How do I ask my partner to be more romantic when initiating sex?
January 31, 2017 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Our relationship is only a couple months old and I'm really excited about it. The problem is, as he's gotten more comfortable and familiar with me, it seems that his comfort zone involves a lot of goofy humor when initiating sex. This is a huge turn off for me. How do I communicate this to him effectively?

We're both in our mid-30's. When we first started dating, he was very sweet and romantic. The way he looked at me, kissed me, and touched me, all had a sort of gravity to it. He made me feel so desired. We're less than three months into this relationship and that already seems to have gone by the wayside.

Instead of romancing or seducing me, he'll say, "Let's go to bed and [insert silly, raunchy phrase here]." Or he'll suggest all kinds of acts that he's fully aware neither of us are into. I've also tried seducing him, which also triggers the goofy comments, like, "Oh babe, are you gonna [insert silly, raunchy phrase here]."

When we're actually in the midst of sex, he's serious about it and the sex is great. And I'm not completely against any and all humor in bed, but I just hate when he treats it like a joke, and I'm starting to feel less turned on by him. But when I tell him to stop saying things like that, instead of changing his tack and trying a different approach, he just shuts down immediately and says, "OK," and takes his hands off me.

It's a complete turn off, and is even starting to make me feel less respected by him, that he doesn't think I'm worthy of romance. I also can't help but think about my previous partner, who was just a f*** buddy, but he absolutely worshiped my body. He told me all the time how perfect I was, how much I turned him on, how badly he wanted me. He kissed me like the world would end tomorrow. That intensity of attraction was completely mutual, and it never waned, even though we saw each other several times a week for a year.

I had cut things off with the FB when I started this relationship, because I wanted to be with someone who I could see a future with. And I want to be clear that I think my new guy is wonderful. He's one of the smartest, most interesting people I've ever met. We have a lot of interests in common, and he has an amazingly cool career that he's very passionate about. He's actually been through a lot in his life, and that coupled with his career, which is often dangerous and mentally and emotionally grueling, might explain why he's so quick to crack jokes in serious situations.

He's also very caring and affectionate, and he's ultra responsible and reliable. Ever since we started dating, no matter how busy we are, he texts me every day to ask how I'm doing, and to share little tidbits about our day with each other. He always texts when he says he will. When I'm at his place, he asks me all the time if I'm okay, if I want anything, or if I'm bored and want to do something else. If I'm hungry or thirsty, he always offers to cook something for me or get a drink for me. He jumps at the chance to help me with anything. At Christmas, he gave me the most thoughtful gift. And we've talked about the things we want in the future (family, etc.) and we're on the same page there. Also, I think he's just gorgeous. I could spend all day just looking at him.

So it really chafes me that this one thing could kill our budding relationship. Sex is very important to me in a fundamental way. I need it to feel connected to my partner and to express the way I feel about him, and to feel like he's returning those feelings for me. Why does he have to be such a goof about it? What do I say to him to help him understand what I need, without making him feel attacked or self-conscious?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

But when I tell him to stop saying things like that, instead of changing his tack and trying a different approach, he just shuts down immediately and says, "OK," and takes his hands off me.

Have you tried talking to him about it when you are not "in the moment" so to speak? It can be really hard to talk about sex stuff while one is in the midst of sex stuff.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:43 AM on January 31, 2017 [26 favorites]

Yeah, telling someone their way of initiating sex is a huge turnoff is ... a huge turn off.

Maybe you could try to show rather than tell?
Be the change you want to see, lead by example, etc.

This is hard, and I wonder if maybe you need to be willing to change your opinions and desires, regarding sexy talk/foreplay/initiation of sexy times. Because you plan on essentially asking your partner to do the same, and that's not something easy to do, and you might have better success going in with an offer to alter some of your behaviors and expectations as well.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:50 AM on January 31, 2017

Maybe he would be relieved to hear that he doesn't need to keep up this jokey vibe. Maybe it's a habit that grew out of a previous relationship. Personally, a jokey vibe about sex would kill my interest permanently. I've addressed it in the past with an instinctive blank semi-contemptuous stare. Not necessarily recommending it, but it has worked well. I absolutely would not laugh/play along. If he still doesn't get the message, I would just mention it. Not in some dramatic sit-down way. I'd do it in the moment, and push him away when he gets goofy, make a casual comment about how you're not into that vibe, and then continue your make-out session to show there are no hard feelings and you still want him, just not that minimizing jokey vibe. YMMV.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:04 AM on January 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would tell him how you feel about this (yes, in a non-sexual moment) because you have nothing to lose, really. If he keeps doing this, and you continue to feel more and more turned off by him, you're going to have to end it anyway. So you might as well try, and the worst that happens won't be worse than what happens if you don't.

