I think a lot of spouses are scared of initiating sex and I think that fear exists on all sides: high drive, low drive, husband, wife, they may have different reasons for being scared, but I think many of us are scared of initiating sex with our spouses. This is sad really, and there is a skill to counter it that I hinted at briefly in my post about Valentine’s Day. So, today I’m going to try and tackle this. I’d love to know other people’s results, because I have only my own to work with. As usual, Christina (my wife)’s comments in purple.
Why are we scared of initiating sex?
So, first off, why are we scared of initiating sex? I don’t know everyone’s reasons, but I can guess at probably the majority.
High Drive Spouses
For high-drive spouses, this fear of initiating generally comes about because they get rejected. Being rejected hurts, and so, eventually, we naturally build what is really a fear of rejection. When most initiations are responded to with rejection, it becomes harder and harder to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try again the next time, knowing that there is a better chance of being rejected than of being received. And for those spouses who don’t understand why it’s a big deal, why rejection hurts. I’d like to offer up my post Is There A Good Way To Tell Your Husband “No Sex Tonight”? to try and explain why it hurts.
Low Drive Spouses
Now, this one is a bit more subtle. I think for many, it boils down to one of two things (or perhaps both): guilt, or lack of practice. Particularly in the case of refusing low-drive spouses, I think, on the occasions where they want to have sex, they end up feeling guilty, or they are worried that their spouse will question them, and it’s an uncomfortable topic that they often don’t want to talk about. Another reason, I think, is that there is also a fear that they will do it wrong. I’ve heard this called the Christmas Principle. Christmas is often a disaster, because it only comes up once a year, and everyone has high emotions. So no one gets to practice often and everyone is on edge. Whereas most people can pull of a regular dinner, because you practice that nearly every day. So, initiating sex, when you rarely initiate sex, is frightening, because it has a strong emotional impact. It feels weird, and you feel ashamed, and self-conscious.
What’s the solution to being scared of initiating sex?
Well, the solution is simple, but difficult. This is an advanced skill people. Basically, initiate more, initiate fearlessly, and be content regardless of the outcome. This is incredibly hard to do, especially when you aren’t having much sex, or when you are getting rejected left and right, because it requires switching your mindset instantaneously depending on the response. It requires that you initiate with full confidence, fully expecting sex to occur, and then, if it doesn’t, to immediately change to be content with the fact that it didn’t, but if it does, you need to be fully engaged as if you always expected it to happen. I remember times as Jay trying to learn how to do this, and having some nights where he was disappointed that I just didn’t have the energy, and he just didn’t realize how tired I was. I could FEEL the disappointment without him saying a thing. This always makes me think of Philippians 4:11.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” – Philippians 4:11
Now, Paul was not writing about sex in marriage at this time, but I think it still applies. We are to strive for the kingdom of God, expecting it to happen. We are to evangelize, expecting conversion. We are to pray to God, expecting miracles. And if they don’t happen, we should immediately switch our frame of mind, and be content with the outcome. In fact, we are told that it is our faith that will move mountains. God can move mountains at any time, but it is our belief that He can that makes it happen.
While I understand this is going to be a stretch for some (I’m sure someone will accuse me of twisting scripture to suit my needs), I believe this has applications in married sex as well. Here’s what happens:
First, we initiate, believing sex will happen. This leads to a perception of confidence (whether or not it actually exists), because that is basically the definition of confidence: expecting a good outcome. Don’t you find it’s a lot harder to say “no” to someone who is confident? Well, I find this same principle works when initiating sex within marriage. Confidence (or perceived confidence) increases the chance for sex (note: doesn’t guarantee it). It’s a lot like faith that moves mountains. We COULD have sex every night, but it is our faith that it will happen that increases the chances of it actually occurring. Now, this has to be done in a particular way. It can’t be with the attitude that we are owed it, that our spouse better pay up, or that it is their responsibility to please us. Instead, we have to come with the attitude that our spouse loves sex and wants to have it all the time, and that can be really hard to do when all the evidence is stacked against that belief. As well, it needs to be initiated in a way that assumes it’s a fore-gone conclusion.
