How to get my boyfriend to initiate sex?
December 30, 2009 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Why won't my boyfriend initiate sex? He is willing enough once things get started, but he never starts them.

My boyfriend never initiates sex. We have been together five months, and in the beginning our relationship was very sexually passionate and we had sex every day, often more than once. After a couple months things began to wind down a bit and sex became less frequent. I know that's normal once you get past the honeymoon period, but I began to notice he never initiated sex anymore and it really started to bother me.

We have sex about every other day, which is fine with me, but the fact that I always initiate it makes me feel like he doesn't really desire me, and that I am the only one who looks forward to us having sex, or who gets turned on thinking about him. He still seems to enjoy sex with me, and is usually responsive once I begin things, although sometimes I feel like he isn't that interested and is trying to get things over with as quickly as possible.
I have tried talking to him about it several times, but he gets very defensive and I don't know how to express myself without it turning into a big argument. He has a lot of pressure on him and he tends to take responsibility for other people's happiness, so when I try to talk to him about things that are bothering me he takes it as a personal criticism, and that what I mean is that he isn't doing enough. 

I try using "I" statements instead of "you" statements, and not placing blame, but he still seems to interpret it as me saying he is doing something wrong, when I am coming from the assumption that it is something that he wasn't really aware was bothering me, and knowing that it was we could work on it.
I don't think he can understand how I feel about this. It really upsets me to feel like our sex life is one-sided and that I want him more than he wants me. The one time I did manage to talk to him about it a little he basically said that the fact that he has sex with me should be enough to show that he desires me and finds me attractive. That's not enough for me when I don't get any other indication that that is true except when we are actually having sex; he isn't ever really flirty or suggestive and never gives any indication that he is thinking of me sexually. He said he would try to initiate sex more, but since then (several months ago) there has been exactly one time that he did.

A few other details: he is 21 and I am 25. There are no physical reasons why he shouldn't want sex, the actual sex is great once it gets started, it seems like he just doesn't think about it. I have tried giving him prompts, being flirty and indicating that I am looking forward to getting into bed with him, but once we are there he still never makes a move until until I literally take things into my own hands. Also, he is not cheating on me and he isn't gay.  

So finally, my specific questions are: How can I get him to initiate sex more? Any ideas on reasons why he doesn't?
And how can I talk to him about this without him getting defensive, and make him understand why it is important to me?   
posted by catatethebird to Human Relations (36 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

How can I get him to initiate sex more? Any ideas on reasons why he doesn't?
And how can I talk to him about this without him getting defensive, and make him understand why it is important to me?

The only real answer here is couple's therapy.
posted by dfriedman at 5:46 PM on December 30, 2009

IANYTherapist...but maybe it's a lack of self esteem? Subconsciously he could think that you'll reject him.
posted by mrsshotglass at 5:52 PM on December 30, 2009

Is it Zoloft?
posted by moorooka at 5:53 PM on December 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Don't initiate sex as often? I mean, I know that sounds super-flip, but if your sex drive is a lot higher than his and you initiate every time you're In the Moodtm, he probably never gets ramped up enough to be like "you me now" at you.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:55 PM on December 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

Holy crap, a five month relationship, one sticking point, and we're already throwing couples' therapy into the mix? Sheesh.

How's the rest of the relationship? Has he had a lot of prior relationships, or is this the longest he's been in? Maybe he is less outwardly sexual, or is uncomfortable initiating things. But sex is also tricky in that some people feel that initiating sex (or having it at all, really) is somehow pushing yourself further into a relationship. He's young. Maybe he feels a little apprehension at making the relationship more serious by being the initiator.

