Consider this: Any time you and your SO get intimate, someone has to be the “initiator.” You know — the one who makes the first move, whether that means seductively removing an article of clothing or whispering something racy in your ear. When bae takes on this role, it makes you feel desirable, and perhaps even loved. So, what if they never do? Is it normal if your partner dreads initiating sex? And if so, what should you do about it?
First off, it’s important to acknowledge that one person may tend to take on the role of initiator more often than the other, whether due to a higher level of confidence or a higher sex drive — and that’s totally fine. However, according to Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of “The Kurre and Klapow Show,” if your significant other actively and regularly avoids initiating sex, that can be a red flag that points to a deeper issue.
“Dreading initiation is more than preferring not to initiate,” says Dr. Klapow. “It means initiating sex is aversive for them. That could indicate fear of rejection, anticipatory anxiety about their ability to perform during sex, that they don’t see sexual activity as a fulfilling encounter, or that they feel obligated or guilty about not wanting sex. There are many possible reasons, but the fact that they dread it means this is more than a preference. This a negative experience for them. Not necessarily the sex itself – but the initiation of it. Is it problematic? Absolutely.”
That said, keep in mind that this issue does not in any way indicate that your relationship is doomed. It does, however, mean that you need to address it in an open and honest conversation.
“The biggest problem for most couples when it comes to intimacy of any kind is the ability to have meaningful, productive, direct communication — verbal communication around sex, intimacy, love, and romance,” explains Dr. Klapow. “The web of misunderstandings, misperceptions, and different interpretations of non-verbal cues creates a perpetual problem. When couples can learn to talk about sexual challenges, desires and frustrations, so many of the problems are mitigated. However, 90 percent of the time, poor verbal communication because of insecurity, frustration, embarrassment or lack of trust drives more and more problems.”
Ultimately, Dr. Klapow says it comes down to this: Can you talk about what’s going on in a way that your partner can hear and understand? And can you and your partner both honor the sensitive nature of the topic and be respectful and caring with the conversation?
As Dr. Klapow noted, there are many reasons why someone may be less likely to initiate sex. The hesitance to do so may stem from insecurities about their body, for example, or overall low self-esteem. A person’s libido can also be negatively impacted by mental health conditions, like anxiety, as well as certain prescription medications, particularly antidepressants. If a person is under a lot of stress or has had negative sexual experiences in the past, both of those factors can come into play as well. It’s also worth noting that initiating can put someone in a vulnerable position — especially if their partner isn’t in the mood.
According to Psychology Today contributor Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a resistance to sexual initiation may be linked to a lack of emotional closeness. So take note of other problems in your relationship, which may make your partner less inclined to initiate sex. For example, if there have been lingering trust issues, building resentments, or unresolved conflicts lately, those might need to be unpacked.
Since it’s likely just an observation at this point, the first step is to confirm that your significant other does, in fact, dread making the first move. Dr. Klapow notes that the only way to do this is by asking your partner about it directly. The key, he says is to bring it up in such a way that your partner feels accepted, loved, and heard.
“The number one rule when it comes to talking about intimacy if it’s something you don’t do as a couple regularly is to be gentle,” he adds. “Recognize that it may be awkward for both of you. Listen to their reasons for not initiating and remember that not being defensive is critical.”
Dr. Klapow advises asking lots of questions as opposed to quickly jumping to defend yourself or make assumptions. In addition to asking why they might dread initiative sex, be curious about how could you help the situation and make them more comfortable.
“Make sure the conversation includes how much you care for them,” how you recognize this is a tough conversation and how you want intimacy to be enjoyable for both of you,” says Dr. Klapow. “Tread lightly but push forward. You can’t fix this problem until you know why, how, and where it is coming from.”
Obviously, gaining an understanding of why your partner may be resistant to initiating sex is key. Once you get to the bottom of what’s preventing them from taking the lead, you can work together on overcoming this issue. Be compassionate, be patient, and remember: Your partner’s uneasiness around initiating sex may have nothing to do with you, so try not to take it personally. Still, while your behavior may not be to blame, how you behave while confronting this issue can have a major impact on whether they are able to overcome their dread. A willingness and eagerness to initiate sex requires feeling safe, comfortable, and confident — and that’s where your support will be crucial.