So, an example: If my wife asks “What do you want to do tonight?” My answer “Well, let’s get the kids to bed, then work on this week’s blog post, then some sex, then sleep.” And then I think to myself, “Then we better get started on those things quickly if that’s gonna all happen.”
Even if I’ve been getting signals all day that say “no sex”, I’m still going to work on the assumption that we’re going to have sex, and that she wants it.
Another example: My wife asks me to get her something. I don’t mind helping, and I’m not doing anything crucial, while she’s confined to a chair breastfeeding our youngest. So, I get it, hand it to her, she says “Thanks”, and I respond “No problem, you’ll make it up to me later.” And I grin back at him thinking about what I’ll do for him later. It’s all in the attitude.
The key here is to keep it light and fun. It’s a joke, without being a joke. I full expect that she will “make it up to me”, but even if she doesn’t, I still would have gotten it for her. But, it also plants the idea in her head of my expectations. Assuming there is nothing seriously wrong with the relationship, putting the idea of sex into your spouses head is generally not a bad thing. And sometimes it doesn’t happen, but sometimes, she comes to bed and says “So … I believe I owe you something”. Of course, she’s smiling. It’s not a real debt to be paid, just a game. But the prizes are fantastic. Also, it “gives her an excuse”. As I said, it can be hard to initiate for a low-drive spouse, but, this game sort of gives her an excuse, it’s a way of tricking her brain into not having a choice, so she might as well enjoy it. It can be hard to play the game when you know your brain is being tricked sometimes, but like I said, it’s all in the attitude.
So, next is the actual outcome. What do we do when we are in bed, both naked, and our spouse clearly indicates they aren’t up for sex tonight. Something like “I’m way too exhausted to have sex tonight.” I’m not talking about a normal “I have a headache” excuse, but a real, valid one. Here is where the real test is. Because, now we have to actually be content with not having sex, and that can be really hard to do. Honestly, I don’t quite pull it off, but I’m getting better. It wasn’t that long ago that I would be devastated by being rejected, even if for valid reasons. I would feel that I had been betrayed, or misled, or a promise was broken. It hurt, because I felt lied to and abandoned, that my feelings were not being met, cared for, nor cared about. We can get into this endless self-pitying cycle in our minds about how mean our spouse is, and how much we deserve sex, and how unfair it is to be refused. And that’s where I FEEL him slipping into that place of feeling bad that it’s not what he wanted/expected, and I feel really guilty about it. I tend to then blame myself for sex not happening that night. It’s got to be someone’s fault (No it doesn’t). I have really struggled with the whole gatekeeper thing. Someone has to be in control of the decision of whether or not sex is happening.
Instead, we have to reverse that cycle. Remember that our spouse loves us and cares for us. Remember all the other indicators that let us know that they do care about our feelings, needs and wants. Recognize the difficulty they are in, and what is causing them to say “not tonight.” It gets easier with practice, and hopefully the frequency will increase slightly, making it easier again because it’s easier to be content with no sex that night if the next occurrence is a day or two away at most. Since it has only happened twice that I can remember where Jay was too tired when I initiated, I just want to say that I do try very hard to “make up” for it the next day/night. Trying to reinforce that I wasn’t trying to “get out of it” like I used to.
But this reversal, this being content, if it is genuine (or at least you genuinely want to be) can have a fairly large impact on our spouse as well. If we whine, complain, sulk, detach, etc. when sex is turned down, then our spouses feel guilty, or that we only want them for sex, or frustrated by the events. This associates a negative feeling with sexual initiation, which is the last thing we want. So, instead, if we react with patient, loving understanding, this will leave a good feeling about initiating sex, so when we fearlessly initiate sex next time, our spouse won’t feel scared of us initiating sex in return. Plus, it’s a time to inject yet another initiation for tomorrow.
Christina – I’m sorry, I’m just too tired tonight, and I really need to sleep.
Jay – No problem, I can wait until morning.
