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What if I Don't Want to Initiate Sex?

couple not sure how to initiate sex

In sex therapy, it is common to have partners with mismatched libido - meaning, there is a gap between the couple's natural sex drives. One partner wants sex more; one wants it a bit less. This is completely normal. The issue, however, comes with how this couple manages the gap in their sex drive.

In some scenarios, the higher drive partner (which isn't always the male - just wanted to make that clear) will feel frustrated with the gap, BUT they will continue to be kind, responsive and patient towards their spouse. They will be collaborative in finding solutions. They will be open to alternatives. In other scenarios, the higher drive partner can act out of resentment. They may be emotionally manipulative or reactive, and will use temper tantrums or the silent treatment to communicate their discontentment. They may even become demanding or abusive.

On the flip side of the coin, you'll sometimes find a lower drive spouse who is aware of their lack of interest and very invested in finding solutions. Often times they may feel a sense of guilt (which we work through in therapy), but their main desire is to find a way to connect with their significant other. However, there are also instances where lower drive spouses are disengaged from all forms of sexual intimacy and unwilling to reignite that aspect of their relationship. They may be perceived by the other as being cold or not caring.

One thing is important to highlight when we are talking about couple dynamics. The labels "good spouse" and "bad spouse" are not appropriate metrics for understanding the nature of the issue. This brings me to the question posed in the title of this article: "What if You Don't Want to Initiate Sex?" And even more importantly, why don't you want to?

A high drive spouse may not want to initiate sex out of self-preservation. They are tired of being rejected over months or years, and have taken way too many significant blows to the ego. It's vulnerable to put yourself out there, only to wonder if you are attractive enough, desirable enough, good enough at sex (which is another myth, but we'll address that another time).

A low drive spouse may not want to initiate sex due to a lack of "fire". This can be physical (i.e. low testosterone, going through menopause, sexual dysfunction, etc.), pleasure-centered (not knowing what feels good or having extreme aversions), trauma-related, mental health related, or due to neurodivergence (such as ADHD, sensory processing disorder, autism, etc.). It may also be that this spouse is so overstimulated by the busyness of life that sexual connection seems mostly...uninteresting. A distraction. A task.

And furthermore, regardless of drive, partners may not want to initiate because they don't feel safe with the other person. There may a temporary emotional distance, or a chronic pattern of emotional disconnection that causes sex to feel transactional, objectifying, or simply incongruent with any sense of "love."

Or, there may be times where emotional safety is present, but one (or both of you) feels intimidated by the mechanics, pace, or patience required to figure out the joining of two different bodies and needs. They get don't want to disappoint them...they don't like what you like...all of the complexities of relational, intimate sex.

difficulty to initiate sex

What Stops You From Initiating Sex?

Can you relate to any of the above reasons? Is there another that comes to mind? If so, consider your answer to this question: "what would need to happen for me to feel open to initiation?" Now, you may be tempted to begin your answer with what you want your partner to do differently. While it's good to know what your partner can do to help the "group project" that is your sex life, we must balance this information by checking in with ourselves as well. What is something you can do differently - any tiny thing - that would give you the boost you need to initiate sexual intimacy.

For lower drive partners, I'd encourage you to consider sexual intimacy as all of the romantically- and sexually-charged expressions of connection that you share. It isn't just about intercourse. For many people, intercourse is not their favorite part of sex at all! This doesn't have to mean that you avoid sexual activity entirely, though.

For higher drive partners, you may be feeling that your spouse holds all the cards. They get to decide where/when/how/if you'll ever have sex. This can be incredibly frustrating for you. I hope that your significant other is willing to engage in conversations - or therapy- to learn more about themselves so that they can communicate with you. It may be worth doing a mental scan: can you remember any time your partner has told you about a need or preference of theirs (please note: it may not be sexual!) that would help them feel closer to you? Let's start there! If you can't remember any, definitely approach them with curiosity to ask.

I'll wrap up by reminding you: relational sex is a complex combination of multiple factors. This article did not cover all the potential contributing issues. Hopefully, you can read this and take it as an encouragement to dig deeper. Understand why the problem exists and what could potentially move it from its place.

Want more practical tools? Subscribe to the My Intimacy Therapist Podcast on Spotify and Apple Music!


about the author

Sade Ferrier, couples therapist and sex therapist in Atlanta, Georgia

Sade is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the metro Atlanta area specializing in couples and sex therapy. she also provides supportive dating coaching for singles in the United States and internationally.


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