It's really hard to tell without an honest exchange, and it's hard to get to a point where you can discuss this stuff openly, but it doesn't mean therapy is necessary. Either you'll open up, or this will pass, or the relationship will resolve itself in some way.
posted by mikeh at 6:02 PM on December 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

What if you took all the pressure completely off, and never initiated sex yourself? Eventually, you will come to one of two conclusions: It was a fluke, he initiates sex when it's that or nothing; or, he has a low sex drive. Either way, you'll know. It has the added benefit of giving him the space and flexibility, in case feeling pressured is causing the problem.
posted by Houstonian at 6:07 PM on December 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

How can I get him to initiate sex more? Any ideas on reasons why he doesn't?And how can I talk to him about this without him getting defensive, and make him understand why it is important to me?

Positive reinforcement. Watch closely to see if he flirts with you. The minute he gets flirty, respond. Praise him later on too, and tell him that you liked what he did earlier. Tell him how sexy he is from time to time.
Do something sexy with him like order him to initiate.

When he compliments you, compliment back. Keep up your flirting.

The idea is from animal trainers. Google "What Shamu Taught me About My Marriage." Positive Reinforcement works.  
posted by Ironmouth at 6:08 PM on December 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Couples therapy? For a couple of five months in their early 20s?

Here is something I did not totally realize when I was 25 that I know now: sometimes, the woman has the higher sex drive and does most of the initiating, and that does not make you less of a woman or him less of a man. If he still wants to have sex when you initiate, don't worry about it. Some guys just don't initiate much. Don't try to dampen your sex drive to encourage his, just let go of the idea that he doesn't want you if he doesn't initiate and have fun.

Now, if he starts turning down your advances, that is time to worry.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:09 PM on December 30, 2009 [17 favorites]

You mention that he is under a lot of stress, which can kill one's sex drive. Is he under an unusual amount of stress lately? Since entering graduate school, it's gotten so that at some point in the week before finals I get so busy, stressed, and focused that all thoughts of sex are driven out of my head for days at a time.

Maybe he has some fetish he hasn't shared with you for whatever reason and all the masturbating going on around that is diminishing his sex drive. Maybe it's just a plain old internet porn addiction. Either of those would make someone not horny and defensive.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 6:19 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the ask him thing.

Just being frank here-- are you guys doing good otherwise? Usually sex is the first thing to fizzle when things go south in the relationship.
posted by OrangeSoda at 6:20 PM on December 30, 2009

I think guys often end up in the position of being the ones who are always trying to initiate sex, but I don't think they usually see this as their mates not finding them desirable or that there is anything wrong with the situation.

Instead of seeing these circumstances as a problem to be overcome, maybe it's worth re-evaluating and trying to think of it as having a partner that is so well mannered that he doesn't want to bother you with unwanted sexual advances.
posted by Menthol at 6:23 PM on December 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe he has some fetish he hasn't shared with you for whatever reason and all the masturbating going on around that is diminishing his sex drive. Maybe it's just a plain old internet porn addiction. Either of those would make someone not horny and defensive.

This too. I dated a guy who had both these problems it didn't matter what I did or said, it was his problem(which he was unwilling to fix), and we ended up breaking it off.
posted by OrangeSoda at 6:23 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

We can't answer this.....

Two ways to approach this, as have been suggested..

1. relax, enjoy what is...

2. discuss this, with or without a therapist, whichever works..

I'm 61* take from experience... things are not always as intense as they seem... my advice... if you love this guy, continue to love him, initiate sex (you stated it was good once it gets going) and enjoy it... see what happens...

* yes, i'm older than dirt...*
posted by HuronBob at 6:27 PM on December 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that he's overly concerned about being a a stereotypical "aggressive guy" and therefore feels uncomfortable initiating sex? He could have taken all those "no means no" lessons a little too much to heart and decided that as long as you initiate, he doesn't have to worry that he's been too pushy about sex and that you've "given in" and he has become a giant asshole/accidentally committed date rape/acted out a scenario from freshman orientation.

