The Dangers of Initiating Sex

Initiating Sex

For sex to happen, someone has to initiate it. (I realize I’m stating the obvious.) But for the couples in marriages or relationships that have grown stale, and for couples who’ve fallen away from each other despite their desire for emotional connection, the initiation of sex is often an anxiety-provoking experience.

Too many couples fail to fully appreciate just how vulnerable the initiating partner is making him/herself. One man joked with me during a counseling session about his wife pushing him away when he attempted to make love to her. When I asked if this was hurtful, he quickly minimized the emotional impact her rejection had on him and stated, “I’m a guy and I’m horny all the time. I can’t blame her for pushing me away.” While he claimed he was fine with the way she declined his sexual advances, it’s been over eight months since he has tried to have sex with her again. Clearly her rejection impacted him in ways he hasn’t acknowledged.

There are many reasons why couples stop having sex (or have less sex): low-to-no sex drive (for a variety of reasons); unresolved marital or relationship conflict that makes the idea of sex anything but desirable; underlying resentments that have never been cleared away; competing priorities and stresses that get in the way of sexual intimacy; a history of abuse that makes sex riddled with anxiety.

Despite the varied reasons why your sex life may have stalled, bringing sex back into the marriage or relationship can feel like risky business for couples, and ignoring these potential risks can interfere with your best efforts to spice up your marriage sexually. Raising awareness to the level of vulnerability involved is an important step in nurturing the conditions of emotional safety required for trust and sexual expression.

The Slippery Slope of Initiating Sex

Inherent to the initiation of sex is the communication of a need—obviously the need for sexual expression and fulfillment. But inherent to sex in committed relationships is the need for emotional connection and the desire to express love through one’s sexuality. So when a bid for sex is turned down, the initiator’s bid for emotional connection is also being thwarted.

Whenever we express a need or desire with our partner/spouse, we are placing ourselves in a position of vulnerability. In essence, we are saying, “You have the power to grant me this or reject me…” While feeling this level of vulnerability and potential danger may not be part of our conscious experience, the level of hurt, emotional pain and anger that can arise when one’s sexual advance is turned down suggests that the sexual overture isn’t at all benign but rather, is a risky undertaking. Listen to how Terri describes this experience:

“I remember when I was younger and out with my friends one night at a dance club. I saw this really cute guy and I wanted to have some fun with him, so I started coming on to him. It was quickly obvious that he wasn’t into me, but while I might have felt a little embarrassed in the moment, it wasn’t really a big deal. I wasn’t his type and that was fine. But when Roberto [Terri’s husband of eleven years] turns me down for sex, it hits me hard. It’s like the guy I really want to matter to isn’t interested in me. That just cuts deep and it isn’t easy to get over…”

Of course, advances for sex cannot be accepted every time (nor should they be). Ignoring your own needs by attempting to always say “yes” whenever your partner wants sex isn’t the solution to this dilemma, and doing so would only create additional problems (like feeling resentful for always agreeing even when you really prefer not to have sex). Rather, what is important is the realization that whenever your partner initiates sex (even if s/he does so in a playful-joking or flippant manner), s/he is taking an emotional risk and is making him/herself vulnerable.

5 Reasons Why Saying “No” to Sex Can Feel Like a Rejection

The slippery slope in initiating sex involves the potential for rejection and humiliation—feeling like you are somehow undesirable or wrong for wanting sex. And there are a few issues that make this potential danger for experiencing rejection or humiliation even greater:

  1. You are a sensitive person who is prone to feeling hurt/rejected (this is a trait that exists within you and not the result of your relationship);
  2. There has been an emotional disconnection between you and your partner and the offering of a sexually intimate experience was an attempt for reconnection and rebuilding (so there was a great deal at stake behind the sexual advance);
  3. There has been a pattern of declining sex without any counter-offers (the initiator of sex has been turned down numerous times without any counter-offer, such as, “I’m not feeling well tonight but I’d love to have sex with you tomorrow if I’m feeling better”);
  4. A pattern has developed where sex is only initiated by one person, and even though this might typically lead to sex (and even sex that is mutually enjoyable), the lack of reciprocity is making the initiator feel undesired and/or resentful;
  5. The “no’s” are communicated in an insensitive or harsh manner, thereby making the initiator feel self-conscious about his/her desire to have sex.

Some of the couples I work with minimize this issue or feel like it doesn’t apply to their relationship dynamic. But for many, discussing this issue really seems to resonate for them and they are able to give examples of how it has played out in their relationship.

The antidote to this issue is effective communication about your sexual needs and the conditions of emotional safety needed for you to share these needs. Creating a shared awareness about how emotionally vulnerable you and your partner become whenever sex is initiated is an important step in addressing this sensitive issue.

(Featured [top] image Woman with Thumb Down” by Abro/