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Saturday, April 22, 2023

Relationships: What If You and Your Partner Have Different Sexual Initiation Styles?

In my last article, Relationships: What is Your Sexual Initiation Style?, I introduced the idea of sexual initiation styles.  In the current article, I'm addressing a problem that frequently comes up in sex therapy, which is dealing with different sexual initiation styles in your relationship.

Sexual Initiation Styles

Disclaimer: Before I continue, I want to remind people that this is a short article with general information for a complex topic, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer for everyone. This article isn't a substitute for therapy. The best way to resolve your sexual problems is to seek help directly from a sex therapist.

Similar to some of the previous articles, the information in this article is based on what I have observed in my sex therapy private practice in New York City as well as Vanessa Marin's wonderful book, Sex Talks.

Recap of Sexual Initiation Styles
In the previous article, I discussed the different sexual initiation styles in detail as they are outlined in Ms. Marin's book.  As I mentioned in the last article, there is no one style that's better than another.

You or your partner might not fit neatly into one category or another. You might be a combination of categories or maybe sometimes one or both of you might be more in the mood to initiate in a certain way that's different from how you normally initiate.

What's most important is for you and your partner to start thinking about these initiation styles to become aware of them and how to make them work for you as a couple.

As a recap, Ms. Marin discusses the following sexual initiation styles in her book (for a more detailed explanation, see my previous article):
  • "Excite Me" (The Slow Burn): You like sexual energy to simmer and build over time (see my article: The Sex Drive Simmer).
  • "Take Care of Me" (The Caretaker): You need to feel nurtured by your partner.
  • "Play With Me" (Let's Have Some Fun): You get sexually turned on when your partner is playful and fun.
  • "Desire Me" (Wanting to Be Wanted): To get in the mood for sex, you need to feel desired.
  • "Connect With Me" (Let's Talk): You need emotional intimacy before sexual intimacy.
  • "Touch Me" (Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me): You get turned on by physical touch, which makes you feel sexually alive.
What If You and Your Partner Have Different Sexual Initiation Styles?
For many people just considering what their own sexual initiation style is daunting. It takes self reflection and feedback from your partner.  This would be the same for your partner.

Although it might seem intimidating at first, knowing your own and your partner's sexual initiation style can resolve many sexual problems that couples have.

For instance, if you're turned off by a partner who approaches you without any foreplay and says, "Hey babe, do you wanna do it?," it's helpful to be able to tell your partner how you prefer to be approached (see my article: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

Different Sexual Initiation Styles

On the other hand, you might be someone who gets turned on by the "Do you wanna do it?" approach. But for many people, especially women, this would be a turn off (see my article: Based on Sex Research: What Gets Women Sexually Turned On?).

Similarly, if you're the one who always initiates, you might wonder if your partner is just having sex to appease you. You might want your partner to initiate sex sometimes just to know your partner wants you sexually, and you need to be able to communicate this to your partner.

According to Ms. Marin, it's best to think of sexual initiation as an invitation

She provides an interesting example that often doesn't work for couples who haven't had sex in a while where one partner, who is anxious about initiating sex says something like, "Gee, we haven't had sex in a while. Do you wanna it?" in a half-hearted way.

Not only is this awkward for both people, it's also not much an invitation at all.

As a comparison, she mentions that most people wouldn't invite a friend out to dinner a similarly half-hearted way, "Gee we haven't seen each other in a while. You wouldn't wanna go out to dinner, would you?"

Instead, if you wanted to see your friend and you looked forward to having dinner with them, you would be a lot more enthusiastic. Aside from providing a more enthusiastic invitation, you might tell your friend about the great new Italian restaurant in the neighborhood with delicious ravioli as a way to entice them to go.

Similarly, your invitation to your partner needs to be enticing and also make them feel sexually desirable and turned on (see my articles: What is Your Erotic Blueprint? - Part 1 and Part 2).

Clinical Vignette: A Couple With Different Sexual Initiation Styles
The following clinical scenario is based on a composite of cases with all identifying information removed. The scenario illustrates how each partner learns about their own and their partner's sexual initiation style in sex therapy and how this improves their sex life:

Nina and John
A year into their relationship, after the new relationship energy had worn off, Nina and John began having sexual problems.

During the first several months of their relationship, they both felt sexually passionate so it didn't matter who initiated or how they initiated because they were both eager to have sex with each other all the time.

This initial phase of a relationship is called the limerence phase--an involuntary period when two people are infatuated and often obsessed with each other.  Generally, the limerence phase lasts anywhere from three months to two years.

After Nina and John moved in together and they had more mundane concerns, like who cleans the bathroom and who takes out the garbage. Seeing each other everyday and dealing with the realities of everyday life caused the sexual energy between them to cool down--as it does for most couples after the limerence phase.

