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My partner and I have been together a long time (or what I consider a long time—over three years). We now live together, and overall, I love our relationship. It’s filled with fun, love, and trust. There just seems to be this one hurdle that is continuously popping up: I am always the one initiating sex. 

I’ve told him before that it bothers me and he’s always open to listening, but alas, at the end of the day, it’s always me. I don’t mind taking control, but sometimes a woman just wants to feel wanted. I’m starting to think that’s just the way it goes, and I’ll need to work on accepting it more. But I can’t help but feel my ego take a hit. 

Am I wrong for feeling this way?

Hi—thank you for your question! Please allow me to start this response by getting up on this here soapbox; it will take just one minute:

To answer your question, “Am I wrong for feeling this way?” The answer is: no, no, (yells into mic) NO. Your feelings are entirely valid, and it is never wrong to want pleasure or want your partner to initiate sex. It is healthy and normal to want to be wanted and have preferences regarding how sex looks in our lives.

“Your feelings are entirely valid, and it is never wrong to want pleasure or want your partner to initiate sex.”

Society’s long history of sexual repression has often conditioned us to feel timid about our desire for pleasure and like we need to compromise when it comes to sex. For women especially, we’re sometimes made to feel like we need to tame ourselves to be more palatable, agreeable, and easier to deal with. And this can look like softening our voices when we express wants or needs to our partners, or as you noted, feeling like we just need to accept things the way they are. But we don’t need to accept things as they are, and we shouldn’t be made to feel this way.

(Steps off soapbox) Now that we have that out of the way, here’s how I suggest approaching this topic with your partner:

You’ve said you’ve talked to your partner about initiating sex, and he has been open to listening. But has he offered any reasons for why he doesn’t start sex more frequently? As you have been together three years and your relationship is filled with love and trust, I’m guessing you’ve had conversations about past sexual experiences (or non-experiences). But is it possible that there is a reason behind him not initiating that he isn’t sharing with you? Does he enjoy sex? Does he feel scared or insecure when making the first move? Is he tired or experiencing low libido? Does he know how to initiate?

These are all questions worth discussing—gently and in a safe space together.

“Sometimes people need specific instructions, too—especially if they feel inexperienced or aren’t sure how to meet another person’s needs.”

Shame is, unfortunately, something many of us have experienced when it comes to sex, pleasure, and sexuality. While I’m not saying this is your partner’s story, it’s worth considering that this may be something he needs to talk through, either with you, a professional, or a trusted friend, so that he feels more comfortable taking control.

Sometimes people need specific instructions, too—especially if they feel inexperienced or aren’t sure how to meet another person’s needs. Sex can be intimidating, even after years of experience. It could be that your partner doesn’t know where to start when it comes to initiating sex. If that’s the case, you and your partner may find it helpful to discuss what this looks like for your relationship. It could be as simple as saying, “I like when you begin kissing me in bed without having first to be prompted.” Or, “I enjoy it when I’m showering and you spontaneously ask to join me.”

Set some expectations as well, and agree together on guidelines for your next sexual encounter. Perhaps you both decide that you will have sex this week, and your partner is to be the one who initiates. You can go as far as to select a day or time and even offer simple instructions if you feel it will help. (“I’d love if you got into bed naked with me one day this week and lead us in foreplay.”) Then, at the end of the week, discuss how that experience was for the two of you. Conversations about sex don’t often feel sexy, but I promise they can help further intimacy and mutual pleasure.

I’d also recommend your partner read this list of ways to increase sexual pleasure, as many of the points offer suggestions for initiating spontaneous sex. Sex podcasts are another great place for ideas, and, honestly, they help get sex on the brain a bit more often! Thinking about sex can lead to wanting, and initiating, sex.

“Conversations about sex don’t often feel sexy, but I promise they can help further intimacy and mutual pleasure.”

Finally, my partner and I went to sex therapy a few years ago, which may also be something to consider. Therapy offers a safe space to talk with a professional about sex-related questions, big or small. I recommend talking with someone if it’s an option for you or your partner, together or separately.

Again, I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with how you are feeling. Your desires and needs are valid. You are allowed to ask for what you want, advocate for your own pleasure, and be concerned if those needs aren’t being met.

Further, the onus is not solely on you—you are only half of this relationship. You are not responsible for ensuring your partner initiates sex. The best you can do is ask for what you need and be a safe space for your partner as he learns and practices taking more initiative.

But if, after a while, nothing changes, I’d encourage you to have a more challenging conversation with your partner about how important this is to your relationship. You do not have to compromise on your wants or needs. And there is a difference between saying “let’s work on this together” and someone refusing to make an effort.

Sending you all the love and strength as you navigate future conversations with your partner. xx

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Kayti Christian (she/her) is a Senior Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people.