Who Initiates Sex in Your Relationship?

Who Initiates Sex in Your Relationship?

On this cloudy Thursday, let’s have some girl talk…

Alex and I have been married for almost seven years (our anniversary is next week). Like most couples in long-term relationships, there have been times when we’ve had frequent sex, and times when it has been more about newborns and 30 Rock reruns.

The other day, I was talking to a friend who was going through a dry spell with her husband and wanted to make a move. “We’ve fallen out of the ritual,” she told me. “Should I buy some lingerie? I feel like an awkward teenager.”

It made me think about my own marriage. Alex usually initiates. Even when we’re in more of a drought, he always somehow manages to leave the door open. He’ll flirt in a chill way. In a long-term relationship, I guess it’s more of a numbers game? You’ll make hundreds of moves, and sometimes your partner will take you up on it, sometimes not, and that’s all good. (And vice versa.) When you look at it that way, it doesn’t feel like a big deal if one of you isn’t in the mood.

At home that night, I told Alex I was impressed by his doggedness when it came to making out. “It’s like checking pay phones for change,” he said. “Eventually you’re going to find a quarter.”

What about you? Who initiates sex in your relationship? I’m curious to hear…

P.S. Scheduling sex, and did you have sex on your wedding night?

(Photo of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.)

  1. Xander and I have been together for a couple of years now. We both initiate, although he probably more often than I, and I know how important this is for both of us. It’s not necessarily a matter of frequency; it is more about knowing that your partner longs for you, sees you sexually and does not gradually become (only) a friend. This has been an issue in previous relationships of ours, so we are consciously taking care of the sexual aspect of us now.

  2. Okay, this is something that has been bothering me a lot lately. I have been 2 years (going to be 3 in Feb), we dated for 3 years before. Im from India and I live with my in laws. It’s a weird setting because their room is right opposite to ours. So our privacy is fucked, completely. In the first year, we did well, but after that things have been going downhill. We have really busy lives and on weekends, there is a pressure to spend time with the parents. Im 29 and my husband is 34. Whenever I try and initiate, he is mostly tired and wants to sleep. Lack of privacy has really taken a toll on our relationship. It has started to make me angry and I now don’t initiate either. There is always some kissing and stuff going on but not sex. Its frustrating me.

  3. Michelle says...

    My situation’s pretty different, but I thought it would be cool to share since I’ve enjoyed reading through about other women’s experiences.

    I have a pretty high sex drive, and I’ve definitely felt the pressure of needing to check off a certain number of times a week to check off the passionate couple box.

    One thing that’s really changed our sex life for the positive (we’re going on 12 years now, no kids) is opening up our relationship a bit. My male partner and I both dated the same woman for awhile and it was such a turn on. Sure yeah, there were three-ways, but it also helped us to open up about our desires and really made us even more comfortable and willing to try things and really take our time in the bedroom. The relationship with the third person has since ended, and with it our sex life has dipped a bit, but even still, we’re just comfortable and open in a way we weren’t before. My partner talks to me about his desires all the time now now and we flirt and have other kinds of physical intimacy with more frequency than we used to. Now we both initiate more.

    • Hi Michelle,

      It was inspiring to read your story!

      I have been together with Xander for years now and we consider keeping an open channel of communication when it comes to sex so important, we even started blogging about it! We both have full-time jobs, kids and hectic life-styles, but we insist on not neglecting our sexuality.
      At Couple of Secrets our aim is to write in a dignified, authentic way about all different kind of fantasies, as we have experienced them. Your story sounds interesting, would you care to tell us more about it? And who knows, if you like our blog, you might want to contribute with a guest post ;)

      Take care,

  4. Blair says...

    No one ;__;

  5. Jenna says...

    Hello all, token queer here! My girlfriend and I have been together for almost a year (we’re in our 30s/no kids). I am usually the person who initiates but that is mainly because I have a super-high sex drive and, between the two of us, I am the more blunt. ;)

    I think the problem with dry spells isn’t about sex as much as it is intimacy. I like taking the term “sexually active” to heart: while my gf and I only have sex 4-6 time per month on average, we are VERY sexually active. We constantly touch each other, kiss, send each other sweet messages throughout the day. I am always telling her how beautiful I think she is at random/unexpected times. We talk about our relationship a lot and discovered that we express our desire in different ways and we try to make sure that is clearly communicated so nothing feels one-sided. As women sleeping with women, sex is a bit different for us as well. It feels much less… self-centered because often one person is pleasuring the other & then we switch, as opposed to simultaneous genital stimulation. That really allows you to concentrate on making your partner feel good, focusing on only them without worrying about where your pleasure is coming from. Then when it’s your turn, you get to feel worshiped. It’s a great system.

