why making assumptions about sexual compatibility (instead of really getting nuanced discussions of it) can be misleading.

    And like, for some people, if your preferences are pretty common and you have a wide pool of potential partners, using broad identity categories to rule people out doesn’t necessariyl cause many problems – while there are obviously exceptions, the odds are generally better when you work from those assumptions. And why spend time on a relationship that has lower odds of compatibility when you have a dozen other potential interests where your chances are higher?

    On the other hand, though, when you’re asexual – (or kinky, or picky about your partners) – there are a lot fewer fish in the sea, so you can’t afford to just write people off based on generalized assumptions – which is why these groups often get really into talking about nuanced details of sexual compatibility. Plus, when you’re the one constantly being “ruled out” by other people’s compatibility assumptions, there’s a lot more motivation to break those down for what they are.

    I also think people of all stripes get tripped up by the assumption that if all your basic identity categories match up, you must automatically be compatible. ( see every: “oh you’re gay? So is my sister’s best friends coworker. Let’s hook you up – since you’re both men and both gay, you must be compatible”. Or, “I’m a nerdy guy, she likes comic books, we must be meant to be! What do you mean she isn’t into me”). So when couples who seem like they should match up run into sexual problems, instead of assuming that maybe they just aren’t compatible (after all, they’re the right genders), they assume they must just be doing something wrong. And that just sucks for everyone involved.

    And I feel like a big part of that problem is that people just…don’t think about sexual compatibility until it starts causing problems. With minority groups like aces, we usually encounter that issue early on, and learn to start thinking about it ahead of time. But many people don’t, and it doesn’t help that many people don’t feel comfortable talking in that much detail about sexual desire (let alone the kind of detailed stuff that plays into sexual compatibility) until they are well settled into a relationship – and if you just start talking about it with a marriage counselor when you’re 5 years into a relationship with kids and commitment and a whole mess, there’s often not much you can do. Which is why I think it would be great if it’s something more people actively thought about and talked about in their relationships.

    • Siggy says:

      There’s a subtle difference in framing here. I said that some people might not have sexual compatibility, but work together anyway. You seem to be saying that sexual compatibility is necessary, but is too often assumed to depend only on identity categories. (I am not, by the way, committed to the way I framed it, I’m just pointing out the difference.) Is that right?

      • Sennkestra says:

        So after thinking about it more I’m actually going to slightly contradict my previous post, because I think the phrasing I used there is bad.

        I think probably the best way to discuss compatibility is not as “Compatible or not-compatible” but more like “X% compatible” or some other spectrum like answer. (I don’t have a hard sense of what the benchmarks for compatibility might be, so I’m just going to make some up for now. It’s all fuzzy subjectivity anyway.)

        So like, if you have two people with the same weird kink, same foreplay preferences, who both want sex exactly 1.5 times per week, are exactly each others type, etc. etc. that might be like, 95% compatible.

        If you have two people with similar interests and styles but maybe one likes sex 2-3 times a week and one is more into like, once a week, but both are fairly flexible about that need, maybe that’s like 70% compatible.

        If you have someone (maybe like an ace) who doesn’t like sex at all, and another person who would prefer certain kinds of sex 3 times a month, but can live without it and not be too sad, I would argue that’s still somewhat compatible (in that a compromise is pretty workable, even if it’s not ideal) – maybe, idk, think of that as like 35% compatible.

        Overall, I think I might have a tendency to bump more people into “compatible” than others would, in that I consider “having conflicting desires but also having the kind of personality where they aren’t that upset if they can’t achieve those desires” to be a form of compatability in itself.

        Where I think my answer might mesh with yours is that while I think most couples need at least *some* compatibility, they don’t necessarily need a lot. While someone who considers sexual compatibility one of the most important parts of their relationship might want a high level of compatibility, like maybe 75% or more, someone who maybe considers it less important might do fine with something more like maybe 20% or more.

        On the other hand, for me, something with 0% compatibility / complete incompatibility might be like, a situation where one person is very repulsed and gets anxiety attacks if the topic of sex is even brought up, and another person who desires sex like 4 times a week and struggles with serious self-worth issues if they aren’t receiving regular validation in the form of sex and sexual attraction from a partner, but both are only interested in exclusive relationships. In situations like that, where there are seriously conflicting needs/desires about sex that cause serious emotional harm or stress if not met, I think it would be extremely difficult to pursue any kind of relationship that wouldn’t cause problems for both people and probably eventually fall apart. But then, that’s also a pretty extreme case, so I think this might be another example of where I tend to consider most combinations at least somewhat compatible.

  2. elizhop1 says:

    I don’t even know what sexual compatibility IS. Was virgin. Got married. Had distressing sex. Sent to sex therapist I didn’t want to go to. Came out as ace. Mutually decided not to have sex any more. Still married.

  3. Rachel says:

    Time for massive word dump:

    – Sexual compatibility is definitely important for aces, and I find it baffling that people would think that it wasn’t. Like, even beyond gender and orientation compatibility, there’s the common question about sex itself within a relationship, regardless of orientation-as-such. In mixed relationships, chances are ace doesn’t want sex and the allo does. And these are pretty mutually-elusive positions: one person has to yield to the other, there is no “compromise.” Either sex is happening or it isn’t. If one person wants sex and the other doesn’t, that’s a sexual incompatibility, independent of orientation.

