How to Initiate Sex

unrecognizable couple in a bed, close up on legs

As a sex therapist, one of the most common complaints I hear is: I don’t like the way my partner initiates sex. 

I get it. “Clumsy initiations” is a big topic in sex therapy. It’s understandable, because most of us haven’t been trained to communicate about sex at all. On top of that, after NRE (new relationship energy) wears off, desire can feel more ambiguous inside a relationship. So how do you tell your partner you’re interested in sex, but in a way that’s inviting and sexy?

Why sex initiations don’t always work

Here are two big reasons your partner might say no: 

1. Too much pressure.

A pressurized environment around sex doesn’t feel safe. When your words and/or vibe communicate: “if you don’t have sex with me I’m going to be super upset!” that doesn’t feel fun and flirty…it feels mildly threatening. So lower the stakes.

Let your partner know you’d love to have sex (more on that below), but also make it clear that if they aren’t in the mood, that’s OK. This helps everyone relax in general, and relaxation is a good precursor to sex.

2. The ask itself wasn’t super considerate.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a solid chance you want to learn how to do initiations thoughtfully. Still, I hear lots of stories about partners who initiate sex by tapping an arm and saying something like: “I’m ready now, let’s do it!”

This isn’t the kind of move that creates sexual tension or desire. It tends to feel one-sided, like the person doing the arm tapping just realized they’re hungry and would like food now, please. Again, few of us have been trained in sexual communication, so I don’t blame anyone for stating their needs so directly. But overtures like these don’t feel collaborative – they feel entitled at best, lazy at worst. 

How to make sex initiations more successful 

Instead of thinking about a “good” initiation as one magic phrase, think of it as an overall atmosphere. How can you co-create a sense of sexual ease, in which sex itself will be more likely? That’s the thinking we want to adopt here.

To that end, here are 5 practices to play with:

1. Flirt with your partner.

The best flirts I know are playful: they’ve got a mischievous sense of humor, they know how to tease just the right way, they know how to give compliments. So make it a habit, but don’t do it just to get sex: make it a habit because you’re having fun with each other. Need help? I’ve been known to bring reinforcements on a date…AKA cannabis gummies, which help me relax. VIIA Hemp Co. makes my hands down favorite formula, High Love, which combines legal THC with aphrodisiac herbs like damiana. The headspace I experience with them is euphoric, sexy and easygoing.  

2. Sext each other.

Speaking of flirting, your emojis and phone camera are your friend. Sexting always feels a bit taboo, and that’s a nice energy to play with…the two of you being naughty together. If you need some sexting pointers, I’ve got a whole guide for that right here.

3. Embrace props.

A partner who brings kink supplies and sex toys to the party is someone who’s thought about everyone’s pleasure. For my money, there’s no better investment than a Magic Wand, one of the most high-powered and versatile sex toys on the market. Show it to your partner or text them a pic earlier in the day, letting them know you’d like to run it down their body. No matter your gender or genitals, Magic Wands feel like heaven on inner thighs, nipples, and OK, yeah – the genitals. 

4. Touch them in ways that aren’t sexual.

When every form of physical contact is loaded with sexual expectation, it creates the pressurized environment I referred to earlier. So offer touch in other ways: comforting hugs, holding hands. Do this often and you’ll create a new form of relaxation with your partner, where touch itself feels more open-ended.

5. Get curious about their turn-ons.

A great sexual initiation takes into account what your already partner finds hot…and leans into it. So, what turns them on? Having the bedroom transformed into a candlelit sanctuary? You dressed up, feeling yourself, looking hot as hell? If you don’t know, have a conversation about your mutual turn-ons. My Yes No Maybe list is a good place to start, or my book Smart Sex, which has scripts for these kinds of conversations, and quizzes where you can each learn about what makes you tick as a sexual being. 

A successful sex initiation usually doesn’t come down to great one-liners or flattery. It’s a more holistic approach, where you and your partner are co-creating a whole world of sexual possibility. Try these tips above, and see if the result isn’t just more sex…but more playfulness, trust, and closeness.

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