My guess is that the joke is his own discomfort with transitioning bw the friendship you've grown together and the sexual element of your relationship. When you were new, there wasn't as much ordinary in your encounters. He's going to have to figure out how to transition in a different way.

I'd put it in terms of your own individual sexuality, which is unique to everyone and which he can understand as part of your sexual fingerprint. Not conveying "hey don't be a goof - no one is like that" but "I'm getting to really trust you now so I want to share with you this thing about my sexuality even though I'm kind of nervous to talk about it. But to really feel relaxed enough to enjoy sex I need to get into it gently and feel like my partner is expressing romantic feelings... it 's what makes me really melt."

Let him feel he's giving you what you need (which is true). And actually, if he can't change after you tell him, there might be something a little more difficult to confront in his feelings about sex or women, which might or might not be worth it.
posted by flourpot at 7:05 AM on January 31, 2017 [20 favorites]

Tell him in a relaxed time, when no one is angry, hungry, or horny, that you've noticed a pattern: "When you're silly about initiating sex and say/do [XYZ silly thing] it can be hard for me to get as turned on as I was when you'd say/do [ABC hot thing from the beginning of the relationship]. But I know that when I bring this up in the moment, that can turn you off. I want us both to be turned on. What can we do?"

Another thing to ask him would be whether anything has changed, because his approach was way different at the beginning. Explain that contrast makes you worry you're being taken for granted.

Reassure him the whole time what you've told us here, how much you love him and want this to work.
posted by kapers at 7:07 AM on January 31, 2017 [26 favorites]

Instead of focusing on what a turn-off his goofy approach is, can you tell him about the way his (initial) romantic approach was an amazing turn-on, and how you really really love when he does [thing he used to do]?

This can still include honest discussion of your feelings ("When we're just joking around, sex feels kind of bizarre and mechanical... do you ever feel that way? It's amazing how different it is for me when we start by doing X") but the basics of toddler management apply to all of us: tell him what TO do, not just what NOT to do.
posted by cogitron at 7:07 AM on January 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is definitely something you need to be direct about with lots and lots of cushioning.

"Boyfriend, I love love the sex we have and I wouldn't change a thing. But I really am not into those raunchy jokes or jokes in general when it comes to trying to have sex. Our sex life is fantastic, what do you think?"
posted by pintapicasso at 7:09 AM on January 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

Instead of focusing on what a turn-off his goofy approach is, can you tell him about the way his (initial) romantic approach was an amazing turn-on, and how you really really love when he does [thing he used to do]?

I understand the value of this as an ego-saving and goodwill-preserving negotiation tactic but in the interest of saving the OP's own ego, OP, please do not feel intimidated by the spectre of his potential huffiness into being afraid to object to the objectionable. He is not just failing to do something you love, he is doing something to you that you hate and you are completely in the right if you choose to -- kindly -- tell him to stop demeaning you. Sure, he doesn't mean it that way (?), sure, you can do the polite fiction of treating it as a request and not an order. But he is doing a thing to you that you hate and you can tell him to stop.

You don't have to talk around it because there is some rule saying you can never ask for a bad thing to stop, only for a good thing to start.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:12 AM on January 31, 2017 [27 favorites]

I would go short and direct, and avoid the panic of an early Talk About The Relationship.

When he starts up with the jokes: Stop everything, look directly at him, and say "Knock it off. I'm not your fratboy."
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:21 AM on January 31, 2017 [9 favorites]

I (a female!) behave exactly like your boyfriend in intimate situations, and I've gotten complaints about it. I am TRYING to change my ways, but it ain't easy.

