Your sex life is good (hell, it may be great). You have sex regularly and it’s fun and satisfying for all parties. But you’re usually the one who plays the role of the seducer. Initiating sex usually falls on you. Why do some women hardly ever make the first move, and how should you bring up your desire?
Dr. Nicole Prause, a sex psychophysiologist and neuroscientist and who studies arousal and orgasms, suggests the disparity may be less about traditional societal biases and more about the fact that women get aroused differently than men — and may need a little help getting started. For instance, Prause has observed that even when women’s genitals respond to stimuli, they do not always report feeling aroused.
“Women just have fewer internal cues telling them ‘hey, you are having a little sexual response to that, think you might want to have sex?’” she says. Family therapist Jill Whitney agrees. “Men often feel desire first and then get aroused,” she said. For women, it’s the opposite. “Often, women don’t feel desire until they’re already aroused.”
Although older data indicates that traditionally-gendered sex roles can discourage women from making the first move, there’s evidence that this is shifting. Women are reporting less inhibition and more confidence when it comes to initiating sex, and up to 72 percent of college-aged men say they prefer that. Studies across cultures consistently conclude that women have lower sex drives compared to men, and some show that long-term relationships can deplete this drive even further. However, more nuanced studies of couples suggest that men and women may just be misinterpreting each others’ sexual interests, which present differently. Overall, heterosexual women tend to overestimate their partner’s libidos, whereas men tend to underestimate the sexual interests of women.
Some of the most fundamental differences between male and female arousal may be biological. Research shows that men tend to have more spontaneous sex drives because they are motivated by higher levels of testosterone. Women, on the other hand, tend to have responsive ones. This is an important distinction, because it dictates whether sex happens because of hormone-driven spontaneous desire (men) or if sex happens because of a desirable cue, such as a sensual touch (women). This is one reason why it’s so important for men to engage in foreplay, Prause says. Although that, of course, counts as “initiating”.
For parents, these effects are only exacerbated. Moms (and dads) may not want to initiate sex because they’re too exhausted to even think about it. Studies show that women suffer from more sleep problems than men, and one of the most common causes of lower female libidos is exhaustion, research reveals. And even if new dads initiate sex, ramp up the foreplay, and work their partner’s responsive sex drives, they may find that the women in their lives are simply tired of their bodies being messed with.
“Mothers may feel touched out,” Whitney says. “Nursing, cuddling, and little hands on her body all the time can leave her wanting to be left alone, to feel her body is her own for some small part of the day.”
For men who want to increase their partners’ responsiveness, or the likelihood that they will initiate sex, Whitney recommends taking the initiative when it comes to non-sexual tasks, like household tasks. This may not seem like foreplay, but it can help new moms unwind enough to consider initiating sex.
Prause agrees, adding that clearly communicating your sexual desires is always a good first step. “Tell her that you’d love it if she made the first move sometime, that you’d think it was sexy and it’d make you feel desirable,” Whitney says.
“Don’t demand that she initiate; that’d be a turnoff for most women,” she says. “But make sure she knows you’d like it.”