Yasmine Ross
Written & Posted by Yasmine RossRelationship Coach, Writer

Unlocking Intimacy: Overcoming the Struggle to Initiate Sex

13 Feb, 2023
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From casual flings to long-term dating, within each connection I’ve experienced some form of sexual intimacy. However, as I recall these interactions, I don’t think I’ve once been the one to initiate. As a cis-gender straight women, there have been times in my more significant relationships where I have felt comfortable initiating, but even then the scenario would go something like this: I would put on something nice (and easy to take off), arch my back, play with my hair, hug them a little longer, all in the hopes that they would notice me, desire me, want me. I wanted sex. But I didn’t want to say or show it first, that I wanted sex.

For as long as I could remember my mother would always point out how pure and innocent I am. She would say it in a way so as to seem that if I was anything but pure and innocent, then it would be extremely out of character for me, or god forbid, WRONG. Not only did this subconsciously have an effect on my desire to exude sexual confidence, but it also conditioned me to be picky with who I allow to break that “perfectly untouched” image. While I wish I could always be the forward-thinking-confident-feminist, the epitome of a modern independent woman, I sometimes find myself taken over by more traditional ways of thinking: “I need to be pursued, to be chased after, not the one chasing!” History and many rom-coms have conditioned me to believe that women ought to be the one being pursued and that it was wrong to be sexually forward.

Social Standards

According to Kristen Mark, a sex and relationships researcher at the University of Kentucky, many women are hesitant to initiate because they’ve been socialized to be the gatekeepers of sex, to wait for the men to pursue, and to control access to sex. Not only have we been conditioned to fall into these gender roles, where women are the “gatekeepers” and men are the “initiators”of sex, we are also pressured to stick to them. Justin J. Lehmiller Ph.D., an internationally recognized sex educator, has done research on same-sex relationships, where there’s “less pressure to fit a traditional role and more opportunity to find equality both in and out of the bedroom”. This is not to say that one is better than the other. Regardless of heterosexual or homosexual relationships, welcoming in more freedom and equality can help people find more balance within their relationships. 

Sexual History

While the patriarchy plays a large role, Susan Segal, a sex therapist, says it could also be your sexual history. Painful, awkward, or traumatic experiences could be holding you back. Thus, speaking with a therapist to unpack unpleasant sexual experiences can help you become attuned with your body and sensuality.

Fear of Rejection

If we think of a scenario where one person is pursuing the other and ultimately gets rejected, we may often picture a man pursuing a woman who rejects him. No one really talks about what rejection actually looks or feels like for women, especially when it comes to sex, making initiating sex an even more daunting task.Therefore, a fear of being rejected may play a role in your desire to be sexually forward.

“Straight women want to initiate more, straight men want to initiate less," says Justin J. Lehmiller.

He found that, among heterosexual women, 28% reported that they are often or always the initiators of sex, compared to 50% of heterosexual men who said the same. In other words, men were about twice as likely to say they are the primary sexual initiators. On the other hand, when he asked who was initiating in their fantasies, women as the initiators increased by 25% while men decreased by 15% when looking at those who said they often or always initiate sex. The gender difference is thus much smaller in terms of how people think about sex compared to what they actually do in their own sex lives. Lehmiller’s research suggests that “there are a lot of women who are turned on by the idea of initiating sex more often than they do in reality—and a lot of men who are turned on by the idea of their partner initiating sex more often”.

In comparison, the percentage of people who say they initiate more in real life compared to if they initiate more in fantasy are almost identical,  thus the initiation patterns in fantasy more closely mirror initiation patterns in reality for gay, lesbian, and bisexual partnerships. Interestingly enough, “on average, sexual minority women say they initiate sex more often than heterosexual women, whereas sexual minority men initiate sex less often than heterosexual men” (Lehmiller).

While there can be many factors that impact our desire and confidence to initiate, these are the few reasons that have set the “standard” as to why women wait and men initiate.

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