Christina – Grinning, “I’ll do my best”
Now, morning sex with 4 young children in the house rarely happens (but it does occasionally), so, we go back to the same cycle:
- Initiate fearlessly, assuming sex, not in a “you owe me sex” sort of way, but in a “my spouse loves to have sex with me” sort of way
- If we get rejected, take it gracefully, understand our spouse’s situation
- Initiate fearlessly, assuming sex
Of course, if our spouse responds positively to our initiation, we have to not act with surprise, or shock, or like we won something. We have to respond as if we always knew it was going to happen. This will make it easier for them to respond positively the next time around.
It is hard to do this, to maintain that frame of mind that our spouse wants us, that they desire sex as much as we do, and yet not be disappointed when the evidence clearly says they don’t. It is uncomfortable at first, to initiate fearlessly, it will and it will not feel comfortable for the first bit. But there is an interesting cycle that occurs.
The first time it works (when we normally wouldn’t have had sex), we feel like we won something (though it’s important not to show that). This triggers a dopamine response, and actually starts to rewire our brains in minute ways. So the next time, it’s just a little bit easier. The next time we are a little more confident, and so our chances improve slightly again, and, again, our brains rewire slightly. And it keeps going until we are initiating multiple times a day, rejections fall off of you like water off a duck’s back, not hurting at all, but having sex more frequently and having better sex than before.
I think also, part of it is the attitude, when you initiate all the time, it’s more of a mindset of playfulness with your spouse. It really helps you focus on what’s fun and your mind away from thinking of reasons why you can’t tonight. Instead you start planning how you can make it happen.
Is sex all you care about?
While this sounds like it’s all about sex, and getting more sex, there is a lot more to it than that.
- It will make your marriage more playful.
- More sex generally leads to a deeper emotional and spiritual connection as the physical connection increases.
- Less hurt feelings about rejection mean more positive feelings persist.
- Often we hide our sexual desires so much that it cannot help but create a rift in our marriage, as anything we don’t share does. By initiating whenever you feel desire, you show more of who you are with your spouse, instead of hiding a part of it worrying it will be rejected. This leads to greater trust.
This year we will celebrate our 13th year of marriage. We have 4 small children, whom we home school. We are climbing out of debt like so many are, and I’m sort of going through a mid-life crisis trying to figure out what I want to do with my career and ministry. Yet we are having the best sex of our lives, are more transparent with each other than ever before, and we have a lot of fun together. I initiate at least a half a dozen times a day (usually not for right now sex, but for promises of later in the day sex), the vast majority get turned down which isn’t surprising, because some of my initiations are ridiculous.
Christina – Want do you want for supper?
Jay – (without so much as a millisecond pause) You.
Christina – Well, that’s not really possible is it?
Jay – Well, dessert then.
Christina – After the kids are in bed.
I mean, I know that there is no way she’s going to delay supper, run upstairs, get undressed for some oral sex fun, while the kids are running around the house. Really … I do know that, I just choose to ignore it while initiating. But, it gets her brain at least thinking about sex for a second, and it has the added benefit of planting the idea of sex later in her mind, and actually getting her to set the appointment, so there is buy in from her side as well. Now we have something. But once in a while, some of my crazy initiations do pan out immediately, and they’re a lot of fun and exciting for both of us, and without learning to initiate constantly, to do it fearlessly, we would miss out on those times.
It is a lot of fun to be so playful all the time, but I used to think, “sex is all he thinks about isn’t it?” or “How can he possibly think about sex so much!” But I’ve learned to just run with it, have fun being a tease and giggle and give “that” look. You know the one! March 14th was just last week, and that day, while a little stressful for me for other reasons, was also fun. Jay was throwing line after line at me about what was going to happen that night, it was a bit of a distraction from the other stuff that was stressing me out (If you don’t know, March 14th is “Steak and Blow Job Day”, the “Husbands Valentine’s Day” as it were).
How are you at initiating sex? Do you come like a beggar asking for food? Or fearlessly believing that your spouse wants it too?
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