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An Alternative Approach to Erotic Incompatibility

Erotic acts vs. erotic themes: The importance of shifting our focus.

Key points

  • Initial erotic incompatibility does not guarantee that sex will be unsatisfying.
  • Focusing on erotic themes may allow for more erotic creativity within relationships.
  • It is important to not just discuss the erotic acts we enjoy, but why we desire them.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that mismatched kinks or desire discrepancies mean that sexual and erotic compatibility cannot be achieved. The idea that erotic synchronicity must exist in relationships is not only unrealistic but problematic. As humans, we approach sex and intimacy with a perspective fueled by a unique history that has formed our erotic identity over many years, even decades.

PT88/Adobe Stock
Source: PT88/Adobe Stock

I like to look at our erotic identities like I do dancing. When we begin our journey of erotic exploration, similar to when we first begin to move our bodies to music, we act on instinct. We move in a way that simply feels right, without any influence of what is good or bad or even acceptable. As we get older and see the way that others dance, perhaps reflected in the media or described in conversations, our style begins to shift. Slowly, as we have new experiences, our style of dance begins to change. We learn techniques and new skills from partners, and eventually, we become a product of all of our nuanced experiences. Perhaps we may even get so used to one style that it becomes challenging to find the rhythm when a new partner is introduced.

Naturally, we find that some dance partners fit better with our style than others, and we may even find that one style is our favorite and we, therefore, adjust our expectations to ensure that we only have one type of dance partner for the rest of our lives. Of course, dance and intimacy have many differences and where we can easily move out of the dance metaphor and into reality is when feelings get involved.

Approaching erotic incompatibility

Often our desire for our partners is so strong that we desperately crave erotic compatibility when it may not initially be there. It is entirely possible that we can share love and respect and deep hunger for our partner, but when we hit the sheets, we are entirely out of sync. While there certainly can be instances where erotic compatibility cannot be achieved, I believe there is an often overlooked way of approaching erotic incompatibility, which may allow for positive movement towards more satisfying erotic encounters. A heavy focus on desired erotic acts and how both partners are not on the same page may hinder growth. I suggest that when couples stumble across an incompatibility, they shift towards exploring their erotic themes.

Erotic themes vs. erotic acts

So, what is an erotic theme? An erotic theme is the accumulation of our desires that pervade our erotic expressions. It is the fuel that lights us up erotically and manifests in our behaviors and actions. It is the underlying influence that encourages us to seek out specific behaviors and pulls us towards our wants and needs. It is not the fact that we are aroused by something but is the source of the arousal. Our erotic themes influence our erotic behavior, which results in the expression of an erotic act.

An erotic act is quite literally an act that is completed, or in some cases, only attempted. It is simply an expressed behavior. It is common to ask our partners what acts they are interested in or what act they enjoy, but what is often overlooked is the question of why we enjoy those particular acts or what draws us to choose them. For example, an erotic act in a kink space may be being spanked by your partner, but this act is very different than the erotic theme.

Prostock-studio/Adobe Stock
Source: Prostock-studio/Adobe Stock

Discovering and communicating erotic themes

If we create a list of the acts we enjoy, there may be a theme among them. Perhaps there is a theme of being in positions where we feel more in control. Maybe it is just the opposite, and we desire to have that control relinquished. Discovering and communicating these themes is necessary to begin the process of creatively integrating new solutions to problems of incompatibility.

Rather than pressuring our partners to participate in acts that they are not interested in or feel uncomfortable engaging in, I posit that we shift focus away from the specific desired act and into the theme. The critical question is not what act do they want to participate in but what makes that act so enticing?

If we reflect on our example of spanking, rather than shutting down and believing we cannot satisfy our partner because we do not like spanking, we can explore the theme of this desire and find ways to accommodate our partners’ needs. For example, is it the pain of being spanked by a paddle that draws our partner in? Can masochism, or the desire to have intense sensation or pain inflicted upon them, be a theme in their erotic life? If so, what other ways can pain be integrated into play to make both partners more comfortable? Perhaps it is not the pain, but it is the desire to be in a position of vulnerability. Maybe it is that the partner likes to feel that control is relinquished. It is even possible that it is the play around being punished that lights them up inside.

There is so much more complexity to our desires than we may understand. With clear, honest, and open communication, we may be able to approach our partners and explore their desires in a far more satisfying and enjoyable way. If we can fully uncover why we desire a specific behavior, we may be able to integrate new acts into our lives that serve and satiate all partners. Rather than ruminating on acts, I encourage clients to discover and even celebrate themes.

I believe that without understanding these themes, folks may be stuck in a cycle of frustration rather than enjoying the process of creative erotic exploration. Incompatibility is not fixed and certainly does not guarantee that sex will be unsatisfying. In many cases, initial incompatibility may just be a minor misstep in the greater dance of the relationship.