1) Men want to be desired too. As women, we are socialized to be the objects of desire, not the owners of desire. We grow up thinking that sex is something that happens to us, not something we make happen. Seldom do we feel as agents of our own sexual lives. Bombarded with messages from the media about impossible physical standards we are often wracked with insecurity. We may struggle to reveal our erotic imagination lest we raise suspicion or resentment in our partner.
But a commitment to grow strong in our erotic core fulfills our pledge of fidelity – which involves moving away from others, yes, but more importantly, into an exciting sexual relationship. Our husbands don’t just want sex; they want us to want them. Wanting confirms our love and reveals our vulnerability. For many men, sex is love, sex is connection, and a woman’s sexual initiation, compliments, and “winks across the party” offer deep feelings of both excitement and security.
The media is increasingly adding pressure on men about their appearance and even guys who have never been vain can succumb. Working 60 hours a week to help provide for the family takes a toll on that athletic physique; aging can bring baldness, failing erections, wrinkles that subtract from his sex appeal or even his promotability! It’s a rough, critical world out there and we need all need the affirming physical love of our partner. More deeply though, in a monogamous relationship, sexual desire is what sets our lover apart as our unique. Expressing our desire says, "I want you—we belong together."
2) Stop, drop and roll every once in a while. Women need lots of time to get into the mood and even more time to reach orgasm, but every time? Even once in a blue moon, should you get yourself in the mood and ready, blow his mind. Unleashed aggression. Be hungry. Devour. Forget Saran Wrap and babydoll nighties—dress up in DESIRE.
Women tell me every day in therapy, “I can’t do it if I don’t feel connected.” But it can’t always be one-directional. If your partner bonds sexually, needs sex to feel relaxed and talkative, initiate toward your mutual goal of being connected.
Many healthy marriages go through three stages: fall in, fall out and fall back in love. Falling out of love strips away our oft distorted projections of who our partner is – offering us the first clear sight of a real “other,” usually not the prince or the toad but a real human being with warts.
The commitment necessary to fall back in love is simple. Simple and hard. Love your partner the way they like to be loved. This opens the space for true reciprocity. The risk is he will take all your love and use it up without giving back. With ordinary good people, a one spouse-only, six-month commitment of loving your partner their way can radically change the marriage. It’s my goal in marital therapy with super-stuck couples to convince, support, cajole, wheedle, and move one partner to risk first. Over and over, I witness how quickly their partner responds to the untallied, uncalculated gift of unconditional love. Save the therapy money—try it.
3) Grab him. Yeah, there. If you are going to initiate, go for broke. The most common complaint I hear from men whose wives claim they did initiate is “I didn’t get the signal.” One wife asked her husband if he was tired. He would have never imagined that sex was on her mind, so he replied, "Yes." She concluded that he didn’t want sex because she didn’t want sex when she was tired. Another wife in treatment told me she sat down next to her husband while watching TV. Did she touch him? No. Did she sit in his lap? No. Did she snuggle? No, she was waiting on him to start the touching. She really thought she had initiated. Maybe your guy needs some connection first; some men don’t want to drop their briefcase and roll in the foyer. For him, feel free to offer wine, cheese, crackers and a backrub. You probably don’t like him to initiate by grabbing your breast or vulva, but men often try this because it’s how they fantasize being approached. So to reiterate—try it his way.
4) Offer up a sexy debrief the next morning. Men love to hear what you think of the last experience. Talking about sex is almost like having sex. Women think if they start talking about it; he’ll start thinking about it and be disappointed that she doesn’t want to start all over again. Probably true. Double header? If you’re really opposed to doing it again in the morning, wait and text him the debrief. He’ll swagger into his meeting with the boss.
But in the morning over coffee, you will have his full attention to suggest ways that will make it better for you. He won’t be lost in his own overpowering lust. Do a high-low-high analysis. “I loved it when you did x; next time, it would really be better for me if you did y; but I thought thus and so about your great z.” Anytime we offer criticism, it is better to wrap it in velvet and reassure our partner that we think he’s sexy and good in bed.
5) Make it a game-changer. Let’s say you are the sexual distancer and emotional pursuer and he’s the opposite. You want him to ask about your feelings and he wants you to remember his sexual needs. The goal is to make your patterns more flexible, not to change you into the eternal sexual pursuer. Women are afraid that as soon as they enter the sexual relationship more fully, their husbands will raise the bar and expect more. One woman in my practice got excited about telling her husband on the vacation car ride that she was fully prepared to rip his clothes off when they got to the hotel. He asked for sex before they left the house. She heard herself sigh and ask if they could just get on the road. He encroached on her space and in her mind ruined her great plans to surprise him with initiating sex.
Not all men want sex more than their partners, about 15-20% of my couple-clients have the wife wanting more sex—those husbands could take this advice and just change the pronouns. No matter who wants it more: prioritize your partner’s sexual needs with time, energy and money, fantasize about your partner in ways that ignite your own body, say no when you don’t want it and offer an inviolable raincheck that you remember and bring up on that day, cultivate receptive desire to say "Yes" sometimes when you’re not in the mood, and let arousal spark desire. Coming forward with both initiating and receptive desire will lower a partner's anxiety about not getting it again and reduce the pressure in the bedroom.