I raise this possibility, by the way, not out of any desire to make rape/sexual aggression programs seem like a bad idea, but because I know a guy about the same age as your boyfriend for whom what I described was a (mostly subconscious) issue. As young as he is, your boyfriend might not have been in a relationship before where sex was a normal part of the relationship, and not a topic of discussion and planning and nervousness (and potential drama) on his part or his partner's.
posted by MadamM at 6:28 PM on December 30, 2009 [6 favorites]

He has no reason to initiate sex -- you always do it for him.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:33 PM on December 30, 2009 [7 favorites]

i was going to say what MadamM said so nicely - i've known quite a few "nice guys" who can't/don't initiate because they're trying so hard to not be the aggressive guy. i also know a guy who doesn't like to initiate because he can't get his motor running unless the girl initiates because he gets off on being desired.
posted by nadawi at 6:43 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you dig your boyfriend, if you're together for reasons not involving either of your sex drives, remind him that you still find him hot (or sexy or pretty or whatever words HE likes to hear. Use the ones he likes.) If he's looking good on a particular day, let him know. Be generous with the compliments.

Don't avoid the subject of sex entirely either. Make offers - when he seems most receptive, be physical without being sexual. Hugs, cuddles, backrubs, whatever he finds comfortable.

However, it's also vitally important that, especially right now when neither of you are getting any, that he feels like you're with him for reasons -not- involving his wang. No one likes feeling used, after all. Make sure he knows without a shadow of a doubt that you're in the relationship because of reasons not involving the sex. Otherwise, not only does it seem like you are you pressuring him to have sex, but you're pressuring him to have sex so that you can be emotionally fulfilled. It's not just that you want to get it on, you want to satisfy an emotional need for intimacy. That's a hell of a lot of pressure to put on somebody who isn't particularly horny to begin with.

Your partner, feeling pressured by your neediness, can feel even less like having sex, which makes you even more needy and put even more pressure on him which makes him even less into sex with you... and on and on and on.

Figure out if there are other ways you can get this emotional need met and understand that sex is not the only way that your partner can show you that she loves you. And understand that if your partner isn't interested in sex right this minute, that doesn't mean he doesn't love you. Once you understand that he truly loves you regardless of the perceived inequities in sex drive, you will take the pressure off him to demonstrate her love through sex, and take the pressure of yourself to fulfill your emotional needs through sex.

That usually loosens things up enough for both parties.
posted by ShawnStruck at 6:54 PM on December 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I forgot to mention we live together, have since the beginning of our relationship, and there aren't really any problems there. He is by no means inexperienced, and this is not his first long term live-in relationship.

I don't know how to get him to open up more and talk to me about sex. The few times I have tried to draw him out and talk about fantasies or masturbation he doesn't seem willing to talk. He once showed me a sex book an ex had given him and told me that they worked through all the positions, so it frustrates me that doesn't seem interested in even talking about anything sexually adventurous with me.
posted by catatethebird at 6:57 PM on December 30, 2009

Instead of approaching it with the notion that it's bothering you, have you made it a non-emotional request? "Babe, it would be a huge turn on for me if you initiated sex." Then it's not about blame, not about your disappointment or fears that something is wrong with the relationship, but instead gives him concrete direction for would make you happy in bed.
posted by cecic at 6:59 PM on December 30, 2009

How can I get him to initiate sex more? Any ideas on reasons why he doesn't?

If he needs sex every three or four days and you need it every day or two, he will never have time to reset before you do. Every time he's just building up to the point where he might go after you, you jump him instead. Try to find out how long he goes before he needs it.

But also: novelty and seduction are a big part of desirability for many people. Maybe now that you're a sure thing, a familiar part of the scenery, he isn't as into it, not enough to make him act first. Could you do things that make him feel a bit like he felt when you first got together?

Or not. Maybe it's not that you are old hat, but that the things you do together are. He was into lacy lingerie, but now you two have exorcised him of that demon and you need to find out what else possesses him. High heels? Masks? Ropes and handcuffs? Slap and tickle? Ambush? Hot for teacher or naughty schoolgirl? Talking dirty? Exhibitionism? Messy massage? There's almost always something odd lurking in a guy's libido. You could try some that seem possible and aren't against your principles.