    I recommend that anyone going through a dry spell (or just wanting to ramp things up a bit) should try talking to your partner. Ask them what makes them feel sexiest, what turns them on, fantasies, etc! I know a lot of you have been married/together for a while but maybe your partner’s feelings have changed. It never hurts to check in. Plus, it’s a huge turn-on (at least for me) when someone shows interest in my desires. Also, never underestimate the power of a teenage-style make-out session: all the sexiness with no sex required!

    • Lara says...

      I was so happy to see this. I commented earlier…I am also in a relationship with a woman but we are going through a dry patch. We’re affectionate and we cuddle up in bed but we seem to have stopped making that move to having sex. It’s breaking my heart and I feel rejected.
      I have tried talking about it but she hasn’t been very forthcoming. She just says I need to initiate sex if I want it and pointed out that she never refuses sex when I instigate it. But for me that’s not enough – I want to feel wanted too.
      She prioritises getting an early night for an early start at the gym over staying awake to have sex.
      I suppose ultimately I’m worried that she will say that sex with me is not important to her.

    • Ile says...

      It’s interesting how you differentiate the actual act of sex vs. being sexually active. My husband and I are the same way. We’ve been married for 8 months now, and while actual intercourse occurs in more or less the same frequency as you and your partner (4-6 times a month), he and I are very much sexually active in the sense that he’ll always give me a little spank on the butt whenever I get up from the sofa, or he’ll grab a breast for no reason at all, I’ll grab his butt whenever I get the chance. I think it’s important to keep that feistiness alive to foster intimacy. We’ve talked a lot about what intimacy means to us, and we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more a matter of communicating and just being together (cuddling, kissing, touching, playing) rather than actual penetrative intercourse, oral or hand play. I totally agree with you on this perspective.

  6. Marissa says...

    Love the diversity in comments! I’m currently in a sort-of not-really long distance relationship with my boyfriend… we live in different cities that are only two hours apart, so we try and see each other every weekend. This leads to a mutual, somewhat frantic have-sex-while-we-can mentality and we have lots of sex within two (sometimes three) days. It’s a pretty unusual schedule but I’m lucky that the problem of initiating sex hasn’t come up yet.

  7. Heather says...

    I think I have a different view to offer, here. My husband and I have been married for ten years, together for twelve. We’ve been dealing with infertility for several years, and let me tell you — it puts a damper on things. Regular, normal “a few times a week” style sex is kind of out the window. During ovulation times, you HAVE to have sex even if you hate each other’s guts right then, or you’ve missed your most fertile window for the month. The rest of the month is an every other day-ish affair. It’s exhausting and pretty much sucks the fun out of spontaneous, silly sex. I want a child so badly and it’s worth it, but this sort of routine is really hard on a couple.

    • Stephanie says...

      Heather – I battled infertility for 3 years; and I promise you that it gets better. Treat yourselves kindly – you don’t need any added stresses in your life!. Keep persevering – you will see the light at the end of the tunnel soon!

    • J says...

      Hi Heather, can totally relate especially to your comment about ovulation times. We tried for 4 years before we had our daughter through multiple IUIs. Something about him going into a cup in an office with adult materials and me receiving it with nothing to do with him that takes the romance and spontaneity out of things! Taking time together to rediscover the world outside of fertility treatment through things we mutually love (for us eating out, weekends away and checking out new cafes) made a difference for us. Hope for some lovely news for you soon.

  8. Jess says...

    This blog is amazing. I am one of the younger readers (25), and have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for over 5 years. I hadn’t had many relationships before him, and my libido was so much higher than his when we were younger. It bothered me a lot, and I often felt obligated to do it a certain number of times a week so that I could check that off the list of “doing my relationship right.”
    Now, I never force the issue, we have sex once a week (less than my old self would have liked), and it’s wonderful! Because there’s less pressure, we both feel more comfortable initiating, and the quality of sex is so much better.
    It’s hard to hear friends of mine at my age having tons and tons of sex, but I’ve come to recognize that this is my relationship and with less pressure, it makes me happier than ever.
    Has anyone else had a similar experience? Has anyone else felt obligated to have sex a certain number of times a week to meet some fictitious quota?

