Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Sexual compatibility ultimately depends on a variety of things
Anonymous 1: I am a 27-year-old virgin. I was raised pretty religiously. However, during senior year of college I began really questioning that upbringing and would no longer identify myself as religious, although I do still have some fundamental beliefs that stem from that upbringing.
Yet, I still can't bring myself to have premarital sex. I haven't had a relationship where it's been an issue yet, but I could easily see myself being the girl Anonymous wrote in about (in Monday's column). I can't determine where that puts me in your "life-flow" question — I think I'm okay with some degree of "life happens," but just not in this area.
Carolyn: Thanks. I have a hunch, given your arc, that if you were in a brink-of-marriage, this-is-it relationship with someone, you might change your mind. Actually, that isn't quite right. Since you no longer identify as religious … if you're ever in a relationship so intimate that marriage is beside the point — where there's no suspense, it's a mere formality, where you consider marrying not because it would make you more committed to each other but because it's just easier that way with your family, future kids, whatever — then "before" or "after" is no longer a relevant distinction.
Anonymous 2: Re: Sexual compatibility:
Let me caution ANYONE who thinks they can predict sexual compatibility based on premarital sex. When my husband was 30, he began to suffer from impotence. The same year I was diagnosed as sterile. Talk about blows to your sex life. It is now over 20 years later. We are still married, just not the marriage I thought it would be. This difference between expectations and reality is probably true for every couple.
The trick to sexual compatibility is COMPATIBILITY: communication; approach to problems; willingness to compromise, learn and try new things; and respecting boundaries. Perhaps his past relationships ended due to this, not sex.
Carolyn: Good point, thanks. Emotional compatibility is a strong engine for physical attraction, and certainly it's great to have if something else breaks down. There can be problems despite a strong bond, though. There could be unrealistic expectations, for example, that everything will click from the start. It can also be unrealistic to expect emotions to be the only engine; I do think an element of attraction is strictly physical.
Appetite involves just about everything — physical, emotional, health, external factors — and so is particularly difficult to predict. It can plummet for reasons unrelated to physical or emotional compatibility. And that has led to some marital disappointments, regardless of whether sex came before or after marriage.
Anonymous 3: I was once in the wait-for-religious-reasons camp. When I met my now-husband, I started to change my mind. He clearly wanted to have sex, but was willing to wait until I was ready. I waited until we hit a point in our relationship where I was pretty sure I wouldn't regret having sex with him — even if we broke up down the road. Then I knew I was ready.
Carolyn: I like that, because it applies to absolutely everyone, from the early adopters to the strictest of holdouts. Thanks.