One of the most common problems that bring long-term couples into therapy is that of initiating intimacy. According to Rachel Sussman, a marriage counselor in New York City, one of the most common reasons that couples come to couples therapy is differing sex drives and opinions on how to initiate sex.
If you’re tired of initiating intimacy, just know that it’s a normal problem almost every couple faces at some point in their relationship. In addition, know that with some communication, creative thinking, and problem solving, you and your partner can get back on the same page about your intimate life.
Initiating Sex: Starting the Conversation
When you discover that you are getting tired of initiating intimacy, it may seem like the problem is pretty straightforward. What’s the problem? Why, initiating intimacy, of course! However, there are a variety of root causes as to why this problem may be coming up, particularly around certain times in your relationship. There may also be ways in which you and your partner have stopped communicating and started making assumptions about things that are going on in the relationship. Before you get hasty and start thinking that a drastic solution is needed or that your current situation will never change, work on identifying how you feel, how your partner feels, and how things could be different. Then work on finding a path to get there.
According to Dr. John Moore, PhD, being constantly rejected or feeling like you continually have to initiate sex with little or no response from your partner can manifest in boredom, resentment, frustration, shame about your body, or thoughts that who you are is not good enough. He explains that while these are all normal reactions to this common problem, in order to find a solution, it’s important to put aside any assumptions. This leaves lines of communication open so that you and your partner can start a healthy dialogue with the goal of solving the problem.
There are some common reasons that your partner may not be initiating sex, many of which have nothing to do with you. Maybe they’re feeling badly about their body, perhaps they are stressed, or maybe they’re not feeling confident about their sexual skills. They may even be feeling in a rut in the bedroom just like you, but don’t know how to communicate it.
In addition, there is a lot of misunderstanding about how desire actually works. In fact, there are two different types:
- Spontaneous desire happens when you get turned on in anticipation of a sexual act
- Responsive desire happens when you get turned on in response to a sexual act.
It’s therefore very possible for that you and your partner might have different primary desire styles. Both spontaneous and responsive desire styles are healthy and normal, and both can work as long as you communicate.
A variety of medical factors can also reduce libido, and none of them have anything to do with you! Make sure to rule out any mental, emotional, or physical health reasons that might be affecting your partner’s sex drive before making any assumptions about why you are always the one initiating sex.
Ask “What Do You Want to Be Different?”
After looking at and considering some common reasons why your partner may not be initiating sex, it is a good idea to keep putting aside your assumptions and ask yourself what you want to be different about the intimacy you share with your partner. Dr. Moore suggests asking yourself these five questions:
- What could be different with intimacy?
- What are your partner’s assumptions?
- What are the patterns?
- What’s your definition of intimacy?
- What’s not being communicated?
These questions force you to think about things like when the last time was that you held hands or offered one another a genuine compliment. Questioning your partner’s assumptions isn’t about being suspicious of them, but objectively being curious about whether you are sending out a vibe that might make your partner feel unattractive or communicates that you’re not in the mood even when you are. In just these five questions, you can find out some new information that may be critical in helping to find ways to initiate sex.
Redefining intimacy for your relationship is also important. Perhaps you don’t always need to have penetrative sex with your partner. Maybe you can spend some time making out, cuddling, taking an intimate shower or bath together, or even just having long conversations together about things that aren’t real-life related.
Looking for patterns is a good thing to do, too. If you have always been the one to initiate intimacy, perhaps this is a pattern that you now want changed. Nothing is set in stone, and that includes relationships. Finally, ask yourself what’s not being communicated. Practice praising your partner when they do initiate some kind of intimacy, so that they know that their efforts are appreciated.
Asking the Right Questions
Dr. Petra Zebroff says that many couples don’t actually think about the initiation question the right way. Zebroff explains that the initiation question isn’t just about how to start sex, but is about how to initiate sex so that your partner also wants to have sex. You want your partner to have as much buy-in to the sexual encounter as you do.
No one has good sex when they can tell their partner is just going along to please them. After a while, this might turn into a complex of feeling tired of initiating intimacy, or they might start wondering how to initiate sex without fear of rejection.
