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How to make initiating sex easier

Written by Justin Lehmiller

As a sex educator, one of the most common questions I get asked about sex is, “How do I get my partner to initiate more often?” A lot of people also ask how they themselves can learn to initiate more or what the best tips are for initiating sex.

These questions aren’t unique to any gender or sexual orientation, they’re common across the board, but especially among those in long term relationships where the partners are no longer in the initial throes of passion. This suggests that many of us want more sex in our relationships, but we just don’t quite know how to make it happen.

So what can you do about this? Here are some tips to consider.

Do a check-in about your sex life

As a starting point, you may find it helpful to have a conversation with your partner about how things are going in the bedroom. Don’t make it confrontational or about placing blame on anyone. This isn’t an airing of grievances; rather, the goal is simply to see how each of you are feeling and figure out what you can both do to make your sex life more fulfilling and satisfying.   

This is an opportunity to try and pinpoint the reasons why initiation might be an issue, which will be helpful to know in terms of how best to address it.

As you have this discussion, keep in mind that before one can initiate sex, one has to want sex. So it’s worth stepping back and looking at whether there are any issues impacting sexual desire in one or both partners that may, in turn, be putting the brakes on initiation.

Sometimes, there are biological or medical factors that can lead to a drop in desire, such as a chronic health condition or sexual difficulty (e.g., painful sex, erectile dysfunction). Other times, there might be psychological factors such as stress or depression. And yet other times, there might be issues in the home that are spilling over into the bedroom, such as relationship conflict and childcare issues.

If you can identify factors that might be inhibiting desire, you can work to resolve them appropriately, which can open the door to more sexual initiation.

Experiment with different initiation strategies

There are a lot of different ways to initiate sex and research suggests that some strategies tend to be received more favorably than others. So think about the ways that you and your partner typically initiate sex and consider whether it might be worth switching up your technique.

In a study of initiation strategies among heterosexual married couples, researchers found that people reported a wide range of techniques, from verbal requests for sex to stripping down to physical touch. It turned out that some cues were more likely to lead to sex than others.

For example, people who reported use of nudity, such as coming out of the bathroom naked or undressing their partner, were the most likely to say that it led to sex, perhaps because these cues were recognized as initiation attempts 100% of the time. Nudity might also be successful because it unmistakably communicates desire, while also providing an arousing visual.

Direct verbal requests for sex were almost universally recognized as initiation attempts too, and while people said they were successful most of the time, they weren’t quite as successful as those who used nudity.

Physical touch, such as holding hands, pressing up against your partner, or crawling on top of them, was actually the least likely to lead to sex. This is likely because this cue was less likely to be recognized as an initiation attempt and sometimes had the opposite effect of what was intended; the partner found it irritating or annoying instead of arousing.

Initiate at different times of day

As you think about switching up your initiation techniques, you might also consider experimenting with when you use them.

For example, many people only initiate sex at night just before bed. However, if one of you initiates while the other is very tired, it’s probably not going to work out too well. So you might try initiating at different times of day. That could involve morning sex, asking your partner for an afternoon delight or making a move earlier in the evening. Sex doesn’t just have to be an activity reserved for bedtime!

Do a slow initiation

When people think about initiating sex, they’re often thinking about something they do that will lead to sex immediately. However, initiation can play out over a series of hours or even days. And if you slow-play the initiation process, you just might find the sex to be more exciting because there’s time for anticipation to build.

For example, you might start flirting with your partner early on a day you want to have sex by sending some sexts or leaving a romantic note or gift before you head off to work. Or maybe you’ll think about scheduling sex on Friday night and extending that flirting process throughout the week.

Remember that sex doesn’t have to be initiated spontaneously in order for it to be great. If you take some time to build excitement first, you just might find that it increases the excitement factor and the odds that both of you will be in the mood when the time comes.

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