It would be really useful to find out what kind of porn he likes. Tell him you're going to acquire (buy, rent, download) some porn, damn it, and you want some help picking titles. There's porn for every possible desire. It's just a matter finding out which ones he likes. If you can't get him to choose, choose a variety yourself and try to find out which ones he likes and which ones he doesn't. It's a pretty crude method but I bet it would also be pretty effective.
posted by pracowity at 6:59 PM on December 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think those who say he isn't given a chance to initiate sex because you always beat him to it, may have it. Try to just relax and cool your heels a bit. If 7-10 days go by, and he doesn't initiate, then you have a conversation starter. If he does initiate before that time is up, well, then problem (to some extent) solved, and then the conversation you need to have is about sex drives, frequency, and how you can compromise so both of your needs are met. Also, if you haven't already, you may want to explore ways to be intimate and connect physically that wouldn't necessarily come under the category of "sex."
posted by katemcd at 7:45 PM on December 30, 2009

" this is not his first long term live-in relationship"

Perhaps one of your predecessors felt pressured and let him know about it, and he is doing his best to be considerate of you.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:08 PM on December 30, 2009

He once showed me a sex book an ex had given him and told me that they worked through all the positions, so it frustrates me that doesn't seem interested in even talking about anything sexually adventurous with me.

"You did all this stuff with your ex, but you don't seem to want to talk about sex with me. How come?"

Honestly, being afraid of the answers does not excuse you from asking tough questions.
posted by hermitosis at 8:44 PM on December 30, 2009 [6 favorites]

This very much reeks of fear of rejection assuming all else in the relationship is fine. With some people it doesn't take too many rejections before they just get passive and wait for the other party to start things. I think usually this takes years rather than months though. It could be many other things such as depression, lack of interest in you (pretty unlikely without other signs, but it must be mentioned), fear of commitment, etc. Nevertheless, the history sounds like fear of rejection. Rejection can be bigger than just hearing no. It can include complaints about performance.

Here's a test. As a gift give him a couple of tickets for a bj or sex or some treat, anytime, anywhere, no questions asked, no return favors required, expires in one month, and see whether he redeems them and what happens if he does.
posted by caddis at 9:34 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

From my own experiences as the guy who was once like your boyfriend, I think MadamM hit the nail on the head.

My first adult relationship lasted around 1.5 years, and about half way into it my girlfriend started mentioning that I wasn't initiating. It wasn't even something that I noticed until she brought it up, and even then it was kind of difficult for me to do.

Partly because I didn't quite know how to approach it. I was uncomfortable just being blunt and saying "Lets have sex", but I didn't know of any other way. The other part of the problem, as I later realized, was because the girl I had been dating before her told me when we broke up was that I was the one initiating everything. She insinuated that I was the one pushing for everything, not her. The thought of that, I realized, made me really uncomfortable with pushing for what I wanted. That relationship made me apprehensive about later relationships kind of worried that if I initiated I'd be pushing too much or something. Not something that I consciously thought about, but it really made sense to me when I realized it.

What you need to do is just sit down with him and tell him how it makes you uncomfortable to initiate all the time. Let him know that you'd be really turned on if he started once in a while Most of all, if he's anything like I was, reassure him it's what you really want and it's OK for him to do, maybe even giving him some suggestions on how to go about it.

There's also, as others have said, the distinct possibility that you two have different sex drives. You still need to have that talk with him though, it just might end up that he initiates 25% of the time instead of 50/50, etc., but at least he's still taking part.
posted by swashedbuckles at 10:23 PM on December 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yeah, my whole life my sexual partners have been hornier than I have been; they always initiate before I'm in the mood. Just talk to him about it not as something wrong, but a difference between you that's a bit sub-par from your perspective, and is he just not as driven as you or is there an issue of attraction you need to talk about.
posted by davejay at 1:02 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Give the guy some space.