For the record, it doesn't mean I'm not emotionally invested in the relationship or not attracted to my partner. Quite the opposite; I inject all this (annoying) levity into the situation as a way to avoid getting hurt, by pretending to be treating the whole thing as a joke.

Perhaps you could show him some romantic film scene and casually mention that you'd love that kind of dynamic in YOUR bedroom. Then act really turned on if/when he behaves that way.
posted by Guinevere at 7:32 AM on January 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

You're articulating everything very well and it's totally reasonable for you to want this and to make an issue of it. If you can persuade him that it's important and a problem via one of these other suggestions, maybe it's an idea (if he agrees) to initially kind of provide training wheels and help him keep on track by establishing some non-intrusive signal that he's getting carried away with the silliness. Like if you glare at him and tap him on the nose, it's time to get down to serious lovemaking.

But if he persistently forgets and you have to remind him every single time, this could totally be a deal-breaker.
posted by XMLicious at 7:32 AM on January 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

If he can't handle being told this, it's not going to get better, so you need to take this seriously.

You can bring it up at a non-sex time like "hey there's something I need to talk with you about" and be as thorough and gentle as some folks are suggesting. Or, rather than "saying something" when he does it in the moment and then being hurt when he shuts down, you can react instead by looking him in the eye and saying "I guess we're done here" and withdraw yourself, and see what that does.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:33 AM on January 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

He jokes as a defense mechanism and as a way of keeping some distance from
intensity and vulnerability of sex with someone he now has emotional attachment to. That is his issue, and, the key point, it's hurting you, because it IS belittling and demeaning. How are you supposed to feel comfortable being vulnerable under those circumstances?

His needs are not more important than yours. This is actually kind of a good thing, because now you can talk to him about something that requires an emotionally present and honest conversation early on in the relationship and see how he handles it.

If you explain how this makes you feel, like he's belittling you and the sex you have and that it puts distance between you, and he can't hear you -- either by shutting down (running away), or joking, or anything other than honestly engaging with this hard thing you're telling him -- then he's maybe not ready for the kind of relationship you want.

I'm not saying he has to be an emotionally literate Zen monk about it immediately. I think sometimes these conversations can take a while to sink in, and if he's not aware of why he does this, he probably needs to see that for himself first. But how he responds to a bid for emotional honesty and an offer of vulnerability will tell you a LOT. If he can't take you seriously when you tell him something he does hurts you or makes you feel shitty, then get out, because that is not a person who is ready for a true romantic partner.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:53 AM on January 31, 2017 [10 favorites]

The two of you are in a relationship. You each have the following rights:

- To state your needs
- To be given the chance to try to meet your partner’s needs OR to say, I’m sorry, I can’t meet those needs
- To walk away if your needs can’t be met

There is no right or wrong in stuff like this; there’s only communication and compromise. Maybe he prefers sex to start out fun and lighthearted; you like it to be romantic – you can state your preferences, and make further decisions based on how he reacts. You should also encourage him to share his preferences and reasons for having them, like, why does he do this? Maybe he has insecurities as mentioned above. So really try to understand his point of view, while also explaining yours. And then see if you can meet in the middle. So your script might go something like this:

“I love our connection and sex between us is amazing. But can we talk a bit about how we like to initiate? I notice you like to make jokes when we’re getting started, and I like it to be more romantic. Raunchy jokes make me feel a bit hurt and taken for granted. Feeling wanted and cherished is what gets me in the mood. Do you think you can do more of that? And what can I do more of that will get you in the mood?"
posted by yawper at 7:54 AM on January 31, 2017 [10 favorites]

Also, I'd bet that it's not going to get better unless he realizes why he does it -- my theory remains that he does it to distance and defend himself from intimacy -- and deals with the underlying issue. So if fear of intimacy is a big, underlying theme in his life, this probably won't go where you want it to go. Otoh, if this is a vestigial coping mechanism to deal with fear and it's not tapping into a great big seam of unexamined fuckery in his life, he might be able to respond and change it and it will bring you closer.

The point being someone who sabotages intimacy is not someone you want to be with, and this guy is currently showing some fear of intimacy. How he responds to that fear is not something you can control, but you can sure as he'll control your response to his response. Just know you're right to be concerned about this and to want to talk about it and change it.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:01 AM on January 31, 2017 [7 favorites]

>Or he'll suggest all kinds of acts that he's fully aware neither of us are into.

