The Purity Culture and Sexual Incompatibility

I was raised in what I call “the purity culture.” I knew that some people argued that premarital sex was important in order to see if two people were sexually compatible. I’d heard the idea that you should “try a shoe on before you buy it.” However, I was taught that those ideas were dead wrong.

I don’t remember the specific reason I was told that those arguments were wrong. There was the “why would you marry someone based on how the sex is” line and the “but you’d never know the difference if you only had one partner” line. The impression I came away with was that everyone is potentially sexually compatible with everyone else. I was so convinced of all this that I thought the sexual compatibility issue was laughable. Silly. A joke.

I was wrong.

True to my upbringing, I never had sex with anyone before my husband. I’ve been married several years now, and my husband and I are discovering that we are not sexually compatible. I’m not going to go into detail, but the long and short of it is that what turns me on doesn’t turn him on and what turns him on doesn’t turn me on. What he likes, I don’t like, and what I like, he doesn’t like.

No we’ve obviously been handling this for several years. When we’re sexually intimate, we either do what he likes or what I like. But just recently we took the time to each write out a list of what we like sexually, and what we don’t like. Trading the lists confirmed what we suspected: the lists were essentially the same, except that the “like” and “don’t like” categories were switched.

Now I love my husband dearly and I’m not sorry I married him. This is something we’re going to work through, and we’ll probably look into counseling of some sort in the process. But it won’t be easy. What really gets me is that I was taught to laugh at the sexual incompatibility issue like it was some sort of silly idea. It’s not. It’s very real, and when two people are sexually incompatible in marriage it does, well, make things complicated and difficult to say the least.

And more than that, sexual incompatibility is not something that necessarily goes away with time. Rather, it’s the kind of thing where tension builds over time, and the longer it goes unadressed the more of a problem it becomes. Fortunately, my husband and I have always placed a great deal of emphasis on communication and on trying to understand each other. But just because two people are in love, work well together, and share a life, children, and future goals does not mean that they’ll automatically be sexually compatible, or automatically become sexually compatible.

And I have to say, I’m feeling a bit jaded here. I was taught that if I waited for my husband and only ever had sex (or indeed, any sort of sexual intimacy) with him, my sex life would end up glorious and perfect. No problems. I’ve written before about how the purity teachings I was raised on led me to suffer from a level of sexual dysfunction. Well, the purity teachings also left me completely unprepared for the possibility of sexual incompatibility. And now I’m paying the price, not only in having to work through this with my husband (who again, I don’t regret marrying in the least) but more importantly in my surprise that such a problem could even exist. After all, I was given to believe that the need to make sure one was sexually compatible was some sort of imaginary excuse for having premarital sex. “Sexual incompatibility? No such thing!” Why did I ever listen to all that?

But really, thinking about it, I did dodge one bullet. A few families in Christian Patriarchy actually practice arranged marriages, and others so carefully chaperon their children’s courtships that the prospective couple is not even allowed any private conversation at all. Because I began questioning before going through a courtship, and because my parents were more laid back about courtship than many others, I was able to really get to know my husband before we became engaged and married. I knew our personalities meshed and I knew we worked well together.

But for those families that practice arranged marriages and the most strictly guarded courtship, what matters is compatibility between the two families and shared doctrine. Love is seen as something that can grow later out of shared beliefs, and making sure two individuals work well together and have compatible personalities is not seen as important or even relevant. Once again, the idea is that any two individuals are compatible if they share the same beliefs. Only this time, what’s dismissed is the idea that some couples are incompatible in life, rather than simply that some couples are incompatible in bed.

The purity culture takes healthy relationship formation – whether emotional or sexual – and hopelessly mangles, eviscerates, and mummifies it. As my husband and I work through our sexual incompatibility, I just wish that someone had told me that there is more to having a healthy relationship and a fulfilling sexual life than remaining a virgin before marriage.

The "Real Men" of Evangelical Christianity
Marriage Is Not a Magical Social Cure
Your Child's Virginity Is None of Your Business
When Courtship Means Regret
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.