Sympathy vs. Empathy

Sympathy is defined as feelings of pity and sorry for someone else’s misfortune.  Basically a common feeling between people.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share feelings of another.  Basically putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

What does this have to do with sex?  Good question..

If you are in a relationship, whether it’s been a week or a few decades; good chance is you would like to have a happy sex life with that person.  Since sex is really never the same twice (even if you have sex weekly in missionary position with your partner of 20 years, you will feel different emotions, sensations, each time), there will be moments when one of you won’t think the sex is good.  Or maybe won’t even be satisfied.

With this in mind, and the ever changing world that throws obstacles, hardships, and challenges at us, how can we expect to have fantastic sex always with our partner?  We are also so vastly different as humans, so how can you expect your partner to have the same sexual desire, drive, and fantasies as you?  It’s not possible.

If you can’t accept that your partner is probably different to you sexually, and also can’t communicate how you feel about sex in the present, there is a strong possibility your sex life could be in a rut.  Now how does empathy kick?

As the above video by the brilliant Brene Brown suggests, empathy fuels connection.  This has everything to do with sex.  Most couples (and individuals) define sex in some capacity as the ability to connect to another person.  Fuelling a sexual connection with empathy can hopefully only bring two people even closer.

How this can be done with the 4 qualities of empathy:

  1. Recognise your partners perspective on sex, what they like, how often they like it, etc. is their truth.  It is how they see and define sex.  It might be different to yours, but get in tune and understand their perspective on it.
  2. Don’t judge your partner.  If they like swinging from the chandeliers regularly then don’t judge and jump to the conclusion they are sex fiend.  Alternatively if your partner is happy with sex once a month with the lights off, don’t judge and think of them as a prude.
  3. Recognising emotion in other people and communicating that: what makes your partner really happy sexually, what makes them tingle all over?  If you know that answer, tell them, show them, ask them how you can help make them tingle.  If it’s something that turns you off, how can you both meet in the middle?
  4. Feel with them, especially in times of need (like when sexual dysfunctions kick in).

If you can put yourself in your partners shoes, understand what they like in the bedroom, how and why they like it, then you can start to have a better connection.  Not to mention get on track to helping one another achieve greater satisfaction in the bedroom.


Integrated Sex + Relationship Therapy acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today and emerging.  We acknowledge sovereignty was never ceded.

aboriginal and torres straight islander flags welcome to country