It was a late Wednesday night a few months ago. My oldest child, who’s 17 years old, was in my room. He was nervous and anxious about how to ask a girl in his class out on a date for one of the school dances. We brainstormed ways to ask her and he spent hours preparing a creative way to ask her. He was worried about how his asking would go, what she’d say in return, etc. It was kind of fun as a parent watching my son go through this, and in a strange way those emotions he was going through felt strangely familiar. 

Every sexual encounter requires at least one of you to initiate. Without SOMEONE initiating, there’s no sexual encounter.

Initiating sex can be a very powerful way to communicate love and desire to your spouse. Initiating is a powerful bid for connection. It’s a way of saying, “I want to connect with you.” Initiating can be very intimate and it’s very validating to be wanted sexually.

We’ve certainly had our struggles, and from many of the messages I receive from you, I’ve found out that I’m not alone! I’ve been thinking a lot about improving initiating sex for a while and thought this would make for a great podcast episode!

To prepare for this episode, I ran an informal survey of our Instagram followers to get a better idea of what other couples struggle with when it comes to initiating. The answers were enlightening and I saw several patterns in the responses. Just about everyone agreed that when initiating sex feels free, everyone benefits.

One pattern I noticed from the responses is that in many marriages, one person does almost all the initiating but wishes things were more balanced. 26% of the respondents said they don’t enjoy initiating sex while 80% said they LOVE IT when their spouse initiates sex. It feels really good to be wanted sexually, and when the burden of initiating feels one-sided (you feel like you’re the one always asking for it), it’s easy to wonder if the other person wants you in the same way.

Some other patterns I noticed were a lot of hesitancy to initiate out of fear of rejection. Others don’t like it when their spouse initiates because they feel pressure to say “yes” even if they’re not in the mood. Others feel pressure to perform when being asked for sex. In some marriages the person with the higher desire put all of the responsibility to initiate on the lower desire spouse thinking it would reduce the pressure surrounding sex, but all it did was shift the pressure from one person to the other – it didn’t actually solve any problems.

I figured it would be easy to talk about some tactics or tools such as “Schedule it” or “have some sort of physical item in the bedroom you both agree on to indicate you’re in the mood.” It would be fun to compile such a list and I’m all for methods that work for individuals! But prescribing a tactic without understanding the underlying reasons why initiating sex is hard is as absurd as an optometrist giving you a pair of her glasses without giving you an eye exam first to understand your eyesight better. 

Below are some ideas I found that might help you understand your self and your marriage dynamic better, so that you can find more freedom in initiating sex. And more initiation means more opportunities for great sex, which leads to a stronger marriage!

  1. Increase Your Intimacy Tolerance

The first idea I have around making initiating sex more free for you and your marriage is to increase your intimacy tolerance.

“What?” you might say. It doesn’t sound sexy at all to think that intimacy is something you tolerate! Let me explain what I mean.

The reason why initiating is hard is because sex is inherently intimate, and intimacy can be scary sometimes!

Intimacy is all about a desire to know the other person deeply as well as a willingness to be known deep down. Being known deep down is scary because it’s exposing: it’s opening yourself up to another person. 

Letting someone that matters a lot to you into your heart always involves some risk. Sometimes we prefer the safety and security of the status quo and not rocking the boat over the risk of sharing what we really think, want to do, and how we feel with our spouse. It’s scary to be honest and share our heart because there’s always a chance that they might not like everything they see. We like to be validated and the invalidation of our desires hurts.

So some marriages live beneath their privileges and stay small and by keeping things safe, at the expense of passion. This might also mean not initiating sex because of its inherent risk of being rejected. But anything of value in life involves some risk, balanced with relationship safety. 

People have sex up to the limit of the intimacy they can tolerate. Meaning, the quality of your sex life can’t progress beyond your current ability to be grounded within yourself while being more emotionally connected with your spouse.

I recently coached a wonderful couple that were stuck. They hit their intimacy tolerance limit and couldn’t figure out how to move past it. They were miserable.

What was frustrating to them was that not more than a year prior they made huge strides in their marriage and sex life. They were listening to podcasts together, working through past hang-ups, experiencing new things together, and growing closer together as a result. 

Then they hit a bump in their relationship. One spouse wanted more and the other person felt like they were just taking without giving or being considerate. In a short time it felt like they lost all that progress they made from the previous year. They each put up walls and both were hurt. The spouse that typically initiated stopped doing so, blaming the other person for stopping their forward progress as a couple. They wondered what was wrong with their marriage, especially after a few months of growth. They were still committed to each other and wanted help working through this.

