Partner never initiates sex. I feel unwanted. What can I do?

kate
asks:
My partner never initiates sex. When I ask why, he says it is because I don't orgasm during sex with him. I am always the one who initiates and only do so like 2 to 3 times in a month. Sometimes I am turned on and at other times it is just because I need to feel loved and wanted. But I find it weird that I am always the one who initiates and after sex he gets to call me a "pervert" although I never climax and he always does. I also don't feel very much loved or wanted when I am always the one who starts it and get called a pervert because of it. How do I deal with this situation?
Mo Ranyart replies:

I can understand why you aren't feeling loved and wanted. It sounds like your partner is acting in a distinctly unloving way.

I have some thoughts about ways you can approach conversations with him, to see if he's willing to change his thoughts and actions here, but unless he is willing to make some BIG changes in terms of how he approaches sex with you, he just may not be someone who's ready and able to have a mature, loving sexual relationship with you or anyone else. The situation he's set up right now just isn't one that is or can result in a healthy sexual partnership.

There are ways to deal with a situation where one partner is always initiating sex, if both partners aren't happy with that arrangement. I do want to share those with you, but I need to address the part of your question that really caused me concern: the fact that your partner calls you a "pervert" after having sex with you.

If people want to engage in name-calling as part of sexual roleplay, that's fine, but only as long as it's been discussed and agreed on beforehand. From what you've written, I don't think that's the case here; instead, it sounds like your partner is choosing to insult you after having sex with you, which is a pretty terrible thing for him to do. "Pervert" is a word that's been used as a weapon against all sorts of people whose sexual desires are seen as "abnormal" or "unnatural" by whoever's doing the name-calling; it's really concerning to me that this is how your partner sees your desire for sex.

When your partner agrees to have sex, and insults you afterwards for having the sex he consented to, that's a huge problem.

I'm not sure what he finds "perverted" about the situation: does he think it's abnormal or wrong for you to initiate sex? To want sex? To enjoy sex? Why? It's pretty chilling, to be honest, to think about someone who'd rather have their partner not enjoy sex, you know? It could be that he doesn't like the idea of you wanting sex enough to initiate it, is uncomfortable with your level of sexual desire being greater than his, or thinks initiating is something he should be doing and is taking some frustration about not being the initiator out on you, but it really doesn't matter what his reason is. There's no excuse for it.

Before you talk with him about anything else you've mentioned here, I think you need to have a serious conversation about the name-calling. I think you should let him know that you don't like it, that he absolutely must stop doing it, and that you're feeling pretty lousy about the way you're communicating about sex in general.

If he apologizes and wants to have a larger conversation about your sex life and how you can navigate it in a healthier way, that's great; I think he'll still have a good bit of work to do in terms of figuring out how to approach sex, but recognizing a mistake and wanting to address it is a solid first step. On the other hand, if he downplays his actions, denies there's a problem, or talks a big game about wanting to change but doesn't actually modify his behavior at all, any of those would be a pretty clear sign that he just isn't invested in being -- and so won't ever be -- a good partner; at that point I think it would be wise to seriously consider ending the relationship.

Because insults can sometimes be part of a larger pattern of emotional abuse or sexual shaming, it's worth taking a moment to evaluate the rest of your relationship for any warning signs that there's a larger pattern at play. Do any of the signs of emotional or verbal abuse as described here feel familiar to you? If this is just part of a pattern of abusive behaviors, I think your priority needs to be getting out of this relationship for your own safety.

Having said that, what if he is able to recognize the problem with the name-calling and wants to do better? What I would want to see from him is a commitment to communicating more openly and honestly, owning his own level of desire for sex, being able to talk about alternatives to sex when you're wanting to be close and one or both of you aren't in the mood, and (this is the big one!) an immediate end to calling you a pervert or anything else when he does consent to have sex with you. If he's willing to follow through on that commitment and actually start doing that work, that's when you can move on to talking about the larger questions about his pattern of not initiating and his feelings about your lack of orgasm during sex.


Some people are more comfortable initiating sex than others, and some folks enjoy the feeling of being asked more than they enjoy doing the asking; both of these things are okay. But when there's an imbalance of one person always initiating sex, the initiator might worry that their partner isn't really interested in having sex with them, especially if they haven't talked about their feelings or preferences when it comes to taking that initiative. When this happens, a good first step is to talk to your partner about how they're feeling and try and find out where the reluctance to initiate comes from; this can also be a good time to check in about how they're feeling about your sex life in general. If there's an underlying issue or problem that's making your partner less comfortable or enthusiastic when it comes to initiating sex, it's good to be able to bring that out in the open.

In your case, you have at least one answer: your partner says he doesn't initiate because you aren't having orgasms when the two of you have sex. Some people have a lot of personal pride or self-worth wrapped up in the idea of "giving" a partner an orgasm, and feel let down or embarrassed when that doesn't happen. But that's just not the way orgasms work; they aren't things you can give to a partner: they're an involuntary (meaning, outside anyone's control, ultimately) nervous system response, not a bouquet of flowers.

Hopefully, if he takes a moment to think about it he can understand that you not having an orgasm isn't something you're doing to or at him; it's just the way things have gone so far. If you find that you're able to orgasm during masturbation, or there are other sexual activities you think might make orgasm more likely with your partner, you can certainly discuss and incorporate some of those things into your partnered sex life if you want to, but if you're still figuring out how this works for yourself, that's okay too. Hopefully you and your partner can get to a point where you can do some low-pressure experimentation together that feels more like fun than like troubleshooting a broken computer.

