We’ve been penning a sex and love advice column for a loooong time now, which means that we’ve heard from our share of readers who are struggling in their relationships. Over the years, certain themes have emerged — sure, you’ll get the occasional couple who wants to involve their labrador in a threeway, but most of the couples we hear from have more familiar problems. Here are the five issues we hear about most often — none of them is necessarily a relationship deal-breaker (though any one of them might be), but the more compatible you are on each of them, the less likely you will find yourself needing to write into us for advice!
1. PORN: Do you have similar thoughts and approaches to the subject, or at least respect each other’s thoughts/approaches to it?
Unlike most issues we hear about, this one tends to break down pretty clearly along gender lines. In other words, we have yet to hear from a woman whose boyfriend doesn’t approve of her porn habit. We do hear from many many women who are uncomfortable with/offended by/disgusted by/insecure about their boyfriend or husband’s porn watching — and we hear from just as many men who want to know how to explain to their girlfriend or wife that watching porn isn’t the same thing as cheating. (Which is not to say that there aren’t plenty of women out who enjoy porn and erotica regularly.)
Not all couples with differing ideas about porn will be able to find a middle ground, but for many couples, we believe it’s possible — depending on what the specific issue is with the porn. For example, if she finds porn ethically problematic, the man might make an effort to consume only ethically sound porn (fair wages, good safer sex practices, etc.). If she feels left out, maybe they can find porn to watch together (probably not the Brazilian fart porn series). And if she just doesn’t like to see it, maybe he can learn to lock the door.
For more about finding a porn compromise, check out our column “Dear Em & Lo: I’m Put Out About His Porn” as well as our Wise Guys column “My Girlfriend Thinks Porn Viewing Is a Deal-Breaker.”
2. KINK: Do you have similar thoughts and approaches to the subject, or are at least willing to both compromise?
This issue, unlike porn, doesn’t break down along gender lines. Some women are kinkier than others, and some men are kinkier than others — and fate doesn’t always bring them together. And it’s not just a matter of leather masks and threeways and sex swings in the basement — sometimes it’s as simple as the woman wanting to bring a vibrator to bed (because she needs it to climax) and the man finding this unwelcome competition. Or sometimes he just wants to talk through a fantasy and she’d rather he kept it to himself. Though often it’s that one partner wants to be regularly dominated or do the dominating, and the other wants no part of it.
So is a kink-vanilla relationship doomed? We asked our readers this question recently and while about half of you said yes, the other half said it depends. It depends on how willing each partner is to compromise and how integral the kink (or the vanilla) is to that person’s sexuality.
But the best advice is to avoid getting into this situation in the first place. No need to break out the bullwhip on the first date — but you shouldn’t wait until you’ve fallen head-over-heels in love before figuring out where each of you falls on the kink-vanilla, willing-to-experiment scale. And, unfortunately, we think that in this case, the ball lies in the kinkster’s court. If you can’t live without it, find a way to discuss this as soon as possible in the relationship.
3. LIBIDO: Do you have similar expectations about how often sex should occur, and if not, are you both at least willing to meet in the middle?
Is one partner happy with sex once a month while the other would like it twice daily? Of course, this varies somewhat from relationship to relationship, and even over the course of a relationship. So it’s not exactly something that you can figure out on an early date. By the way, in case you assumed that this issue breaks down on gender lines — it doesn’t. Sure, we hear from more men who want sex more than their girlfriends, but we hear from plenty of women whose husbands won’t put out as often as they’d like, too.
As with porn, the key here is compromise. As in, is there any hope of it in your relationship? If neither party is willing to budge, then it’s probably a deal-breaker. But if the partner with the higher libido is willing to masturbate to make up the libido gap, and the partner with the lower libido is willing to (a) be supportive of all this self-love (you don’t have to be a cheerleader, just don’t turn up your nose at it) and (b) consider having sex sometimes just to be nice — then it doesn’t have to spell doom for the relationship.
And yes, we know it’s a controversial issue to suggest occasionally having sex when you’re not in the mood — but “not in the mood” comes in all different flavors, some of which are easier to conquer than others. For example, are you tired and have an early morning the next day? Then compromise on a quickie!
4. JEALOUSY: Do you have similar levels of suspiciousness, thoughts about exes as friends, and ideas about what constitutes flirting?
If the two of you are jealous types in equal amounts, whether small or large, you will find it relatively easy to find an equilibrium on certain potentially hot-button topics, like talking to exes, talking about sex in the past, flirting at parties, having friends of the opposite sex if you’re straight (and vice versa if you’re gay), etc. But if one partner is a lot more jealous than the other, then all hell may break loose.
In this situation, it tends to be easier for the less jealous person to compromise — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should compromise. If you’re happy to sacrifice having that former booty call on your Facebook friends list, then go right ahead. But if compromises like this are going to build up over the years into a seething grenade of resentment, then get out now!
5. COMMUNICATION: Can you both be honest and open with each other?
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that this one is a deal-breaker. In fact, if you’ve mastered the art of open, honest communication with your partner, then issues one through four should all be surmountable. But if you can’t get the hang of this one, then even the way you each load the dishwasher may be a cause for a blow-out.
Communication is something that develops over time in a relationship, and it’s not something you can know going in — you may have been a terrible communicator in your last relationship, but then have an easy time talking to your new partner. But it is something a bit easier to work on — unlike, say, turning yourself into whip-wielding dominant when you’re a shy, bookish type.
The key to good communication in a relationship is developing good habits from day one. If you’re able to openly and honestly discuss your respective sexual histories before having sex for the first time, then you’re a lot more likely to be able to discuss, further down the road, the fact that you haven’t yet climaxed during intercourse, or that you’d like to try something new in bed. And if you’re able to discuss something new you’d like to try in bed, then you’re a lot more likely to be able to discuss, further down the road, your disappointment in your sex life rut, or your fear that your partner might be cheating on you.
Finally, all this communication isn’t worth much if it can’t be done fairly and kindly. Fights are fine — even healthy — but only if you can avoid hitting below the belt and can find a way to resolve them quickly.