The 3-step process for how to respond when your partner initiates sex but you’re not interested

September 22,2020

At the beginning of the month, I told you the shameful story of how I responded “UGH” to Xander when he initiated sex. 

It was unkind of me to respond that way, but there’s also something really important about that moment that I need to point out…

It’s RARE for both partners in a relationship to be interested in sex in the exact same moment. 

Xander and I are no exception! 

I was NOT turned on when he initiated. 

And I’ve initiated with Xander plenty of times when sex was the last thing on his mind. (Ask him to tell you the cringe-worthy story of when I tried to initiate sex on the beach…)

We’re taught to believe that sex should just happen “spontaneously”. That you should feel wild and intense desire for sex in the exact same moment your partner feels wild and intense desire, and that you should magically have the time, space, and privacy to do it in that exact moment.

But it’s so important to me to tell you that that is NOT how sex really happens. 

The reality is that you are two very different people, with two different sets of needs. 

Even if your sex drives feel pretty damn similar, you’re not always going to feel desire in the exact same moment.

So that’s why I want to talk about something really important… 

What to do when your partner initiates, since you’re not likely to be an immediate “yes.”

Let me walk you through the 3-step process that I go through myself!

Step 1: Acknowledge that it’s perfectly normal to not feel desire in that moment. 

I’ll literally tell myself, “It’s OK for me to not be turned on right now. Remember, we don’t have the exact same sex drive! It’s to be expected that I’m not interested in sex even though Xander is.” 

Sometimes just this step is enough for me to feel more open to being intimate. 

Step 2: Change the question.

Did you notice the subtle word swap I used in Step 1? I wrote about being “open” to having sex. 

Like I mentioned above, most of us think we have to be wildly turned on when our partners initiate. But that’s a really high – and unrealistic – bar to set!

Instead, I’ve found it so much more helpful to think about being “open” to sex. 

It acknowledges that I don’t have to be turned on in that moment. I just have to be curious about the possibility of getting there!

Step 3: See if there’s something different you’re needing. 

Xander and I don’t know how to read each other’s minds (let us know if you’ve figured out how to do this in your relationship!), so we never know exactly what the other person wants or needs. 

So when he initiates in a non-ideal time or in a non-ideal way, I try to share with him if there’s something different that might work better.

For example, the other day he initiated with me as I was in the middle of writing an email. Sometimes I love being interrupted to go do something more fun, but sometimes it’s too much of a distraction. So I told him, “Give me 10 minutes to finish this, then come ask me.”

Sometimes he’s initiated sex in a pretty straightforward, to-the-point way, so I’ve told him, “Tell me how badly you want me right now.” 

Sometimes I’ve asked him to give me a back massage for 10 minutes, and then I’d see if I was open to more. 

(And for the record, he gives me the same kind of feedback too. I’m definitely NOT a perfect initiator!)

Seeing if there’s something different we’re needing in those moments is so freeing for both of us. When I’m the initiator, it takes the pressure off of needing to initiate in the “perfect” way. When I’m the receiver, it takes the pressure off to be an immediate “yes”.


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I'm Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist and writer specializing in helping you have more fun in the bedroom.

I have bachelor’s degrees in human sexuality and sociology from Brown University, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. I’m also a licensed psychotherapist. I’ve been working in the sex therapy field since 2002 and have been featured by The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and many more.

If you’re interested in improving your sex life, you can work with me via my online courses or personal coaching sessions. I look forward to supporting you in creating the sex life you’ve always wanted!