Are you really sure about that? He might be testing the waters with jokes.

But to the larger point, it may be that he finds silly friendly goofiness to be sexy, and weighty romantic body worship to be kind of fake and icky. I mean, *I* feel like that, so it's possible that other people do too, and I think I'd find someone with your preferred approach to be a pretty serious sexual mismatch. It seems like a thing to talk about during a regular moment, to figure out where he's at.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:52 AM on January 31, 2017 [18 favorites]

It will come from you.

Your subtlety of approach and touch can set the tone. Don't touch him, ever, without complete, utter desire to express your feelings as your sole goal. Commit to this.

Forget "initiating sex", in fact, forget "sex". So long as it's deemed an activity, there's going to be this weirdness. If possible, even forget orgasm, though enjoy it if/when it comes. But if you love him so much (I'm not talking about horniness or physical attraction) that you just can't stand it and feel compelled to express your feelings, do so with every cell of your body; with tiny, subtle things, and maintain the commitment to do so with languid (or ardent) zest in the moment rather than any sort of activity goal.

If you do so and he misses it and persists in frat boying you and objectifying the experience, then you need to consider whether there's actual love on his side. If so, ask him to express it. And show via your response that you deeply register every nuance of it.

That last is the most important part. Nuance is applied where nuance is appreciated.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Me again.

PS - Many, many partners just want to be fucked hard so they can get off. Many men get conditioned to accommodate this, and eventually lose touch with any subtlety, expressiveness, even love. You can help him rediscover these things via your own committed approach and appreciation...i.e. example-setting and positive reinforcement, rather than "Don't do this, do that!
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:00 AM on January 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

A common line of comment from relationship counselors is that the worst time to discuss intimacy issues is anytime that's even remotely close to that intimacy. Likewise, expressing positives has more cachet, and less sting, than emphasizing negatives.

So, while you're getting ready for work one morning (assuming this is something that you two do at roughly the same time), you can say something like, "Man, I get so turned on when you worship my body. Remember that time you said XYZ and then did ABC? I don't know if I ever told you, but that was one of the sexiest moments I've ever experienced. It gave me chills."

Then you both go about your workday thinking about that time he gave you sexual chills, and all the details you laid out in your retelling of it. Repeat that process for a while. After some time, maybe even drop in a few comparators that emphasize how much more the good things turn you on than the jokes. "It is so much hotter when you XYZ than when you tell a joke. You know that? Because you are really good at XYZ."

(I'm saying this coming from starting a relationship with my literal Sexual Ideal, only he had this probing-darting-tongue thing when we'd kiss that completely turned me off. I learned hard and fast that saying, "That shit grosses me out" only killed everyone's libido. The longer path toward emphasizing the good and gradually downplaying the bad helped tilt the scales in favor of the good. That said, another therapist standby is to recognize that you probably can't get someone's behavior to change 100% of the time. Aim high, but don't expect perfection.)
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:55 AM on January 31, 2017 [8 favorites]

To me, it sounds like he's relaxing and opening up, wanting to share this silly, unguarded part of himself, and feels rejected when you criticize how he does that... (and I'm thinking, even *that* he's doing that...)

I can understand your not wanting to be someone's f*** buddy, but I don't know how possible it is for people to keep up Serious Romantic Worship over the course of a relationship. Or even how optimal that is... I don't think three months is too soon to start to feel friendship *as well* as the other stuff. And I don't think feeling friendship in addition to the other stuff is a sign of disrespect, I think that's progress. But you're experiencing it as a slight. Why is that? Can you trust that he legit cares about you, by looking at his actions in all other ways? (If the content of his humour is a major turnoff (e.g. if it's ALL baby talk, or whatever it is), discuss that - but not during sex and with lots of affirmation, as others have said.) If his vulnerability and openness are a problem for you, I guess you have different ideas about what a relationship's about.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:03 AM on January 31, 2017 [9 favorites]

instead of changing his tack and trying a different approach, he just shuts down immediately and says, "OK," and takes his hands off me.

Hmm, this sets off the faintest little itty bitty alarm bell in my head.