No one is ever required to have an orgasm during sex, and expecting or assuming a partner will always have one every time you have sex with them just isn't sound. People often won't reach orgasm, sometimes even with sex they really enjoy. If your partner has a lot of expectations and self-worth wrapped up in your orgasm, and is setting those feelings on you, not only is that a lot of needless pressure that doesn't really line up with how sex or orgasms work, the pressure is likely to make it a lot more difficult for you to reach orgasm at all.

When discussing this with your partner, changing the goal or focus of sex might be helpful; having sex with pleasure, not orgasm, as the central goal is a way to dial down the pressure on everyone involved, whether it's the pressure to perform or to produce an orgasm out of thin air when one just isn't in the cards. It's also a much better route to a sex life that everyone involved actually really enjoys and feels satisfied with. If you're enjoying yourself, feeling good, and getting closer to your partner, you -- and your partners, if they actually want you to enjoy yourself -- may find yourself really satisfied with a sexual experience during which you don't orgasm. You don't have to reach orgasm to have "good sex," but if you find you aren't feeling emotionally or physically fulfilled in some way after sex, that's something else to address.

It may help to ask your partner some follow-up questions about why your lack of orgasm is keeping him from initiating sex: is he reluctant to have sex because he worries you won't like it? Is he falsely thinking that you having an orgasm is the only thing that demonstrates you're enjoying yourself with him? Is he upset with you for not reaching orgasm? Upset with himself for not "giving" orgasms to you? The way you worded this in your question, it almost sounds like your partner is punishing you for not having orgasms during sex; just like with the name-calling, if you get the feeling that he's being sulky or punitive when you talk to him, that's a huge red flag that says he just isn't ready or willing to have a healthy sexual partnership with another person.

It's pretty common for young men to write in to us asking about "giving" partners orgasms, and worrying about how lack of orgasm might reflect on them or their sexual skills; it's a common issue, even though it reflects a misunderstanding of how orgasm happens. Our article on sexual response and orgasm has a good explanation of this process that would likely be helpful for your partner to read, so he can have a better sense of how arousal and orgasm work. In addition, this response to someone worried about giving his girlfriend orgasms should be a helpful perspective for him as well, if you want to pass it along. This section of the response seems particularly useful for your partner to keep in mind:

If we're feeling like we HAVE to orgasm, or our partners are going nuts trying to make it happen, we're often less likely to have one. And if she's feeling that you're getting frustrated, and that you have a lot invested in terms of her orgasm to make YOU feel good -- about yourself, your performance, what have you -- that's going to usually inhibit orgasm and also dampen pleasure. There's even a term for that: it's called "spectatoring." In other words, there we are, in sex, going nuts to make someone come, trying to do everything we can to net that result, sometimes even long after sexual arousal has subsided. Our partners feel that pressure and frustration, feel the element of pleasure start to leak out of the room (because you suddenly have to start thinking about coming to make someone else feel better), and the body responds in kind. So, doing everything you can to NOT put so much focus on orgasm, to NOT go nuts trying to make it happen, is going to have a much better result than what you've been doing.


Finally, it sounds like you're currently initiating sex for a few reasons: sometimes, it's because you're feeling arousal and a desire for sex, and other times, because you're looking to feel loved by your partner. If you aren't truly in the mood for sex but feel like it is the only way you're able to experience intimacy with your boyfriend, it's time to re-evaluate how (and if) intimacy works in your relationship. I worry you're having sex you don't want because it feels like your only option, and that isn't likely to craft a great-feeling sexual life for anyone.

Are there other ways the two of you connect and feel close to each other besides sex? If the only kind of intimacy you experience is sexual, and he seems reluctant or indifferent to that one form of intimacy, it's understandable that you'd be initiating sex even if you aren't entirely in the mood for it. Can you talk to him about other ways you'd like to connect and see if he's interested in other intimate activities? This could include nonsexual cuddling, talking more about your personal goals and feelings, taking walks around town, cooking and sharing a meal together, learning something new together, or anything else that involves some emotional connection and provides an opportunity to deepen your bond. If you want more ideas, we have a great article on intimacy with several suggestions, along with a good rundown on intimacy itself, that you may find helpful.

When you aren't in the mood for sex but crave other kinds of intimacy, it's good to go ahead and ask for what you really want, instead of asking for sex you aren't entirely excited about. Sex is bound to feel better overall if you're only seeking it out when you're feeling sexual desire, and asking for nonsexual intimacy instead when that's more your speed.

If you find that your partner isn't interested in nonsexual intimacy at all, or he says he is but never follows through, this may be an area in which you're fundamentally incompatible if you want something besides a purely, and only, sexual relationship. There are so many ways besides sex for people to show their affection for each other, and you deserve to be with someone who's willing to be loving and caring in all areas of the relationship, not just during sex.

I know I've mentioned several times that you and your partner may have major incompatibilities. That might be a bummer to hear, but right now there's a pretty big disconnect between what you need to feel loved and what he's willing to do for you, including some very basic acts of respect that should be a given in all relationships. If your current partner isn't able to see the big mistakes he's making here and make some serious changes to how he approaches your relationship, I think that'll be the clearest sign of all that a continued relationship with him is unlikely to be a healthy or happy one. As intimidating as it can be to initiate big conversations about a partner's hurtful behavior, by starting those hard conversations you'll be on your way to learning whether or not these conflicts are ones you and your partner can resolve together, and hopefully either way you'll have a bit more clarity about the state of your relationship and your next steps, either together or separately. I wish you the best of luck.