There’s actually nothing going wrong with their marriage per se. It’s just that they hit a new limit to their intimate capacity as a couple. All they needed to do was figure out how they got to this point, make repairs, and then they could keep growing as a couple. It would take some courage on both of their parts to change some habits that got them into the bad cycle they were in.

Marriages are like a system; things happen in cycles. This was their cycle: one of them didn’t like to be rejected and disappointed. This person is used to excelling and getting what they put their mind to. When the other person felt like things were too much and needed a break, the first person took it personally as a rejection and withdrew. The withdrawal made the second person upset and offended, and they dug their heels in deeper to resist the first person’s advances. This in turn made the first withdraw even more, and so the cycle continued. 

The friction from the problems you face in your marriage are just exposing the limits of your capacity for intimacy as a couple. It starts to make more sense when you understand that your sexual desire problems or frustrations regarding initiating sex in your marriae are the result of the patterns and cycles operating in your marriage. However, sometimes you need a neutral 3rd party to help you see these cycles and patterns.

Through coaching this couple was able to become more aware of their cycle that was keeping them stuck. Once they could see the problem, they could see their way out of it. They each were courageous at changing habits that kept them stuck. In a few short weeks they were able to work through their issues and break through their current limits regarding intimacy.

  1. I have a choice

The second idea I have about making initiating sex feel more free is to remember that you always have a choice.

Sometimes we feel like we have to have sex when our spouse initiates. Or we feel guilty for saying no or guilty that we’re not in the mood. On the flip side, sometimes we hesitate to initiate because of past experience you won’t get a validating response.

There are many couples who had a lot of desire for each other before they were married, but once they were married, sexual desire dropped suddenly. Before they were married, sex was forbidden and there were no “shoulds”, so desire came easy. But now that they’re married, they’re promised themselves to their spouse and feel obligated to have sex. Some individuals exploit this sense of obligation in their spouse to get sex too. But obligation never creates desire or intimacy.

The solution is to remember that no matter what, you always have a choice. The deeper you can embrace the fact that you always have a choice in how you show up in your marriage, the more desire you’ll have and from that point you can enjoy initiating as well as being receptive to initiating sex.

The same goes for the person initiating. Pressuring your spouse to have sex with you out of guilt or obligation puts your marriage in a cycle where freedom is diminished. You might get “sex” but it won’t be what you really want: genuine connection. But it’s risky: to let your spouse fully choose whether or not to engage with you sexually will mean there’s a possibility that they won’t choose you.

I think the story in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast illustrates this well. The Beast realizes that Belle is the one person capable of breaking his curse. She has to fall in love with him though. At first, he tries to compel her to come to dinner or do things to make her fall in love with him. None of those methods work. Once he had the courage to get solid within himself and give Belle more freedom, their relationship blossomed. The critical part in the story was when the very last rose petal was about to fall Belle found out her father was in danger. The Beast let her go, risking staying stuck with his curse forever. But because this is Disney, Belle freely chose to return to defend the Beast of her own accord.

Now there are going to be times when you’re not in the mood but your spouse wants to have sex with you. Rather than flat out saying “no”, a stronger response might be, “I’m tired. The kids need baths. This laundry needs to be folded. I’m having a hard time getting there mentally. But perhaps you can assist with these things because that will help me have more mental space, and I’ll try to get there mentally and we’ll see what we can do.”

  1. The sex you’re offering

The third idea I have to giving you more freedom in initiating sex is to consider the kind of sex you’re offering.

When Emily and I went through our relationship renaissance a few years ago, I got really vulnerable and asked her what it was like for her having sex with me. I was afraid to know what she’d say. I wanted to know the truth, even if it hurt. But that’s a powerful question: what is it like for your spouse to have sex with you?

There are other times in our marriage where the kind of sex I was offering when I’d initiate wasn’t going to be great sex for her, so she had good reason to say no. These were usually times when I was needy for sex thinly disguised as a desire to connect with her, and she could see right through it from a mile away. 

There are many reasons why we engage sexually. It’s not always just about connection. Sometimes your spouse wants to have sex with you to try to make you feel a certain way. Sometimes they want to have sex with you out of fear that if they don’t engage sexually, you’ll stray. Sometimes the sex is very one-sided with little regard for the other’s pleasure or comfort.

Imagine what it would be like if the sex you’re offering is good – sooooo very good, you’d be crazy to turn it down – even if you know you have to get up in 4 hours! Sex at this level is far more than orgasms or mastering certain techniques or sex acts. It’s about bringing your whole heart to the encounter. It’s moving. The meanings involved are full of passion, cherishing, and adoration. It’s when you make love with your whole heart, not just your body. 

