3 Reasons Sexual Compatibility is a Bad Idea

3 Reasons Sexual Compatibility is a Bad Idea November 10, 2022


a couples feet in bed

In modern Western culture, the notion of “sexual compatibility” is one of the primary arguments in favor of having sex before marriage. You have to have sex before marriage if you want to evaluate the quality of your physical relationship before making a life-long commitment to sexual exclusivity with a single person. And if you fail to do so, you risk ending up living out years of misery and frustration in a sexually dysfunctional marriage. Or so the thinking goes.

I’ve argued in the past that the church must be prepared to counter this argument from sexual compatibility if it wants to continue teaching the historic Christian sexual ethic to the next generation.

So, today, I want to start that process by giving three reasons why I believe sexual compatibility is a dangerous idea.

Problem 1: Sexual Compatibility is a False Assurance

The first problem with the idea of sexual compatibility is that it offers false assurances about the future. A couple that determines they’re “sexually compatible” while dating may go into marriage expecting that they need not worry about sexual challenges down the road. After all, their libidos, desires, and styles of lovemaking mesh so well. What could go wrong?

But the problem is that people and circumstances change. A couple that feels they’re “compatible” during the honeymoon phase of young love may quickly find that their compatibility isn’t quite so seamless in a different season of life.

Bring in sleepless nights caring for young children, sickness, aging, pregnancy, stress, a job that requires frequent travel, or so many other things, and sexual relationships start to look a lot different than they did before.

As such, any appearance of sexual compatibility is fleeting at best. A couple should not expect they can magically ensure an effortlessly blissful sex life at 65 simply because things were easy at 25. Such expectations are a false hope.

A more traditional view of sex and marriage, on the other hand, gives couples a natural framework for overcoming these challenges. They enter the marriage committing to be with one another “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.” This sober acknowledgement that life can be hard and the commitment to overcome the challenges together becomes the basis for a life-long love, both inside and outside the bedroom.

Problem 2: Sexual Compatibility Downplays Character

The second problem with the idea of sexual compatibility is that it downplays the role of character. Compatibility is simply a matter of finding somebody whose randomly-assigned preferences for things like sexual frequency or style of lovemaking happen to mesh well with your own. You’re basically playing a lottery.

But the same breakroom discussions and internet message boards that laud the importance of “sexual compatibility” are also filled with complaints about selfish lovers. Women are especially likely to bemoan the difficulty they have in finding a man who cares about their pleasure and not just his own. And the reality is that selfishness is not simply a practical “incompatibility” that can’t be overcome. Rather, it’s a character issue that can and should be addressed.

Treating sexual relationships as a series of trials and errors until you find something that works risks giving too little emphasis to developing the kind of selfless care and concern for another that leads to fulfilling relationships—sexual or otherwise.

It also ignores the reality that character can easily be evaluated without hopping into bed. A person who’s selfish outside the bedroom is likely to be selfish in bed as well. A person who loves you selflessly in all areas of life is likely to be a good lover.

Problem 3: Sexual Compatibility Creates Sexual Pressure

The third problem with the framework of sexual compatibility is that it risks putting undue pressure on unmarried individuals.

For example, some who want to reserve sex for a committed relationship (or marriage) may find that they face pressure to have sex earlier in the dating process than they feel comfortable with. After all, why spend months building a deepening emotional attachment only to find that the relationship won’t work after hopping into bed? Such pressures can pit a person’s traditional views of romance against their desire to find a mate in damaging ways. They feel they must either compromise their values, or risk missing out on finding a relationship.

Similarly, even once a couple starts having sex, one partner (or both) may feel pressure to engage in sex more than they’d like or in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise entertain out of fear that the other might otherwise decide they are “incompatible” with one another. Such pressures may again put people in the position of compromising their values or desires in ways that are hurtful or unhelpful in the long run.

Moreover, such pressures may mean that a couple’s “sexual compatibility” is simply an illusion. They only believe they’re compatible because they’re not being straightforward with one another about their true desires. And, to the extent that couples engage in such dishonesty, they only exacerbate the false assurances problem we discussed above. After all, their true selves will come out eventually.

Finding an Alternative

In the end, I believe that our culture needs to look for an alternative to the framework of sexual compatibility. Evaluating your sex life by sleeping together before marriage isn’t as helpful as our culture makes it out to be. It creates false expectations of an easy and blissful sex life. It ignores the very real influence of character on relationships. And it risks creating unhealthy pressures for dating couples. It’s therefore a dangerous idea.

I’ll be talking in a future post about why I believe the biblical view of sex is a superior framework. But here’s a quick summary: for Christrians, sex is ideally about two people who are both seeking to mirror the redemptive gospel love of Jesus Christ in their own relationship with each other—both inside and outside the bedroom. This framework acknowledges the possibility of hardship, puts character at the forefront, and gives a committed couple the resources to love one another throughout changing seasons of life.

In short, the couple is called to show redemptive gospel love to one another. I’ve written before about why I think the gospel, especially as expressed through the biblical story of God and his people as bride and groom, should be the basis for our sexual and relational ethics. And, while I’ve applied that to romantic relationships in general in the past, I also think it’s a helpful way of thinking about the sexual union within marriage. So stay tuned for more on that in a future article!

Agree? Disagree? Have a Story to Share?

Got any thoughts or questions about sexual compatibility? Disagree with something I’ve said? I’m always interested in hearing feedback, and I’m always open to refining my views. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! You can also get in touch on Twitter.

Image Credit: Yan Krukov / Pexels

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