The myth of sexual chemistry
Most writers are wrong about sexual chemistry. Don’t look in biochemistry books for "sex hormones" or search the web for the "science of attraction." Sexual chemistry in long-term relationships is actually an accident of matching sexual styles.
“Amazing sexual chemistry” is more than falling in love or paying attention to your partner, feeling sexual attraction, sexual tension, keeping eye contact, walking hand in hand, or when you feel drawn to each other or having rhythmic body language.
I’m going to argue that it’s more than when you have emotional connections or feel good. In a healthy relationship, you can grow sexual chemistry.
“Sexual chemistry” means matching sexual styles
In my years doing sex and couples therapy, the most difficult challenge is working with couples who fight because they simply can’t see things the same way. This is even more true when the subject is sex. It starts with understanding that there’s more than one ‘reality…’
Read a “Profile in Marriage!”
Couples simply can’t see things the way their partner does, so they make something up. Unfortunately what they make up usually isn’t flattering to the other person. Often a person loses sexual desire.
Sexual chemistry requires respecting differences. In this brief post, I want to talk about one area where couples differ. And in this area, it seems to the couple that it is nearly impossible that they could reconcile those differences:
Sex, chemistry, and styles of sex
Yes, sex. Couples have different ‘sexual styles’ and as a result, start to have less and less pleasure in physical sharing.
One person likes a nice quiet room, to be relaxed, and close their eyes and focus in on the sensations. This is not sexual chemistry. It’s a preference.
If you remember that old commercial, “Calgon, Take Me AWAY!”:
“Trancers” are a sexual style who are quiet sorts of lovers. They like darkened rooms, quiet interactions, steady rhythms, not a lot of talking. They “groove” to sex in their own calm way.
The “sexual chemistry” of partner engagers
Another person wants sex to be a time of reconnection. For them, the “charge” is the affection, and being “in sync” with their lover. This style is called “Partner Engagers.”
Think of the song by Bobby Vinton, the “Polish Prince."
You put those two together, and the latter says: “I love how your eyes close whenever you kiss me!” and the former (Trancer) says: “Can we just be quiet now and get into it?”
The “sexual chemistry” of role enactors
Another style is all sparkles and glitter. Think of Rita Hayworth as Gilda:
Sex is dramatic, with high self-esteem. All playfulness and creative, exhibitionistic, even. Sexual skills are valued. Novelty keeps things interesting.
“Want to watch a sexy movie? Sharing fantasies? Let’s start now... Watch me strip in front of this audience! Cool!”
This one, called “Role Enactor,” would really conflict together with the romantic Partner Engager who shouts:
“Why don’t you just love ME! Why do we need these outfits, movies, and sex in daring places!”
The Role Enactor shouts back:“I do love you, but why do you have to be such a stick in the mud!”
Pathology to passion: sexual chemistry to sexual style
To get these couples to stop pathologizing, they have to understand that terms like “prude” or “nympho,” “objectifying” or “demanding” are hardly going to bring them to a better “mutual understanding.”
Or more satisfying sex life.
Don’t negotiate! Don’t lament poor “Sexual Chemistry.”
We might miss the fact, though, that neither of them will likely want to “negotiate.” Sexual chemistry doesn’t require conversation. It’s hidden somewhere in the Mythical Land of Groin.
Why? Because they don’t speak the same language. They don’t frame things the same way. Each things of "being sexual" in a different way and having different goals. They may even do the same physical act but for very different sexual reasons.
Picture the scene:
One says: “I want sex 3 times a week!”
The other says: “No, that’s too much! Once or twice a month is more than enough!”
Will this couple be satisfied with once-a-week sex? Your sexual relationship is not a place to negotiate a compromise. For one, it will be way too infrequent, while for the other, it will be way too often.
And in sex, like in agreements about what kind of future the couple should work toward, it takes “two to tango,” at least for a mutually good time.
Negotiation won’t work.
Are you curious about what might work? Try a couples sex retreat!
Originally published August 10, 2013.