Part of offering good sex is to get better at understanding where your spouse is at. For sake of the example, let’s say there’s five levels of sexual interst. Level 1 is “no interest at all”, and level 5 is “do me now.” You might be at a level 3 or a 4 at a particular moment, but your spouse is at a 1 or a 2. If you approach them like a 3 while they’re at a level 1, it’s not going to go over well.

A better approach would be to get a sense of what level they’re at and invite them to go up one level with you.

One of our favorite lines we learned from a sex therapist is to ask, “What sounds pleasurable to you tonight?” This is about meeting each other at their level. This sets the expectation that sex may or may not happen, but if anything, we want to engage in helping each other level up from where they are. Sometimes this means I get to brush Emily’s beautiful hair. Sometimes this means watching a show or talking about our day without distractions. Sometimes this means going on a evening walk. Or sometimes something more intimate. 

  1. Understanding Desire Patterns and how to get more desire. Think about it intentionally.

The fourth idea I have for you about finding more freedom in initiating sex is to get educated on sexual desire patterns.

A few days ago I coached a couple where the husband wanted sex five times a week. The wife? Not so much. This difference in desire was causing friction in their relationship. He thought about sex all of the time, and thought something was wrong with her that she didn’t think about it as much. He took it as a rejection of him.

The truth was she liked sex when they had it. It was fun and pleasurable for them. But she just didn’t think about it as often as he did.

In the book Come As You Are by Dr. Emily Nagowski, a sex educator and researcher, she explains research around sexual desire patterns. You may have heard of them: spontaneous and responsive desire patterns. She says about 75% of men and 15% of women experience sexual desire that feels more spontaneous, where they can go from idea to desire very quickly. The husband in this case experiences spontaneous desire. By the way, this is the desire pattern that’s often depicted by female roles in movies but the reality is the vast majority of women don’t experience that spontaneous desire for sex.

What’s more common for women, and some men, especially those in long-term committed relationships, is responsive desire. Being one with responsive desire is actually really good. It’s not a curse at all. It’s a terrific way of relating to your sexual desire.

Responsive desire pattern is where desire for sex shows up after you’re already engaging in something arousing or erotic. It’s like not realizing how hungry you are until you have a delicious meal in front of you. You weren’t thinking about food until you started eating. You take a taste and then your body says, “oh yeah, I want more of that.” 

If you’re the one with a responsive desire pattern, this may mean you need to put more mental effort into desiring sex, or at least a willingness to go there. 

I like to run. But frankly, some mornings I don’t feel like it. But I put on my running clothes and shoes anyway. At first I need to mentally will myself out the door. But once my body starts moving and loosening up, it feels great. When I’m done with my run, I’m glad that I ran and wonder what the issue was in the first place 🙂 

I know a woman that intentionally put alarms on her phone to remind her periodically to think a sexy thought. She purposefully listened to content that got her thinking more about sex. She decided to make “going there” mentally a priority for her, and her body followed suit.

There’s a problem that I see often that you should be aware of, like one couple I coached a while ago. In their marriage, she had the higher desire /  spontaneous pattern while her husband was responsive and lower desire for sex. She decided that initiating sex is full of rejection and hurt. She wondered if she was sexy enough for her husband and took his lack of sexual interest in her personally. She craved that he would just initiate more often and want to engage in more foreplay. Out of frustration, she decided to stop initiating altogether. She thought if she stopped initiating, her husband would step up and fill the void. She thought he would realize what he’s missing and will start engaging.

But things didn’t work out that way. Remember, he’s more responsive when it comes to sex. He doesn’t easily think about it unless something sexually arousing or erotic is going on. She’s going to be waiting a very long time. 

Of course he could make an effort to intentionally think about it more often and put his mind to it, trusting his body to follow after. And to be fair, both of them have a part to play in the dynamic they’ve co-created.  But without changing the system or cycle their in, it’s a mistake to think that her husband would all of the sudden start initiating more because she stopped.

Sometimes couples will intentionally tell the lower desire spouse that it’s all on them to initiate. The higher desire spouse is sick of the pressure to initiate and risk getting turned down. So they think that if the one with the lower desire is responsible for initiating, the one with the higher desire will always say “yes”, so there’s less chance of rejection. The higher desire spouse think it’s a virtuous move because he hates asking for sex when she’s not in the mood, thinking he’s making her feel bad or pressured to give in out of duty or obligation. They figure if she just initiates when she’s in the mood, they’ll avoid hurt feelings.

