Lights On/Lights Off: Achieving Sexual Compatibility

He says tom-ay-to; you say to-mah-to. He turns the lights on; you switch them right back off. He wants to do it in the restroom of your local Starbucks; you get skittish anywhere that isn't the safety and comfort of your own bed.

 I often help couples deal with differences like these in my practice as a clinical psychologist and as a contributor to Good in Bed-  Very often when we talk about sexual compatibility, we tend to focus on libido levels and whether or not they're matched.

But that's not always the only discrepancy. I've found that, in many relationships, one person is more of a sexual risk taker and the other is anything but. Some of us are sexual "thrill-seekers" and some of us are, well, sexual "comfort-creatures." Thrill-seekers require a lot of novelty, and comfort-creatures are much more content with a familiar bed. The problem is that at the start of the relationship, it's very hard to know whether you're going to be sexually compatible or incompatible.

That's because "infatuation hormones" hijack the relationship and you're so busy not being able to keep your hands off of each other that any real differences are actually masked and won't become apparent until the thrill of infatuation starts to wane. Couples who are more evenly matched on one side of the spectrum - whether it's two thrill-seekers or two comfort-creatures - tend to fare better than two individuals on opposite sides of the spectrum.

While some women are certainly risk takers, in my experience, men tend to be the ones who crave variety, diversity, and new experiences in--and sometimes outside--their relationships. Here's why: It's easy for most men to have an orgasm. Their pleasure isn't necessarily tied to their specific partner. For women, though, orgasms can be less consistent. Once we're having good sex with our partner, we don't usually want to change that. Why mess with a good thing? Also, women tend to produce way more oxytocin during sexual experiences, a hormone that contributes to emotional connection. Sexual thrills come with a lot of excitement and novelty, but sometimes lack emotion--unless both partners are thrill-seekers, and the thrill is part and parcel of the emotional connection.

For many couples it's not about being totally "lights on" or totally "lights off" - it's more about finding a middle ground--your own personal dimmer switch. Of course, there's nothing wrong with variety. That's why salad bars are so popular, right? In fact, being too introverted and fearful of change may be a detriment to your relationship, according to two studies published in the May 2010 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Researchers found that shy people have more marital strife than their less-timid peers, possibly because they feel less confident dealing with the inevitable problems that accompany long-term relationships.
I'm not suggesting we all start taking crazy sexual risks. The quest for new and different definitely becomes a problem when we pressure our partners to give it to us--or when we stray outside the relationship to find it (I'm looking at you, Tiger and Jesse). But there's something to be said for compromise.

One way to spice things up? Take a tip from a recent study at the University of British Columbia. Researchers found that longtime couples were best able to rekindle romance by pretending they were strangers on a first date. So play around with wigs and different outfits, assume an alias, and meet your partner at a local restaurant or bar for a rendezvous. Call on your man to deliver a pizza, fix the cable, or otherwise show up at your door with a different persona. Sounds cheesy, but it works. You get variety and safety--and hot new way to compromise. And be sure to check out the forums at Good in Bed, where I'll be offering more advice for achieving sexual compatibility all week.

Belisa Vranich, Psy D. is a clinical psychologist and author. She is a regular guest on national television and routinely quoted in magazines and newspapers in the area of sexual health and relationships. Dr. Belisa completed her doctorate from New York University and Bellevue Hospital with focus in neuropsychology, psychiatric consultation and liaison and bilingual treatment. She has published five books (the most recent being a sexual health book for teens entitled Boys Lie from HCI press).  

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