We can't know the underlying reason for his not initiating sex with you. What we do know is that you're making love every other day. So it's entirely possible that he's not initiating because he doesn't have to. Stop approaching him -- without turning into the Ice Queen -- and see what happens.

You also sound very frustrated that he's not opening up to you about this "problem" and about his sexuality in general. Here again, give him some space. Not only do men and women have different sex drives, they have different communication styles as well. I hate do drag out an old Venus-and-Mars generalization, but women often prefer to hash things out verbally much more than men do. Try not to badger him into intimacy. Five months may seem like a long time to you, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not. It may take your man a little longer to share in the way you want him to. Be patient.

However: if, after some time (it's up to you how long), the bear still refuses to come out of his cave, you'll need to take a different tack. There are some good suggestions for this upthread.
posted by Paris Elk at 2:33 AM on December 31, 2009

I have a couple of suggestions...but I need to know, do you already live together? If you do it sounds like things may have come too fast too suddenly. Second I would back off for a little while and work on feeling sexy and beautiful all by yourself...if you focus on how he doesn't initiate it makes you feel poorly about yourself which perpetuates the very problem you have.

I would suggest backing off for a week. Go about your business and even go out a few times on your own and actually have a good time with friends. Do not discuss anything stressful, give him space and I know this is cliche and it sounds trite but try a new hairdo and a new outfit that makes you feel good...when someone feels confident and sexy everyone notices.

If this doesn't help, you need to say to him what you said to mefi although I'd leave out the gay part. It is possible he and you do not have matching libidos which can cause you long term frustration and you have to you really want that kind of frustration for the rest of your sexually active life? Good Luck.
posted by gypseefire at 2:42 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

He's probably just lazy and with you initiating it so often, he is probably spoiled as well. While it'll be hard for you, let him dry out for a few days and see what happens. Word of warning: me and my hubby had sex like rabbits in the beginning, no one really initiated it, it's just all we did. Then things slowed down to once a day, twice a week, once every two weeks, once a month and now I'm pregnant and so it's not happening at all ( so much easier for me to self satisfy). But in those slow periods I ALWAYS initiated. He just doesn't know how to do it, even when he tries he does horribly at it, saying things like "hey babe, wanna have sex". There is absolutely no foreplay or romance. But once I get the balls rolling he feels comfortable with letting his sexier side show through. So the long and short of it is he may never be an initiator and it probably has nothing to do with you. But definitely talk about it, tell him what turns you on and ask him what he wants blah blah blah. Communication is key! And don't be afraid to try new things whether it's more romance, more aggression, more kinky, or more cuddling, don't assume he necessarily liked doing that sex book thing with his ex...maybe it wasn't very good sex or maybe he associates that type of thing with his ex and wants a different type of connection with you, whatever the case may be you'll never know unless you COMMUNICATE. My mans ex did not enjoy sex and so my man was used to sex being a sore subject. So I say, initiate a conversation about it. Let him know how you feel and then back off, don't harp on it, and hold off on initiating sex for a few days and see what happens. Good luck tiger!
posted by madmamasmith at 3:39 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with all those above who suggest that he may be overcompensating for the pressure guys are put under nowadays not to "demand" sex. I'd add that there is nothing that turns a guy on more than NOT being the initiator. You're paying him the biggest compliment it's possible to pay him, every couple of days. A bit of him probably still can't believe his luck being with you - that age difference may look small to you but it could be quite significant here.

You've told us "the fact that I always initiate it makes me feel like he doesn't really desire me" and you ask us how you can talk to him about this without putting him on the defensive. But hold on a moment: fast forward to the situation after you've managed to have an honest talk with him and he's become the initiator. Are you going to be able to rid yourself of the feeling then that he's initiating sex just because you've asked him to? And is that really going to get rid of your fear that deep down he doesn't desire you?