Maybe you are coming across as critical, in which case you could change when/how you talk about your preferences as suggested throughout this thread.

But maybe he's wired to take any suggestions/requests/compromises/differences as criticism and is a shut-down/hands-off/sulky person, in which case no amount of compliment-sandwiching your (entirely valid) preference is going to result in you getting your needs met.

You are just getting to know each other so pay attention; if either of those are the case, you'll know soon enough.
posted by headnsouth at 11:04 AM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think the comment from schadenfrau is spot on. It is just the way he reacts. Both of you need to move to the middle on this. Of course you should mention it and see how he responds. Good luck to you both.
posted by JayRwv at 11:10 AM on January 31, 2017

"You know I usually love your sense of humor but as seduction technique it just doesn't work for me. That guy who seduced me when we were first dating though? Omg, total turn on. Can we have him back? Seriously that made me want to tear your clothes off."

Totally agree with you on this. That raunchy humor approach always made me feel like I had Groucho/Harpo Marx chasing me around with his bicycle horn. Creepy not sexy.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:05 PM on January 31, 2017 [9 favorites]

Two suggestions:

First: Buy and read Emily Nagoski's Come As You Are, and then insist that he read it.

Second: Seek outside help. I don't necessarily mean traditional therapy. After [mumbledy] years together Mrs Straw and I had some struggles (and she hit menopause and desire changed) and went through some traditional couple's counseling and it was fine in patching up some of our immediate issues. Did our healthcare provider's free relationship class, which also helped with better relating day to day, but didn't bring back the sex spark. There's a class of people selling themselves as "sexuality educators" and "relationship coaches" these days (the first example that comes to mind is Reid Mihalko), and we've both just done (separately, at different times) the same LGAT (HAI Level 1), and holy crap those resources dramatically changed how we communicate about sex. For the OMGWTFBBQ!!1!! better.

I can't tell you which of those resources will work for you, but the thing that turned me on to Reid was a podcast interview where a woman described a meeting with him in which they sat across a table and practiced asking for permission to touch the other's hand, and saying "yes", or "no", with as many different personas and communication modes as they could come up with.

You may or may not need an outside facilitator to coach you through it, (we did, and the portion we did with other people around was non-sexual), but: holy crap, exercises in continuous explicit consent (ie: not "I see that you just grabbed my genitals, so I now have permission to grab yours", but "May I [X] your [Y]" at every step of the way", like "may I stroke your cheek with my finger tips?") are super freakin' hot, have revealed new things about how we respond physically to different types of touch, and are good practice generally.

So, yeah: It may seem like "Mother may I?" is a kid's game, but could very well be a prelude to the hottest experience you've had to date.

(And we've both done HAI Level 1, and both had good experiences with it, and are signed up for two more workshops in February, already) but we also know that that hasn't been the case for every attendee, so as much as I'd like to say "do this", what I'm really saying is "know that this class of resource exist, and your own search could very well turn up something better or more suited to you than my recommendation". But if one happens in your area, I very much recommend their free mini-workshop.)
posted by straw at 12:52 PM on January 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

Nthing whoever said this is your first real Communication Litmus Test. Not to add burden to the situation, but navigating these waters successfully will say TONS about the viability of your relationship. Frame it more as a communication exercise maybe?

Perhaps you can start with something less charged, lower stakes, but use the same framework. And then the model is established. Then, when the groundwork for Having These Talks is laid and clearly working (hopefully), move to the real topic. Who knows- maybe he has things he wants to bring up too, and doesn't know how?

If you only have Those Kinds of Talks when things are tense or feel broken, both of you will start to give Talking a negative association. Learn to have deeper conversations on the regular, then they just become another part of your relationship life and don't land in the middle of things with a big destructive BOOM.

You are actually very lucky to have this opportunity IMO. I think you are up to the challenge.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:07 PM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Show him this thread.
posted by John Cohen at 8:03 PM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

When he starts being goofy, tell him "I'd prefer if you seduced me." But in a friendly way, not a parking inspector way. I mean sex is basically a form of parking but that doesn't mean you have to be bureaucratic about it.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:19 PM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tell him bluntly that his humor is wounding you, because it is.
posted by Mr. Fig at 11:31 AM on February 5, 2017

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