Both of them were in their mid-30s and neither of them had ever been in a long term relationship before, so they never experienced what it was like to go beyond the limerence phase of a relationship.

After a year, sex was awkward between them. Nina often felt exhausted late at night and she resented when John would tap on her thigh when they were in bed together late at night as a way to initiate sex.

Most of the time, Nina would tell John she was just too tired. But on those occasions when she agreed to have sex, she wasn't turned on at all. She just went along with it to please him--hoping that he would have an orgasm so she could go to sleep.  

John was aware that Nina wasn't turned on and this made him anxious. Sometimes the anxiety and the feeling that Nina didn't want him sexually would cause him to lose his erection due to his sexual anxiety (see my article: How Sex Therapy Can Help With Sexual Anxiety).

So, due to feeling rejected and anxious and a fear of losing his erection, John rushed through sex as quickly as he could. He didn't engage in any foreplay because he knew that Nina wanted to just get it over with so she could go to sleep.

Afterwards, they each laid in bed feeling empty and alone before they drifted off to sleep.  Since they didn't know how to talk to each other about sex, the problem worsened over time.

Eventually, after a few months went by without sex, John summoned the courage to tell Nina that they needed to get help in sex therapy for their problem.  He was relieved when Nina agreed.

After the initial family and sexual history taking phase of sex therapy, their sex therapist explained the limerence phase and how sex tends to be less spontaneous and passionate than it was before. 

She also explained that, based on how each of them described their sexuality, Nina experienced responsive sexual desire and John experienced spontaneous sexual desire, which was a big part of the problem between them (see my article: Spontaneous Sexual Desire and Responsive Sexual Desire Are Both Normal).

Then, their sex therapist went over their typical sex script, which didn't vary much from one sexual encounter to the next, and Nina and John both began to realize why sex wasn't working for them (see my article: Understanding Your Sex Script).

Over time, Nina and John learned what turned each of them on and what turned each of them off (see my article: Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes).

John realized that Nina just went along with sex because she was usually too tired when he initiated sex late at night and she wasn't turned on.

Nina realized when John saw that she was just trying to get it over with, he felt anxious and rejected.

As they continued to attend their sex therapy sessions, they both learned how they each liked sex to be initiated.

Nina realized she needed to feel emotionally connected to John first before she became sexually aroused because her style was "Connect With Me." She told John that she needed to re-establish the emotional connection with him when they both got home from work before feeling comfortable enough to enjoy sex.  

She also needed to have sex earlier in the evening. And, like most women, she didn't have an orgasm from just sexual intercourse--she needed clitoral stimulation (see my article: Closing the Orgasm Gap Between Heterosexual Women and Men).

John realized that he was more of a "Touch Me" sexual style.  All he needed was Nina to touch him--even in a non-sexual way--and that touch combined with his spontaneous sexual desire was enough to get him turned on if he knew Nina wanted to have sex.  They were also able to talk about those times when he felt anxious about initiating with her and how that resulted in his loss of an erection.

Their sex therapist encouraged John and Nina to change their sex script (see my article: Changing Your Sex Script).

Since Nina needed more time to get sexually aroused, the sex therapist encouraged John to slow down, take the time to connect with Nina after they both got home from work and allow  sexual foreplay to take precedence over intercourse (see my article: Rethinking Foreplay as More Than Just a Prelude to Sexual Intercourse).  

She encouraged John and Nina to be more playful in their sexual exploration and not to assume that their initial attempts would be successful right away.

After a while, John was still primarily the one who initiated sex, which both he and Nina didn't mind.  But he was much more aware of what Nina needed in terms of his sexual initiation to feel sexually turned on.  He spent more time with sexual foreplay, including oral sex. 

Combining Sexual Initiation Styles

And, once she was turned on, Nina enjoyed engaging in John's preferred "Touch Me" style.  On days when she initiated sex, Nina was able to ask John to cuddle and talk with her first before she did what she knew got him turned on, including oral sex.

When John felt how much Nina wanted him, he no longer felt anxious and rejected so he didn't have erectile problems.

Although it might sound like they were able to resolve their sexual problems in a short time, in reality, discovering your own and your partner's sexual likes and dislikes takes time. 

For many couples just being able to talk about sex is a major obstacle to overcome.

Getting Help in Sex Therapy
Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

There is no touch, physical exam or sex during sex therapy sessions (see my article: What Are the Most Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy?).

Individuals and couples seek help for a variety of reasons (see my article: What Are Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy?).

If you're struggling with sexual problems, rather than struggling on your own, seek help in sex therapy so you can have a more enjoyable sex life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email.