    • I felt the same way for such a long time, Jess! I thought that to keep my boyfriend happy we had to have sex every day/every other day at the beginning, I just thought that was the done thing so he would be satisfied with the relationship… until I found out (after a LONG conversation fuelled by wine) that he also felt that same pressure, to “satisfy” me multiple times a week, and also thought he had boxes to tick sex-wise! His libido is still a little higher than mine, but now we’ve gotten rid of that “got to do it all the time” pressure, the sex is so much better! So I really feel ya!
      (and I’m 26, also one of the younger readers I guess!) xoxo

  9. This is going to sound very weird, but I credit my IUD with the return of my sex drive after two pregnancies (both conceived while on the pill- wtf?!). After the terrible first few months where I didn’t stop bleeding, crazzzzzzy mood swings, headaches, anxiety attacks, I’m so happy I decided to give it another month because eventually everything evened itself out and I feel like my 24 year old self I was when my husband and I were first dating. I think we initiate equally now, no one ever gets shut down, and the intimacy and humor that comes with marriage and parenthood makes it so much better than it ever was when we were young, nubile, carefree, and much less squishy ;)

    • Meg says...

      The first couple months are *terrible*! It’s a good thing it’s inserted/removed in a doc’s office b/c that thing would have been out in week 2 if I could have done it myself. Glad I waited it out!

    • Becky says...

      This is incredibly nice to hear after all the bad reviews I’ve gotten from friends on the IUD. I’d love to go back to when my hubs and I first started dating!

  10. Sue says...

    Pregnancy and breastfeeding were the worst! LOOONG pregnancy dry spell. Since we are done with that (18 month old and 4 year old, together for 12 years), status quo is pretty sparse. I have been trying to read some smutty books (Outlander! YES.) for fun, it does help! I love the Vaginal Fantasies book group on Goodreads. I also try to think of sex like enjoying a meal together. We have to eat, so we enjoy meals together day after day. Sex is just something else we can enjoy together over and over. Like a lot of other ladies on here, I definitely initiate more, probably because he got tired of me saying no when I was pregnant/bf. Thanks, Joanna for the great post!

  11. aya says...

    There is a great book called “Make Love Like a Prairie Vole: Six Steps to Passionate, Plentiful, and Monogamous Sex” that I recommend to any married couple.

    The author, Andrew G Marshall, is a British therapist who relies on years of professional experience to help couples navigate many of the issues described in the comments section in an approachable, direct way. The book additionally offers a step-by-step approach for restoring intimacy to a marriage.

    • Thanks for the book recommendation. I’m going to check it out!

  12. Leah says...

    This is so helpful. My husband and I have been married for 6 years and at first he didn’t ever initiate, in part because the anxiety medication he was on was reducing libido. These days, he initiates more because I’m always tired and feel like it’s too much work. We intentionally try to have sex at least once a week, but I think he thinks that’s too little and that there’s something wrong with us, or maybe more specifically, me. Reading these comments makes me realize that it’s totally normal.

    • Blair says...

      Once a week would be incredible. Hell once a month would be incredible.

  13. Chloé says...

    I’m amazed by the way you American women can talk about sex ! I could never imagine such an intimate and funny post in France and so many wonderful and sincere comments ! I assume in our country, which is considered as the country of love and sex, there’s no place for dry spells and we never talk about it (even when we’re between girls)… So thank you for your work, your tone, Joanna, and for your amazing and honest comments, ladies ! I feel less alone now that I read them all :) thanks so much for sharing !

  14. Lucy says...

    Such a great array of comments here! And kudos to all you ladies for having the courage to share. I’d love to read a ‘highlights’-style post on the issues that have arisen here, with further comment/advice on these topics from a pro. There’s clearly an audience for it! :)

    For me, I’m married almost a year, together almost 10, with a whirlwind toddler of 2.5. Our last few years have been pretty dry with sex usually happening once every couple months (mainly initiated by me because I feel like we *have* to do it soon or it’ll be an even bigger issue!). My husband rarely initiates now, likely because he’s tired of being rejected. I’m a total type-a personality so find it hard to turn off my brain so getting in the mood is not easy. Add to that the fact I’m more of a morning person in this respect and having a toddler awake before 7am makes it even harder!

