The Flaws of “Sexual Compatibility”

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With today’s divorce rate, no one who wants marriage wants any shadow of doubt.  It’s easy to understand a couple wanting to know each other as much as possible before marrying.  Around this time last year, I published a non-religious defense of saving sex for marriage on Girls Ask Guys (I’ve talked about this site before), which I edited and re-posted here. I’d thought (and hoped) that I’d figured everything out.  Since then, I’ve inquired more deeply into human love and sexuality and eventually found a-whole-nother set of problems with “sexual compatibility”.

Word of warning: This entry is considerably lengthy.  Sorry!

Conventional “Wisdom”

One GAG user asked a while ago if bad sex is an excuse to cheat.  It’s bad enough as it is that society at large degrades the beauty of sex within marriage, but nowadays I see cause for concern when people think that sex before a couple has grown and matured together is necessary on the grounds of compatibility.  I can’t imagine marrying a girl (or for the sake of argument, simply being in a relationship with her) and thinking that everything is great in bed when it’s not.  If a guy is so sure about marrying his girlfriend, spending the rest of his life with her, raising children with her, and experiencing all the joys and hardships of marriage with her, why is he worried, of all things, about sexual compatibility?  How is a couple “sexually compatible” if a guy tells his girlfriend that she’s not the hottest girl he’s been with?  I have plenty more…

When commenting on my GAG article, one user objected saying that “If you’re not sexually compatible, the relationship will fail. Without any doubt or exception”.  Another user once claimed that I will believe in sexual compatibility when I marry someone with whom I’m not sexually compatible.  Recently, one user told me that I have no business talking about sexual compatibility if I haven’t had sex. And still others insist that I’m naive.  I say with absolute confidence that nothing could be further from the truth than these. As Catholics, we should evangelize with that same confidence.  In the following paragraphs, you will see the non-religious reasons why I think that “sexual compatibility” is not only damaging to relationships, but is contradictory to the very nature of sexual union itself.

 

My Objections to “Sexual Compatibility”

1. The divorce rate.  A key reason why many believe in premarital sex, the Devil is quite literally in the details.  I’m no social scientist, but I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the divorce rate rose with the “liberation” of sex during the 1960s, skyrocketed during the 1970s, and peaked in 1981.  In 2007, the divorce rate reached its lowest level since 1970.  While outlining this article, I interviewed mediators and attorneys; all denied that premarital sex is vital, let alone helpful, in relationships.  In fact, most of them had never even heard of “sexual compatibility” before.  My research points to less people getting married due to a declining belief in marriage.  I see no need for further elaboration here.

2. Compatibility.  Many people seem to think that having sex is the main purpose of marriage or that it’s a litmus test.  What will a couple do after their first few years of intense passion?  What happens when they have children? What happens if (and hopefully when) they see career advances and the additional demands that follow?  Here’s an interesting question: What happens when they stop using artificial contraceptives (not to mention disagreements on what methods to use)?

3. Communication.  I think this idea creates a false sense of security and stability.  It’s as if a couple thinks they already know everything about each other and communication won’t be as important anymore.  It’s as if they think their love can’t be educated, which John Paul II writes about in Love and Responsibility.  Researchers also credit communication and willingness to work through difficulties as other significant reasons for the declining divorce rate, as noted in the CBS article.

4. Previous sexual partners. If it were possible for something to make less than no sense, this is where sexual compatibility takes the cake.  Preferences in personality, interests, and morals are formed by prior relationships, but how much do previous sexual partners distort a complete view of one’s current partner?  Also worth asking is if someone really loves their partner, why would they even want to think about anyone else in the first place?  How are comparisons helpful or healthy in this context (I’ve heard people say they are)?

5. Contraception.  My thoughts here are that the partners don’t experience each other as they truly are.  Studies have shown that artificial contraception increases risk of attraction with incompatible partners.  The desire for “sexual freedom” drove the demand for contraception.  In 1961, that very thing happened when the pill was introduced and the divorce rate increased; I see connections.  And what about the effects of long-term condom use?  From what I’ve observed on GAG, most guys HATE using condoms.  In fact, many girls as well think they’re “uncomfortable”, even though many are chemically treated to make intercourse as pleasurable as if they were not using a condom.

For further elaboration, see my earlier post on contraception. 

6. Biology and psychology.  Take a look at this question.  When it comes to attraction and arousal, guys are first attracted to what they see, they physical.  It’s less direct for women, as they have their natural cycles during which they may be more aroused at some points than others.  Men hit their sexual primes in their 20s and women in their 40s.  So I ask how sexual compatibility is biologically or psychologically viable (see previous objection).

7. Selfishness. “A woman marries a man expecting him to change, but he doesn’t. A man marries a woman expecting that she won’t change, but she does”.  One mediator I interviewed said “it’s not a matter of if you mesh, but how”.  With “sexual compatibility”, I see unwillingness in partners to fully unite with each other.  People talk about having similar fetishes and fantasies, but why should they matter if the couple truly love each other?  This also ties in with a section of Love and Responsibility, when John Paul II discusses openness to parenthood as the truest expression of love between husband and wife.

8. Other logical flaws.  As it’s been explained to me, “sexual compatibility” simply sounds like dating with a sexual aspect. Some people ask if I would buy a car without a test drive.  No, but how far and fast do I really need to drive to know if the car will get me to and from work every day?  There’s also the question of prenuptial agreements, which anticipate problems. 

Some people go as far as to argue that no sex before marriage is like no kissing before marriage.  This is comparing apples and oranges.  Though I have heard unverified claims that couples who don’t even hold hands, cuddle, kiss, etc. before marriage have attraction issues later on, a complete lack of any physical interaction is an altogether different discussion.

9. The exclusion of love from sex.  Some people ask if it’s possible to separate love and sex.  My response is “why would you want to?”; I have asked this on GAG.  Some responses suggest that sexual encounters last longer.  If this is the case and they are in a committed relationship, I argue that the couple are merely using each other.

10. The summit of intimacy. Recall my earlier statement on the nature of sex.  I believe sexual compatibility distorts an objective view of one’s partner.  Better yet, it prohibits a couple from loving each other perfectly.  Consider what brings a couple together: their values, their hopes and dreams, the things they love about each other, and the faults they accept in each other.  Shouldn’t these and the little things that make and sustain a relationship make sex the summit of intimacy rather than a test for survival?

 

Conclusion

I used to become frustrated by common views of my commitment. After seeing how things are and learning what I have, I’m more frustrated that people are locked into this way of thinking. I want people to be in happy and healthy relationships, but I see so much wrong with this philosophy. I don’t mean to suggest that a married couple shouldn’t have a healthy sex life; in fact, quite the opposite.  However, with so much mistrust and ambiguity in relationships today, we must practice better ways of ensuring the survival and thrival of our relationships in a sexually oversaturated world.

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