In the short term, this might feel great. The lower desire spouse finally thinks they’re free from the obligation of responding to the higher desire’s sexual overatures. They might think that they have total control now over when sex is going to happen in the relatoinship. However the spouse with higher desire sits back wondering when the lower desire spouse will initiate. It might be days, weeks, or months without the lower desire spouse initiating at all. He’ll wonder what’s going on and get upset that their new agreement isn’t working. 

What’s really going on in this situation is it’s not actually solving any problem. It just shifted it from one person to the other. It took the pressure to initiate off of the higher desire and transferred all of it to the lower desire spouse. And when you feel pressure to perform sexually, it’s the opposite of feeling free. It feels more like the brake pedal is being pressed. This further dampens any sexual desire to initiate. So it’s easier to not initiate at all. 

A better solution would be to work together to address the underlying causes of frustration for initiating sex and desire differences in the relationship. It will take courage to realize both people play a part in the dynamic they’ve co-created. It’s so easy to point the finger to one person, but that just masks underlying issues. Both people in the relationship always play a part. 

From there you can find ways to reduce pressure rather than transferring it from one person to the other. You can get creative here. 

Creative Ideas to Initiate Sex

Okay, now let’s talk about some Black Belt Initiation Tips. Let’s say you’ve worked through your issues around initiating. You’re ready for more intimate and heartfelt connection. The sex you’re offering is awesome and your encounters are heartfelt and full of fun and deep meaning. You’ve worked out your desire pattern styles and found ways to reduce negative pressure for sex in your relationship.

So, how do you make initiating sex more fun?

Here are 10 ideas you can try!

  1. Dance in the kitchen

Turn on some romantic music, take your spouse by the hand, and start dancing! It’s romantic and breaks up the monotony of kitchen chores, especially if the invitation to dance is unexpected. If you need some music options, you can go to YouTube and search “romantic music”.

  1. Give a massage

    Romance and relaxation usually precede great sex. So what can you do to help your spouse relax while enjoying some romance? Why not help your spouse relax by offering a massage!

    Not sure how to do it? Check out http://couplesmassagecourses.com/couples-massage-videos/?afdeet=125 for a fantastic resource on how to give your spouse a wonderful massage.
  2. Schedule it: make an appointment

    You make appointments to get your hair done, visit the doctor or dentist, and other important things in your life. Why not schedule sex on the calendar too? In fact, if you both use electronic calendars, such as Google Calendar, send your spouse a calendar invite. They’ll get a notification for the steamy event too 🙂
  3. Write a sticky note and hide it where they’ll find it

    Write that you’re in the mood on a sticky note and hide it where they’ll see it later: on the bathroom mirror, in their car, or my favorite: under the lid of the toilet seat.
  4. Clean the bedroom

    The suggestion to clean and tidy up the bedroom may sound super unsexy, but hear me out. There’s something special about stepping into a clean room that puts your mind at ease, helping you relax. It can also be a great way to express love and desire for the other person!
  5. Offer to brush her hair or massage his scalp

    Many women say they like it when their husbands brush their hair. Men like their scalp massaged too. It’s relaxing and feels great, and quite affectionate.
  6. Take the initiative to schedule a date night, including finding a babysitter if needed

    When my wife and I were in our earlier years of marriage, getting out of the house together regularly on a date was very difficult. Finding a babysitter, an activity we could afford and enjoy, and dealing with busy schedules with work and other obligations made it easy for us to skip date night. But precisely because of the sacrifice it took for us to pull off our date nights made them more precious and valuable to us. Scheduling a date night is a great way to initiate sex because it’s a way of saying the other person matters and that they’re worth the effort and time to be a couple.
  1. Share the mental load

    There’s an often invisible, never-ending list running through many women’s minds. It can include little things she’s keeping track of, such as laundry, kids projects, shopping lists, and more. This mental load adds constant pressure to her sexual availability as well. Offer to take over chunks of things about living together so that you share the load. For example, take over the laundry or shopping or kid’s schooling burdens. See Get Your Marriage On! Podcast Episode #50 for more on this topic: https://getyourmarriageon.com/50-sharing-your-load-with-dr-morgan-cutlip/

  2. Send a steamy text

    A text message is a great way to get the engines going. For ideas on steamy texts, check out the Just Between Us app (https://getyourmarriageon.com/justbetweenus/)
  3. Invite your spouse to shower with you

    Or surprise them by hopping in the shower with them! Offer to soap them up and be sure to have lots of touching! For extra credit, get some silicone, shower safe lubricant that you keep in the shower for those spontaneous steamy sessions.

If you’d like more suggestions, we wrote a mini-ebook about initiating sex with over 100 creative ideas. You can find it by going to Get Your Marriage On dot com and go to Products -> Guides To Better Sex.

Thank you for listening. Please share with your friends. They’ll thank you for life.