    – Building off of Sennkestra’s thoughts, I’ve noticed that it’s only straight people who get the luxury of centering personal compatibility when discussing relationships (things like values, personality, hobbies, life goals, etc.). For sexual minorities, orientation/gender compatibility is the only thing that straight people can conceive of (see Sennkestra’s example of all-gay-men-must-be-compatible-with-each-other-solely-for-being-gay). And yeah, having fewer fish in the sea means that non-issues can get transformed into issues due to low population, but…

    – Straight people assume general sexual compatibility with everyone of the appropriate gender they meet (which is broadly, though not entirely, true), and can focus of personal compatibility. Borrowing from Sennkestra again, the nerd guy and nerd girl MUST be compatible, because how could they NOT be, right? After all, they share an hobby and an orientation, right? Where I diverge is that, assuming compatible genders and orientations between our two geeks, there are a million reasons why they may not be compatible that have nothing to do with sex. So why is sex the go-to explanation for incompatibility?

    – This is kind of a trap that I see the ace community falling into when discussing relationship compatibility. We talk about sexual incompatibility a lot, which is important and necessary, but I see very little discussion about other aspects like personality, life goals, hobbies, etc. Like, we argue against assuming that gays-are-all-compatible-simply-by-being-gay-because-gayness-is-the-only-element-of-compatibility-that-matters, but unironically apply sexual compatibility as the end all, be all litmus test for aces? Does personal compatibility suddenly not count when aces enter the picture?

    • Siggy says:

      It’s really hard to talk about personal compatibility when we’re just speculating. For example, one of the issues I had with an ex-partner was that I felt like I always had to be witty around him, which was draining and difficult to talk about. There was zero chance I could have predicted that incompatibility, and it’s hard to say why it was a problem even after the fact.

      Although, now that I think about it, I’m not sure it’s any easier to speculate about sexual compatibility. There are a lot of small things that can make people sexually incompatible, things you’d never think about.

  4. Nowhere Girl says:

    Just like another person said above: as an asexual, or even more – as an asexual who has never been in any relationship (even though it’s not my preferred status, it just turned out this way), I don’t know what sexual compatibility is. I can only understand the idea in a very theoretic way.
    Yet, I can admit that the idea of sexual compatibility is a little bit suspicious to me because of a tiny thing that stuck in my memory. You know, there is the traditional expectation that people wait until marriage – and so, often as part of some general anti-religious ideology, some people say that it’s WRONG NOT to have sex before marriage because sexual compatibility is such a huge issue so if you don’t try it, you’re buying a pig in a poke, et caetera… I don’t like this kind of rhetoric because I believe that people HAVE A RIGHT NOT TO HAVE SEX FOR ANY REASON.

    • Siggy says:

      Well, waiting until marriage implies that once you’re married you’re done waiting and are expected to have sex.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      The point people make is that it’s a huge risk you might be sexually incompatible if, to take a very extreme example, you have only ever had chaste closed mouth kisses and tried holding hands. If “sex” is something you plan to do together once married, then being sexually compatible is important, and if you both strongly believe in a religious morality that dictates no sex until after marriage then you can still try your best to see how compatible you feel – for instance discuss fantasies/desires/predictions about what you’ll want in terms of sex/look into asexuality and make sure one of you isn’t ace to the point of sex-repulsion while the other is very allo, etc. But if you don’t have a strong religious conviction to wait to have sex until after marriage, then “testing” that part of your relationship first means you are giving each other a chance to decide you really feel incompatible in this way long term, and you are avoiding the risk of being in a marriage with conflicting desires around sex.

      I generally agree that it’s a bad idea not to have sex before marriage. Not that it’s morally wrong not to. But that it’s a recipe for likely unhappiness in some percentage of marriages.

      Of course I kinda hope to get married someday. And I certainly don’t intend to have sex before marriage, because I also don’t intend to have sex after marriage, or sex at all ever. 😛

    • luvtheheaven says:

      Similarly, many people say it’s a good idea to do a lot of other things before getting married too – be together for a significant length of time, try living together, meet each other’s families, etc – because you’re getting a bigger picture of how compatible you are in all these other non-sexual ways too and because of the chance of being incompatible.

  5. Cracticus says:

    I’m agreeing with Rachel in that I don’t understand why sexual compatibility should be seen as more important that other forms of compatibility. It’s frustrating too see people advising that you should break up with someone if you’re not sexually interested in them or that sex is central to an ideal relationship. I wish people would get into their heads that sex isn’t the be all or end all in relationships. There’s so many other ways people could be compatible or incompatible with each other.

  6. teenbutch says:

    I think as a ‘mostly asexual trans non-binary person’ (my own definition for me that kind makes sense) sexual compatibility becomes super important! Sometimes I might not mind having sex and the other person has to be okay with only having it then (so not very often) and when / if it does happen it has to be in such a way that doesn’t freak me out or make me too aware of my body in a negative way. I think sexuality is linked to that person’s body and sexual compatibility has to be aware of that person’s body and the limitations that it has on the sexuality itself. It’s actually something I worry about a lot… I mean, that’s an awful lot of me in there, so what if the other person doesn’t feel comfortable or compatible?

  7. luvtheheaven says:

    I feel like a large number of people build up the entire “point” of being in a romantic relationship to be about sexual satisfaction. To others the main thing they expect to get out of it is something else. But because such a high degree of people expect sexual satisfaction, I think it can be more important than a lot of other factors if you’re in a monogamous relationship, especially because sex is one of the very few things that will be 100% exclusive between just the two people in the relationship. For a lot of people good sex can make other incompatibilities easier to overlook or not actually consider as incompatibilities anymore, too. For me, someone who decided years ago she never wants to have sex in her future, and for whom being asexual is a huge part of her identity… to find a compatible partner means pretty much *first* I consider if we’re sexually compatible as much as I can, and then I go from there. It’s a very huge deal to me.

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