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Checking Out the Merchandise

Sexual Needs Part 5: Finding a compatible mate.

"You gotta check out the merchandise!" This refrain is commonly spoken by those who are interviewing someone for a romantic lead in the epic story that is, they hope, their unfolding future happiness. According to this advice, we're all supposed to have sex with someone we're interested in—before we get permanently hitched.

The conventional wisdom is that we'll really know our prospect better, even acquire essential information, and see how the two of us fit together before making the relationship a matter of contract enforceable by the state. Over time, people have come to realize how very unhelpful this way of thinking is. Sex generally feels pretty good, so what's to complain about?

Seeing how we both do together in the sack is certainly (or usually) a pleasant bit of research, but the problem is that the data collected isn't really relevant to the task at hand: finding a compatible mate. A more important data set is our coming to understand who we are as individuals and what it is each of us individually needs. Consider literally every other person out there whom we might think is going to be great—for someone on the planet—but is not necessarily great for me.

Pathetically, in our society that claims to believe the family is the bedrock of our civilization, learning how to do family isn't taught to anyone, including one of the earlier steps, that of finding a mate. Our discovery of who we are is usually a painful process of trying one relationship, then failing, then another, then failing again, and so on. There is a better approach and science shows the way! No, not the kind of science that checks out DNA, measures hormones (or other assorted body parts), or brings out the psychometric testing of you and your prospect. Not the kind of science that, like a sleep study, has a white-coated clinician putting you two in bed for the night with a wink and a slap on the back, "Get busy you two!"

Think about Albert Einstein and how he worked. He was pretty sciency, right? Einstein liked to perform what are known as thought experiments. They're free and involve only imaginary pain, not the real kind we associate with broken hearts or tantric sex experiments gone awry. Yeow!

Readers of this blog will find themselves regularly asked to ponder their sexual needs with a program of simple thought experiments such as those that formed the backbone of my book, We're All Like This . The experiments are all of a cloth and they begin:

"Imagine your perfect sex life, perfect in every way important to you. You're with someone who loves you as much as you do them and who desires you just as much as you do them. In this perfect sex life, your partner loves and desires you just as much as you do them. Now imagine taking this perfection and subtracting one element, say 'sexual conversation.' So imagine your mate was incapable of talking about sexual matters like thoughts, feelings, behaviors, histories, or fantasies. Would your previously held notion of a perfect sex life be perfect anymore?"

Say ... what? A lot of people are confused at this point because they've never heard this line of inquiry employed to suss out individual needs. But take a moment and answer the question for yourself ... quietly. For many of us, but certainly not all of us, our answer wells up from a deep personal place and, once made aware of it, we can never forget it.

So if we accept the proposition of this blog, that our sexuality is like every other aspect of our human experience (intelligence, emotions, social, etc.), each with its unique concomitant needs and that we all have a vested interest in managing those sexual needs intelligently, then it follows that we'll need to know just what those sexual needs are. (By the way, we've never been taught that we have sexual needs, much less what they are, so this is a big day. Pour yourself a fizzy drink with ice in it to celebrate because, if you know that you have sexual needs and you know what they are, then you have a fighting chance of getting your sexual needs met.)

Now strap in because things are about to get the tiniest bit more complicated. So far in this blog, we've talked only about two sexual needs: safety and sexual conversation. Now try the thought experiment outlined above and you will discover that, yes, you do have a need for safety and a need for sexual conversation. Next step: On a scale of one to 10, how much sexual conversation (or safety, etc.) do you need for that perfect sexual relationship you imagined to remain perfect?

For some of us, the answer is going to be no less than, "Ten, of course! I want to be with someone I can talk to!" For some of us, the number is going to be lower and, at least for a few, the answer to how much sexual conversation they need is going to be zero. That answer doesn't mean that the need doesn't exist. It means that their awareness of their need is: "No sexual conversation whatsoever, thank you." Now, you have to be honest enough, brave enough, to understand and accept that you (as a 10) and they (as a zero) are simply not going to fit together. Neither one of you is wrong or bad or defective because this isn't a moral issue. It's very personal, isn't it? It gets even more personal when you both consider spending a lifetime with someone whose likes are so different. Not really a perfect sex life anymore, is it? Not even tolerable. And people, "tolerable" is not what we're shooting for anyway. We want to be happy.