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To Initiate Sex Or Not To Initiate Sex, That Is The Question

The first time I was turned down, I was devastated.

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Woman and man's legs touching, wearing formal clothing
Stephanie Rausser / Trunk Archive
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I’ve been feeling a bit confused lately about initiating sex. I’m not someone who tends to be indecisive, but this one has me slightly stymied. My preference would be to have sex often, and this is where my partner and I have a difference of opinion. The issue is that occasionally, but not often, when I initiate sex, he turns me down — and that has me questioning whether to make the first move or wait until he does.

I’ve spent most of my adult life believing that if women were to initiate sex, it was a sure thing. The first time I was turned down, however, I was unprepared for all the feelings that surfaced. I had believed, up until that point, that men were up and ready to go whenever we gave them the green light. Turns out, this assumption was inaccurate. I guess you could say I had an aha moment of perhaps understanding how men must feel when women shut them down after attempting to initiate sex. It feels really horrible, and it’s damn near impossible not to take the rejection personally or assign meaning to it.

In fact, the first time that it happened, I thought that he must be joking. Rejection is a serious gut punch to the ego, and my ego was down for the count.

First came shock and then anger. I thought, How could he not want to have sex? Don’t men want to have sex ALL the time? This belief had developed from conversations with a lot of my close male friends. It seemed to me that they were constantly complaining that their partners didn’t want to have sex as frequently as they did. I also had been told from women friends that men were always trying to initiate sex, so what was the deal? I was confused and clearly had an unrealistic expectation around this topic, which needed to be processed.

Of course, underneath my anger and after the rejection were hurt feelings and disappointment, and that triggered several insecurities. The thoughts in my head went something like this: He must not find me desirable or sexy anymore. This is the beginning of the end. He has lost interest. He’s bored. Maybe I’m not that great in bed. Who does he think he is?!! All my insecurities came right to the surface, so I decided to get curious. I started asking myself questions, such as, Are my expectations around frequent sex realistic? Perhaps that paradigm around men wanting sex all the time was inaccurate. Was I being too aggressive? Was my initiation of sex somehow emasculating, and should I wait until he made the first move? If I don’t initiate sex, will he think I’m not interested, even though I am?

I thought about why sex was so important to me. It was not only the feelings around connection, pleasure and passion, but also about the sense of aliveness I felt and the thrill of sexual exploration with my guy. All that dopamine being released by the brain is quite intoxicating! I had waited a long time to finally be comfortable with my sexual self, and I wanted to fully express it with this man whom I deeply loved, trusted and desired. I turned the rejection into a falsehood and assigned a meaning to it. That meaning was … that I was undesirable.

What I realized is that it takes a lot of courage, vulnerability and self-confidence to initiate sex, and my ego can be overly sensitive around that subject. If I don’t catch myself in time that ego protecting part of myself can project blame and guilt onto my partner, and that’s not how I want to show up in my relationship. Needy is not hot, and confidence is. My partner does not respond well to guilt as a manipulation tactic, and he gently calls me out whenever I’m feeling desperate enough to resort to it. I’m really grateful that he does, even though, in the moment, it’s tough to hear. Any type of manipulation is deplorable behavior, and I’m committed to keeping that in check. I know I absolutely cannot control him in that way, nor do I want to.

What I discovered is, the decision not to have sex with me didn’t have anything to do with all those thoughts or ruminations. The only thing that happened was that he had a busy day ahead, was late for work and he just didn’t have time. The man had other things to do, and he could “do me” later. Everything else was a story that the insecure voice in my head had made up, and none of it was true. I had taken the rejection personally. I had made it mean something that it didn’t.

When I saw him later, I had started to release that old belief that men never passed up an opportunity to have sex. I had also looked at my own expectations and my fragile ego, and all those insecurities were put to rest when he made it truly clear, through his words and actions, that he loved, adored and desired me. In fact, I’m proud to say, I didn’t even require his reassurance at that point, because I already had begun the transformational work myself.

As a result, I’ve found that I’ve reached a point where I’m not initiating sex quite as often, and I’m learning to be OK with that. I don’t want to be a woman who is afraid to initiate, but I’m also fully aware that my needs shouldn’t dictate our relationship, sexual or otherwise. I’m waiting for him to take the lead more, and I’ve stopped assuming that he’s always going to be ready and willing when I am. I have learned I don’t need to make a rejection for sex signify that I’m undesirable or even take the rejection personally. For us, it just means … let’s put a pin in this and revisit it later when we are both feeling it, because if I’m patient and check my ego, great sex is worth the wait — no matter who initiates it.