Dr. Zebroff says that a lot of people assume incorrectly that they know how their partner wants them to initiate sex. “Your partner may be rejecting your advances not because they don’t want to have sex with you, but because they don’t want sex initiated at that particular time or in that particular way.” She warns not to rely on outdated gender roles in thinking about how to initiate sex, because people are individuals who don’t necessarily conform to preconceived roles.
Dr. Zebroff recommends asking questions to suss out your and your partner’s sexual initiation styles. These questions include “Would you rather be asked or touched?” “Would you rather be approached subtly or directly?” and “Would you rather be surprised or see it coming?” After reflecting on and having a conversation about these questions with your partner, try incorporating their answers into how to initiate sex with your husband or wife. Take score-keeping off the table, and practice taking turns initiating sex.
Ways To Initiate Sex
Once you have started the conversation with your partner about how to initiate sex without fear of rejection, you might be looking for some new ways to initiate sex. There are a variety of creative ways that you can use if you want to know how to initiate sex with your partner. Some of these include sending text or voice messages ahead of time, scheduling sex dates, and suggesting a new position or toy to bring to the bedroom. Below, experts break down how to start sex without being awkward.
How to Initiate Sex With Your Husband
If you’re looking for ways to initiate sex with your husband, men have some suggestions. Take control of the sexual situation — maybe even buy a sexy costume or toy and bring it to the bedroom. Role-playing can be a super fun way for you both to get in the mood and also mix up what you normally do. Other things you can try include cuddling naked, seducing him, or getting "touchy feely".
How to Initiate Sex With Your Wife
If you’re wondering how to initiate sex with your wife, women suggest increasing non-sexual and physical touch, even during times where sex isn’t on the table. Also make sure that you’re focusing on her during sex so she knows she is truly desired. It’s important not to expect sex just because she’s your partner. If you two have busy lives together, also consider scheduling a regular date night.
Initiating Sex Without Being Awkward
If you’re the partner who doesn’t usually initiate sex but want to try it out, you might be wondering how to initiate sex without being awkward. Many people might feel shy about initiating sex, especially if they’re not used to being the one to initiate. First off, it’s important to remember that most couples have different levels of desire and differing sex drives, both of which are completely normal.
If you’re new to initiating sex or simply not used to it, here are a few suggestions:
- Start out with subtle touching, maybe your partner’s knee or thigh.
- Set up your bedroom to be a sexy, cozy place that is primed for intimacy. Try sensual sheets and blankets, candles or low lighting, or even some sexy artwork.
- Try out a new sexy hobby together, like dancing or cooking.
- Make sure to add a bit more foreplay into your time with your partner so it doesn’t feel like you want to hit and quit it.
No matter what you do, it’s important to keep the conversation about your sex life with your partner open and active.
When to Seek Outside Help
Sometimes the issue of initiating sex, or other issues with your sex life, can be indicative of bigger problems. When you can’t solve the problems in your relationship with your partner on your own, before you consider separating, you may consider looking for a couples counselor.
You should especially consider seeking out a couples counselor if physical intimacy becomes a problem, if you’ve stopped communicating, if you no longer feel like you have any emotional intimacy, if you’re unable to have any functional conflict, or if something feels wrong but you can’t put your finger on it.
Note that it’s totally normal for relationships, especially long-term relationships, to go through high and low points. Major transitions such as having a new baby, hormonal transitions, changes in careers, or moves can put stress on a relationship. However, with a little bit of work and a little bit of outside help, you can usually work through these challenges if you and your partner are open to change.
Ways to Prevent Boredom
If you’ve been with your partner for a long time, it’s pretty normal to experience a bit of boredom now and then. Most couples get into some kind of routine that feels easy after a while but can also be tough to break out of. While this mainly affects day-to-day life, it can also come up in the bedroom, which is why many people might end up feeling tired of initiating intimacy.
If you want to know how to initiate sex in a relationship and prevent boredom, try new things, such as making a “sex bucket” list of sexual things you’ve always wanted to do or try. Mark things off as you try them. Try out new positions, toys, or costumes; go on a vacation where you can just focus on each other; and most importantly continue communicating so that you both feel like you’re on the same page.
Initiating sex can feel overwhelming, but taking turns is always a good strategy to start you off on a new road in your sex life.