So I'd go for patience. Slow down. Wait for him to come to you - he will (trust me and the other guys here on this point). And when he does, THAT's the time for the talk, and for loads of encouragement: "you know it makes me feel so wanted when you start things off like that..." He needs to find out for himself that there's a need for a balance here, that it's OK to make demands of you some of the time, and that doing this is going to add a whole load more intensity to your relationship.
posted by genesta at 3:53 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Initiate more often; well, as often as you want to have sex. Enjoy it thoroughly. Don't worry about who is doing the initiating.
posted by hworth at 7:56 AM on December 31, 2009

He has a lot of pressure on him and he tends to take responsibility for other people's happiness, so when I try to talk to him about things that are bothering me he takes it as a personal criticism, and that what I mean is that he isn't doing enough.

I can relate to this statement and also to the apprehension over initiating sex, and I suspect they are related. I think that taking responsibility for others' happiness to some extent includes the relative deprioritization of one's own needs and desires, and so it's kinda like he doesn't see his desire for sex as being valid (or as valid as your own).

But also, I have tended to have problems initiating sex because I'm embarrassed by emotional expression, or, more particularly I guess, by the admission of emotional need or vulnerability. I think this comes from a psychic place similar to that which makes me interpret criticism as a kind of personal attack. (In my case, I'm exploring issues of avoidant personality, but of course, this might not be the case here. Just offering a different view, as someone who can relate to it.)
posted by troybob at 8:50 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Of course, I'm projecting above. He might have no problem at all with emotional expression. But I think it is worth mention that I in part dealt with this with something I read on this site, though I can't find it; a woman was talking about how her boyfriend/husband demonstrates that he wants sex: he just walks around the house without his pants on. So perhaps there is some indirect signal that is not a personal, intimate approach.

If it's an emotional thing, though, that's just kind of a fix; it doesn't address similar emotional issues that will come up as your relationship deepens.
posted by troybob at 9:29 AM on December 31, 2009

If he needs sex every three or four days and you need it every day or two, he will never have time to reset before you do.

This. And if he feels pressure, that might reduce his sex drive and/or willingness to initiate.

I have gotten to the bottom of this in relationships by having silly drunk conversations where we ask each other random questions. I asked, "In an ideal world, how often would you have sex?" I was surprised by the answer, "Every three or four days," and suddenly things made a lot more sense.
posted by heatherann at 11:45 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Several posters above have suggested not initiating for awhile, waiting for him to reset or whatever. While this seems like basically sound advice, I see a couple risks. If you decide to try this consider that it might backfire. If you're waiting for him to initiate, what happens if he doesn't for several days? a whole week? longer? Will you be upset? Angry? Feel rejected? Are you going to be so emotionally charged and sexually frustrated that you express it in other parts of your life? How important is sex to you? How important is sex initiated by him?
I think the larger issue here is that you feel you can't talk to him about it. That's part of the advice you're looking for, but I don't have an answer for you here. I agree that couple's therapy is pushing it for such a young relationship; but at the same time, it seems like a valid suggestion for trying to work this issue out. If you can't talk to him about this now, what other important things are going to come up later that a lack of communication will hurt? The only advice I can really think of (besides asking yourself some of the above questions) is that you tell him that it upsets you that you can't talk about things. Can we make a real effort to really talk about things? Topic #1, our sex drives....
posted by purpletangerine at 12:24 PM on December 31, 2009

Upon review, I think I should add that I'm not suggesting you don't wait for him to initiate; just that you take care not to make it a passive aggressive thing that you're grading him on. Maybe give him a heads up. "I'm feeling like maybe you need a break from me pushing sex on you all the time. Let's give it a rest and we'll try again when you're ready."
posted by purpletangerine at 12:27 PM on December 31, 2009

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