Negotiate Sexual Differences, Part 1: What We Do

How to discuss differences of opinion about your sexual repertoire.

Posted Apr 13, 2017

Agnieszka Marcinska/Shutterstock
Source: Agnieszka Marcinska/Shutterstock

It’s not uncommon for the two members of a couple to have some different sexual desires, both related to what they want to do and how often they want to do it. Hopefully there is enough overlap that partners can create a good sex life together, but even in the happiest couples there will be differences of opinion, or at least desires, in the moment. After all, do you and your partner agree about everything all the time?

As much as these disagreements can cause strife, there are ways to negotiate the differences between you and your partner so you both feel like you get more of what you want, without feeling pressured to do what you don’t want to do. Negotiating in good faith and coming to a mutually satisfying agreement, especially about something as potentially sensitive as sex, will benefit your relationship outside of the bedroom as well.

Disagreements About Your Shared Sexual Repertoire

There are many, many ways that people can get turned on sexually — and we know that what is exhilarating for one person may be a total turn-off for someone else. There are plenty of theories, but we still don’t know definitively why people develop the turn-ons and turn-offs that they do. It’s probably more likely that we can add things to our turn-on list than remove them, but our sexual desires do evolve over the years and decades. Sometimes this is the influence of our partners and our experiences with them, and sometimes it’s part of our independent overall development. Either way, some variety over the decades is probably a good thing.

However they originated, we can divide our sexual interests into four general categories:

   1. What I know I like to do. These are the activities we are comfortable with and which we enjoy doing.

   2. What I am willing to do for you. Some activities may not be all that inherently interesting to us, but we are willing to do them because our partner enjoys them — and sometimes our partner’s pleasure makes an otherwise uninteresting activity much more exciting.

   3. What I might be willing to try. These are the activities that, under the right circumstances, we would consider trying. Sometimes our hesitation has to do with our own comfort about this desire, and sometimes we’re concerned about how our partner would react to the suggestion.

   4. What I am not interested in trying (at least now). These are the activities that actively turn us off, because they feel threatening, uncomfortable, or just weird. While most of these activities probably won’t evolve from a yuck to a yes for us, perhaps some eventually will.

You may find it helpful to think about which activities fit in which category for you, as well as discuss it with your partner. Your current sex life probably consists mostly of the overlap between things that you and your partner both like to do, with perhaps a few things that you are each willing to do for the other. The activities that at least one of you would like to try (and the other is willing) are your areas of potential experimentation, and the activities that at least one of you is not interested in trying are your current sexual limits.

Good behavior from our partners — specifically, not being demanding or guilting about sexual activity — may make us more generous and willing, as will general good behavior outside of bed. Direct requests, with an ability to handle rejection, tend to get us more of what we want. If there is something that you would like to try but your partner isn’t into, ask what would make it more interesting or safer for them. Perhaps explain why it turns you on and why you would like to do it with them — this may help them find a way to be turned on by it.

If there is something that you would like to try, but your partner is really not into it, explore whether there are other ways to have a similar experience or to get that same feeling from doing something else that would be acceptable. Happy couples find ways to ensure that both partners are getting enough of what they want without either individual feeling coerced.

Ultimately, you may need to give up some options, at least for now, but that may be easier to accept if you feel like you at least had an open discussion about it.

   For more, see “Negotiate Sexual Differences, Part 2: How Often We Do It,” on how to address differences in desired sexual frequency.