An awesome question: How do I initiate sex when my partner doesn't have spontaneous desire?

Here’s an awesome question:

I love what you’ve written on responsive desire- it makes so much sense! I wanted to know if you have any advice as far as initiating sexual activity with a partner whose desire for sex is primarily responsive? I know that communication is key, but I’m terribly shy, and have a lot of trouble initiating with my partner. My partner doesn’t really experience spontaneous desire even though they’re happy to respond.


A review of responsive versus spontaneous desire:

Spontaneous desire is out-of-the-blue desire for sex. Responsive desire is desire for sex that emerges in response to sexy things that are already happening. Both are 100% normal and healthy.

Initiation is simple when both people are experiencing spontaneous desire, right?

You say, “Hey, I kinda wanna do it. Wanna do it?”

And your partner says, “Yeah!”

And you do it.

When one partner is experiencing spontaneous desire and the other is experiencing responsive desire, that same conversation gets a little trickier.

You say, “Hey, I kinda wanna do it. Wanna do it?”

And your partner says, “Meh.”

And then it might be awkward, because you’re like, “Uh, I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to do…”


In fact, I was eating lunch at a conference, chatting about the dual control model and the role of context in sexual desire (seriously, I’m obsessed), and the woman sitting next to me said, “Can you say that to my husband, so that he’ll stop asking me, ‘Hey, do you wanna have sex tonight?’ while I’m changing diapers?”

All the women at the table laughed. All the women at the table knew that when you ask a woman who’s changing diapers whether or not she wants sex tonight, the answer will probably be not just “No,” but “Are you kidding me?”

But this woman’s husband really, genuinely, seriously didn’t realize that.

It can be difficult spontaneous desire folks to understand the role that context plays for responsive desire folks. They need help understanding how to create a great context.

So here’s an approach that might have been more successful:

First, he could say, “Hello beautiful, let me help with that” – or better yet “Let me do that for you.”

Then, “How are you feeling this morning?”

Then he could listen to her answer. Listen for realsie real. And follow up with something like, “It sounds like you’re feeling __________. What can I do to help with that?”

Then listen to that answer too.

And do the thing to help.

And then after he did that thing, he could say, “If I suggested we make love tonight, what would you want to happen between now and then to get you in a place where you could really enjoy it?”

This is not a resource exchange or a negotiation, it’s not about finding a way to make her willing to have sex. It’s about find a way to make her eager to have sex. Not “If you do these things for me, then I will have sex for you,” but “If I’m in the right state of mind, then I will desire sex with you; no promises, but here are some things that could increase the likelihood that I’ll be in that state of mind tonight.”


It’s is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to include that “without pressure or expectation” part, because hardly anybody finds it fun and sexy and a turn on to find themselves in the position of being expected to get turned on. As in, “How about I do the dishes and you go take  hot shower, with the expectation that by the time we’re both finished you’ll be raring to go? No pressure. But I am doing the dishes, so… ya know.”

I say it all the time: sex is a destination, not a journey! Whatever you’re doing, enjoy that, and just see what happens, without trying to push it to go anywhere in particular. Trying to push a responsive partner is maybe the most effective way to prevent that partner from ever getting into the hot-and-heavy, hey-sexy-lady state of mind.

Try using the SEXY CONTEXT WORKSHEETS or otherwise talking with your partner about what kinds of things create The Mood. This will generally involve both things that activate the accelerator and things that turn of all the brakes. When you know what contexts facilitate desire, you can take steps to increase access to those contexts in your life and your relationships.

It might also help to think about sexual consent in terms of “openness.”

BUT NO PRESSURE OR EXPECTATION! That won’t make anybody feel good.