Sex Advice

How To Tell If You’re Sexually Compatible With a Partner Before Having Sex, According to Sex Therapists

Natalie Arroyo Camacho

Photo by Getty Images/Westend61
Even when you feel totally ready (and excited!) to have sex with a new partner, the lead-up can nonetheless be nerve-racking, largely thanks to the unknown factor of sexual compatibility. Simply put, sexual compatibility is "the ability to speak to the other [person] about what feels good and what doesn't," says certified sex therapist Jacqueline Mendez, LMFT. It's about being honest with yourself and your partner, and making sure everyone involved is heard, respected, and affirmed. But, how can you understand your sexual compatibility with someone before having sex?

First, understand that sex can mean many different things to different people and can take many different forms. For instance, there are non-penetrative sex acts (which can absolutely still lead to orgasm), dirty talk, and anal play to name just a few ideas of what a person might be into, sexually speaking. With that in mind, deciphering whether you have sexual compatibility with someone before you have sex may simply mean you're willing to talk about it. When "we're not afraid to express our needs, our wants, and what feels good, [or what] doesn't feel good, then [the sex can be] better, even if it's the first time you're having sex with someone," Mendez says.

“If somebody is not interested in learning about who you are [inside or] outside of the bedroom, there is no sexual compatibility." —Jacqueline Mendez, certified sex therapist

And if when you try to discuss sex and intimacy with a partner, you're met with resistance, that's a sign that you may not be compatible sexually. “If somebody is not interested in learning about who you are [inside or] outside of the bedroom, there is no sexual compatibility," says Mendez. (In fact, this lack of interest may point to a lack of general compatibility, sexually or otherwise.)

But what should you discuss, more specifically, in this conversation about sexual compatibility before having sex? And, if you find that you lack sexual compatibility, is it possible to work on growing it? Below, get all the expert-informed answers, so you can quell as many of those new-partner nerves as possible.

How (and when) to have a conversation about sexual compatibility before having sex with a new partner

Before you're ready to have a discussion with a potential partner about sexual compatibility, it's important to know what turns you on personally. To determine that, Mendez says masturbation and self-pleasure can be particularly helpful. "Masturbation is a wonderful way of finding out what feels good or doesn't feel good. Self-touch—[noting] what feels good where—can also be helpful." It's also important to know what you don't like so you'll be able to share your sexual boundaries (as well as welcome boundaries your potential partner shares).

As far as when the right time is to broach the subject, sex therapist Vanessa Marin suggests being honest with yourself: If having sex with this person is something that's on your mind and feels like it may happen soon, anytime is the right time to surface the topic. “I like to say to somebody, ‘It feels like we’re going in the direction of something happening between us. I don’t want to assume anything is going to happen or what the timing is, but I think it’s nice to be able to talk about for if and when that time happens’,” she says.

If you're not sure when to bring it up, one effective strategy for starting the conversation about sexual compatibility is to just be direct. “We have this idea that great sex is just supposed to happen and that it’s not supposed to need any communication,” says Marin. “Not only that, but a lot of people also feel like communicating before sex ‘kills the mood’ or ‘makes things weird.’” In reality, communicating should always be lauded in relationships for strengthening bonds and bringing people closer—and any notions that it's not necessary are unfounded.

Benefits of communicating about sexual compatibility before having sex with a new partner

Talking about what we like and don’t like in the bedroom before entering it with someone new allows us to get to know our partners more. “We feel more pleasure when we know how and what to do and when,” says Mendez. “We don’t have to worry about, ‘Did I do this right?’ It’s like all questions get eliminated when we have conversations about what we enjoy and what we do not enjoy.”

Furthermore, when you've previously spoken to a partner about their preferences (and shared your own), you're more likely to be communicative in the moment, which can lead to increased pleasure as well. After all, your partner is not a mind-reader and won't know which spots are the right ones without your guidance.

If you currently lack sexual compatibility, what can you do?

Introspection is a helpful tool for when you sense that you lack sexual compatibility (like finding out you prefer different things in the bedroom) with someone new, says Mendez. For instance, if you find out you like different things in the bedroom, you might consider how well you really know yourself and consider whether you might benefit from trying something new, both as a personal exploration and a compromise with a new partner. That said, we're all entitled to uphold our personal and sexual boundaries; you should never feel coerced or talked into anything that makes you uncomfortable or otherwise disinterested.

That said, your relationship is by no means doomed if you don't share a new partner's exact sexual preferences. Knowing where you are willing to step outside your comfort zone is a good way to ease any sense of incompatibility, so long as you feel safe in doing so.

And if you’re still shying away from having that initial conversation to understand your sexual compatibility with someone before you have sex, remind yourself why you’re having it. It’s not because you want to embarrass yourself or your partner by putting each other on the spot. Rather, you’re working to communicate your likes and dislikes, and you’re creating a space for your partner to do the same. Good sex can, and often does, start with a conversation. After all, no one talks seriously about how to have bad sex.

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