    I’ve also suffered with vestibulitis (causes vulval pain, especially during sex) due to taking the pill and thrush medication at the same time (don’t get me started on the ill effects of the pill, arghh…). And pain is the biggest turn off.

    My husband is the kindest, most loving guy who adores me, so I know I’m incredibly lucky. But sometimes I do want him to initiate, but then spend time on warming us both up properly, rather than just going full throttle. Although I can’t blame him really, as he must just be excited to even be doing it!

    I do worry that my attraction for him is waning because I’ve almost turned off the sexual side of myself. I also don’t make that much of an effort with my appearance as he always says I look beautiful whatever I’m wearing/what makeup I have on (I know, he’s a catch!). Don’t get me wrong, I like to look nice but I’m too lazy to go all out. Having said that, sometimes I feel he could make more effort with his appearance too, so it works both ways. When a dry spell has been a while, sometimes my sex drive comes back with a vengeance and I crave that fire you have at the beginning of a relationship that’s so hard to capture these days. But then I find my mood is so quickly ‘broken’ if he does something to annoy me… I sound so high-maintenance, ha!

    Anyway, thank you Cup Of Jo for the impromptu-self-counselling platform here in this comments section!! My plans are to look up some of the books mentioned here, turn off from social media more to lessen all the ‘noise’ in my head, try out a meditation app for that same purpose, and above all TALK to my husband about all this!! Thank you, ladies. You all rock.

    • zulejka says...

      It’s sad to read you turned your sexual side off. Sometimes I feel like that too, and it makes me sad and worried, so I do this: I read sexy books (like romance novels with a lot of erotic action;) I am especially fond of Lisa Kleypas and Stephanie Laurens, but there are many great authors out there, just about in any subgenre – like vampires? lumberjacks? Highlanders? Victorian era? Pirates? you name it;)) Another sexy thing for us: cuddlig on the couch watching a series (it has to be non-violent, and sexy ones get bonus points) and drinking wine or eating chocolate (or whatever gets your blod warmer;))

    • Lucy says...

      Thanks so much, Zulejka, for your kind reply :) a great idea, I’m definitely going to look up those authors. And I love that there a so many sub-genres, whatever floats your boat, eh!! I’ve downloaded a kinky story to my Kindle app once ages ago, but felt a bit weird covertly reading it on my phone… Maybe paperbacks are the way to go – and I guess that would be a sure signal for my man that it’s a good time to initiate! And the sofa cuddling is always a good one, we’re actually pretty good at that sort of intimacy so just need to let it progress from there more. (And yes to chocolate!) Thanks again :)

    • Dear Lucy,
      I could relate to some of what you are saying – I also have vestibulitis and you are so right, pain SUCKS the fun out of sex. I just wanted to share this with you, I was feeling so hopeless about it, but recently because of some pelvic floor stuff after the birth of my babies, I started doing pelvic floor therapy and as a totally crazy side effect, it has almost fixed my vestibulitis issues. Like, the soreness is still there, if I poke around for it, but training the muscles to work properly has made sex PAIN FREE for the first time in four effing years!!! It appears to be because the pain kind of trains our muscles to work involuntarily in ways that “protect” us, but in effect actually hurt us. Anyway… I just had to tell you this, because probably like you, I read everything and just felt like, shit, nothing is going to help, started to sadly close off sexually as well, and then… crazy. It worked. xoxox

    • Lucy says...

      Elena, that’s wonderful! So happy to hear you found a way through the pain. It seems like there’s so little medical awareness of it as a problem. I really had to fight to find the right consultant who even understood it was a thing. Will look into PF therapy, I had an episiotomy with my baby which added to the ‘fun’ (!) so that could help there too. Thank god for you kind, like-minded women of the interwebs!! You’re all lovely :) thank you x

    • Melliebay says...

      One thing I’ve done when I struggle with libido is to secretly start a ‘yes’ period where for however long (a month, a summer, a vacation) I decide to never turn down sex unless it’s for a REALLY good reason. I find that after a minute or two I’m always into it and it ends up being super fun. Plus in a weird way it takes the pressure off because I don’t worry about not being in the mood.