Post Valentine Realism Part 2: How To Know Your Own Sexual Preferences – And Your Partner’s

Margie Nichols, Ph.D.by Margie Nichols

In Part 1 I maintain that sexual compatibility is way more important in making a (monogamous) relationship satisfying than we realize.  And the more I wrote, the more I realized that the vestigial Puritan fear/distaste of sex our culture carries not only makes it hard to admit that you really, really, really like sex a lot (or really, really don’t) makes it hard for people to know their own sexual selves, much less a partner’s.

So let’s go back to basics.  You can’t know if someone is compatible until you know your own sexual likes, dislikes, habitual behaviors.

Let’s start with sexual orientation, arguably the most obvious area where mismatch is disastrous.  Kinsey used to envision same/opposite sex attraction along a continuum – only at the extremes are people ‘purely’ heterosexual or homosexual.  If your orientation is someplace in the range between determining your orientation is not so simple. Say you have had some opposite sex ‘crushes’ and a smattering of heterosexual sex, but mostly you fall in love and have sex with people of the same sex.  Is your bit of bisexuality unimportant, or is it sure to re-surface someday.  You need to figure out your own sexual fluidity – for more, read Ian Kerner’s excellent piece here.  And if youre not sure how static your orientation is – prospective partners kind of have a right to know.

Certainly the most important thing next to sexual orientation, desire can be tricky to assess as well.  This is an area full of ‘shoulds.’  In additional to the ‘shoulds’ laid down by your religion and your uptight parents, the gender stereotypes wield a  lot of power.  It’s hard to be a guy who doesn’t think a lot about sex or a woman who finds it center vision all the time. In fact, the culture proscribes a kind of narrow range of sexual interest for all of us regardless of gender:  too much an you’re an addict, too little and you’re neurotic or a wimp. But it’s imperative that you go beyond the ‘shoulds.’  And that you realize that your level of ‘sex drive,’ ‘libido,’ – basically, how important sex is to you – is not likely to change.  Yes, I’m aware that some sexually repressed people work through their blocks, and some sexually compulsive people lose interest in sex in recovery – but most of us don’t have that kind of dysfunction.  If you look forward to at least one orgasm a day you won’t be happy with once a month (or less) sex, and if you don’t think about sex much except when you are in the first stages of a relationship you will eventually come to feel sexually harassed by a high libido partner. So get real with yourself – and prospective partners.

Besides sexual orientation and level of libido, you need to explore other aspects of your sexual self.  Let’s start with sexual variety.  Do you need inventiveness, excitement, perhaps a little risk in your sex life? Do you like sex on the kitchen table or living room floor – or in front of a semi-open window where you could be seen? Or do you prefer the comfort of a reliable sexual script that doesn’t vary much from episode to episode, in your bedroom, with only a little variation in behaviors and positions?

Related to this is the degree to which you are ‘kinky’ versus vanilla.  Again, this is a continuum.  At one end are people who find even a hint of power dynamic a turn off in sex, at the other those who want to live in 24/7 Master/slave relationships.  Most fall in between – you may like a little role play, dirty talk, love bites, you might enjoy an occasional blindfold or spanking, or you may want more intense sensation stimulation like bondage or flogging.

One dimension of kink that occurs in almost all sex is the top/bottom/ dominant/submissive dynamic.  No matter how vanilla the acts are you prefer, you may need to be the aggressor, the initiator, the ‘one who runs the fuck.’  Or it may only by giving up control that you truly get aroused, and you may need pursuit to feel desired and desirable.   Those who are able to ‘switch,’ or enjoy both roles , can accommodate most partners, but people mismatched on this dimension – two submissives, two dominants – are miserable sexually.

There are so many cultural taboos against kinky sex  that it is often hard to admit desires , even to oneself.   Even private BDSM fantasies are a source of shame to many people.  But it is really important that you be honest with yourself.  Like basic level of desire, interests in kink rarely go away.  Some people never need to enact their BDSM fantasies, but many do eventually.  I’ve seen many marriages break up when this happens.

Once you’ve figured out the kind of sex you prefer – familiar, innovative, kinky, vanilla – you need to assess how rigid you are in your preferences and how broad or narrow your entire sexual repertoire.  This will enable you to know how much you can adapt to someone else’s sexual preferences.  The more exact your sexual desires – the more precise your compatability with a potential partner must be.

The last dimension of your sexuality you should consider is how monogamous you are- how much you need variety of partners in your life, how able you are to deal with a partner’s need for an open relationship.  Very few heterosexual people seriously think about this because of the tenacious belief that healthy committed relationships require monogamy.  Interestingly, nearly half of gay male couples have some form of sexually open relationships, and forms of polyamory are relatively common among lesbians.  At the least, open relationships merit consideration in the LGBTQ community, as opposed to the ‘beyond the pale’ attitude among heterosexuals.

Lastly – once you have defined your own sexual preferences and style pretty well, you need to find out about prospective partners.  Like I wrote in Part 1 – don’t judge your partner’s sexuality by their behavior in the first, ‘infatuation’ stage.  It may change dramatically after the love dust  wears off.  As in other areas, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  If he tells you that  his last two relationships ended with his loss of sexual interest – don’t believe it will be different with you.  If she has been in open relationships for the next ten years but says she wants to return to monogamy for you – don’t count on it.

     Don’t be afraid to ask about sexuality when you talk about the future.  It’s just as important- maybe more important – than where you both want to live and whether you like the same movies.

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