Navigating Intimacy When You Don’t Share Specific Interests

I’ve definitely seen relationships create room for fetishes that the partners don’t have a common interest in. Sexual compatibility is tricky business. The odds that two random humans are going to be emotionally, intellectually, lifestyle, and sexually compatible on all things aren’t going to happen, and particularly isn’t likely to happen with sexuality. So, most partnerships include some variance of ‘I’m into this and you’re not really.’”

Sexual compatibility isn’t just about fetishes or certain sexual interests. It includes a number of preferred sexual styles, as well: rough or gentle, more or less foreplay, whether you prefer more or less penetrative sex.

First, it’s important to remember that when one person is interested in something like a fetish dating, and the other isn’t, neither is wrong.

But how do you manage your different interests in the relationship? According to me, how you approach these interests depends on your level of discomfort with them.

If it’s ‘This is weird and I don’t know what to do with it,’ level of discomfort, that’s one problem. If it’s a complete ‘I can’t even approach this, and it’s maybe even triggering to me’ kind of a revulsion, that’s a different problem.

In the first situation, compromise may be possible. For instance, you can take turns doing things you’re more interested in, then the things your partner is more interested in.

It doesn’t mean like every single time, but it just means being aware of how your sexuality works and trying to do what you can to meet your partner where they’re at if it’s not going to be costly to you.

This costly part is the key. Can you try something without holding it against your partner or being triggered by it? Sometimes it takes a while to warm up to something new.

When I’m dating someone who is into something I’m not, I’ll keep asking questions around it until I find an angle that appeals to me. Sometimes role-play will work. Or sometimes just seeing the joy on my lover’s face when they talk about their interest makes me want to keep feeding that joy.

Sex doesn’t have to be fireworks for both people all the time.

It’s more common with people in long-term relationships who report having satisfactory sex lives to often have sex that’s just OK. “We encounter this belief often in my practice that all sexual encounters should be equally mutually satisfactory and something short of fireworks going off. One of the things we talk about as sex therapists is learning how to embrace ‘good enough’ sex.”

A common objection when someone has an unusual fetish is that they only want to act on it when the other person is truly into it as well. If this rings true for you, I want to push you. There are many people out there (like me) who simply enjoy feeding our lover’s enjoyment.

For instance, I’ve had several lovers into urine play. It doesn’t turn me on to pee on them (but it doesn’t gross me out either), and I love making them happy. That’s what I get out of it. And who knows … maybe someday it will start to turn me on, as well.

Sometimes fetishes only need fantasy. Sometimes your partner enjoying their fetish can be as simple as playing with each other while they’re watching their favorite fetish porn, and [what they’re watching] doesn’t matter [to you] because your face is in their crotch.

How to Talk about Your Fetish with a Partner

  1. Educate yourself and practice with others

Whatever you’re into, you’re probably not the only one. There are lots of online websites such as and other resources for practically everything under the sun. Depending on your interest, there may also be conventions and local communities, as well.

You can ask others how they talk to their partners, and can learn how to more clearly and confidently express yourself.

Pursuing opportunities that give you a place to observe someone else talking about their fetishes is a rich learning opportunity for you to then level-up your ability to go and have a comfortable conversation with someone that shares common fetish.

Being able to express yourself in an environment you trust will be supportive can help you build these skills before you attempt it in a situation where the level of support is unknown.

But there are additional benefits to pursuing resources and community: You can learn more about yourself and work on self-acceptance.

If we’re trying to talk to somebody about something that’s important to us, but we’re not very comfortable with it, it can be really hard for that other person to feel comfortable with it [because they will unconsciously pick up on your unease with it].

  1. Find shared ground first

It’s common in new relationships to have “what are you into?” types of conversations. These conversations serve many purposes. For starters, you can get to know each other and find common ground.

At least for me, when there’s a scary topic looming in the shadows, it’s difficult to be fully present. But, in a relationship, there are two people with unique desires and interests … and you’re dating this person for a reason. Maybe authentically saying something like, “I want to hear all about you first” can offer you the freedom to focus on them for a while. Ask lots of questions and enjoy this person that intrigues you. But remember that one-sided vulnerability will always feel off. When you’re there in that moment with them, heart open, it will show.

In addition, these flirty and (hopefully) fun conversations can act as practice rounds for more meaty subjects. The more comfortable you are simply talking about sexual topics, the easier it will be to delve into deeper ones.

If you’re interested in something that’s more complicated or ‘off the beaten path,’ then developing a skill that allows you to make that conversation more deep and meaningful would probably serve you well.

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