Who Should Initiate Sex & Why It Matters
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Who Should Initiate Sex & Why It Matters

Getting over the fear of making the first move is half the battle.


My life revolves around sex. Every day, I speak and write about intimacy online, but I can also say that I loathe initiating sex! It can be awkward, my partner and I aren’t always on the same page, and when I try to sound sexy, we both start cracking up! Honestly, I’d rather eat a jean jacket than bat my eyelashes and ask my partner, “Are you in the mood?” And yet, time and time again, I find myself sliding into something lacy and queuing up my "sexy time" playlist. Why?

Because nothing is better than feeling desired by your partner, and I love seeing the look on my man’s face when I step out in next-to-nothing. Don’t get me wrong, at least once a month, I have to hype myself up in the mirror, like Issa Rae, before heading to the bedroom.

If you want a thriving sex life, initiating sex is part of the work that has to happen to get to the action. But in my work as a sex educator, I often see that one partner tends to initiate more often than the other. And if you’re on this road, take the next exit, because you’re headed straight toward trouble! This creates a huge imbalance, putting the burden on one partner to be the person who makes sex happen and never gets to experience being deeply desired by their partner.

You may have also fallen into the cycle of feeling guilty or pressured to initiate sex (we’ve all been there at one point or another.) You certainly want your partner to feel desired by you, but the uncertainty of how to initiate sex stops you dead in your tracks.

When should I ask? What do I even say or do? Are they even interested in sex right now?

You must figure out what it is that sparks the hesitation in the first place.

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Fear of Rejection in Initiating Sex & How to Stop It

The truth is, we don’t like to hear “no.” Psychologist and intimacy coach Dr. Jacqueline Sherman says, “Many of my clients, particularly women, have a fear of vulnerability. They fear that when they ask their partner for sex, they may reject them.” Rejection is not fun, so you may find yourself sitting on the sidelines rather than taking the bull by the horns.

In heterosexual relationships, the problems go a layer or two deeper. “Some women say that because of how they’ve been raised, they feel like they shouldn’t have to initiate and they want their man to do it for them. They believe women are to be submissive and initiating sex would be them taking on a more dominant role,” Sherman explains.

But having one partner be responsible for initiating can be a disaster. “We know that when one partner is holding down the responsibility of initiating, they may become tired of it and eventually stop altogether. This is a perfect recipe for a dry spell.” When that partner gets tired of carrying that burden and taking on that responsibility alone, they may stop making sex happen.

The fear of rejection and desire to appear submissive is not limited to heterosexual relationships. Queer women experience some of the same fears and hesitations. Regardless of your partner’s gender, the hard pill to swallow is that we may need to get comfortable with rejection. There are going to be times that your partner is not interested in sex when you are. So how do we handle being told “not tonight” by our lover?

  • Re-frame rejection for what it really is: your partner feeling comfortable enough to be honest with you about their desires, which is never a bad thing.
  • Propose a different intimate activity. Sex may be off the table, but perhaps cuddling or a back rub are options.
  • Find a different time to have sex. Their “no” may not be a “no” for good. They may be interested in doing the deed a bit later.

Lack of Body Confidence & Its Impact on the Desire to Initiate Sex

Personally, not feeling like I know how to be “sexy” enough is my biggest block to initiating sex. I can blame the media and mainstream porn for that. All my life, I’ve been pummeled with messages of what “sexy” is, what it isn’t, how it looks, and what it sounds like. Truth be told, traditional ideas of sex appeal don’t fit me. “Sexy is whatever the hell you make it!” Sherman hollers to me over Zoom. “We have a narrow idea of what it means to be confident and sexy, it's time to create our own standards.”

Discovering what is authentically “sexy” to you and shedding society's expectations takes time and effort. If you are strategic and patient with yourself, you can see a shift in your perception of yourself. Clear your social media of all influencers, celebrities, or even friends who make you feel inferior or spark negative thoughts about your own body. It’s OK to mute, block and unfollow them.

Some small changes you can make to build your sexual confidence are:

  • Spend some time doing “mirror work” and saying affirmations to yourself out loud.
  • Invest in lingerie or at least undergarments that fit your body well and make you feel your best.
  • Music can greatly influence our mood. Create a playlist that brings out your inner sex goddess and play it whenever you need a boost!

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A Better Way to Initiate Sex with Your Partner

Sherman says we can always course correct, and no relationship has to suffer permanent damage. “We have to communicate. Make [talking about sex] an ongoing conversation.”

She shares that when talking about sex, consider three things: tone, turf, and timing. Be sure that your tone is loving and curious, never defensive or accusing. In terms of turf, location is also important, and selecting a neutral environment like the car or kitchen is preferred to the bedroom. As far as timing, she adds that you shouldn’t have these talks before or after sex, as this can be a vulnerable time for you and your partner. Aim to begin the chat at a time when stress is low.

A key question to ask your bae is, “How do you like sex to be initiated?” Find out if they prefer verbal cues, physical touch, or something more creative.

If you and your partner decide on verbal cues, consider being direct:

  • "Do you have time for sex right now?"
  • "How do you feel about heading into the bedroom with me?"
  • "Are you trying to get it in? Because I am."

For physical cues, try out:

  • Sitting on your partner’s lap and looking into their eyes
  • Offering them a sexy massage
  • Giving them a passionate kiss

And if you are a bit shyer, you can always go digital by:

  • Shooting them a flirty text
  • Sending out a calendar invite for some “quality time”
  • Sharing a voice memo detailing all the fun things you want to get into

Featured image by Getty Images

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