Having partnered sex has proven mood- and health-boosting benefits, besides being a great way to connect with a partner. However, actually doing the deed typically requires at least one person to feel the desire for it and to initiate sex in a way that resonates with the other person. But because there are lots of different sex initiation styles, understanding yours—and that of a partner—can make all the difference when it comes to having more (and more fulfilling) sex.
According to sex therapist Vanessa Marin, LMFT, everyone is a little different in terms of how they like to initiate sex (if at all) and what kinds of sex initiation styles they find, well, sexy. For example, physical cues, like a soft caress or a hand on a lower back, or a verbal mention of sex may be a turn-on to one person and a turn-off to another.
After talking with clients and conducting polls, Marin identified six common sex initiation styles, all of which are detailed below and in her book Sex Talks: The Five Conversations That Will Transform Your Love Life. These distinct categories, though certainly not inclusive of every possible way to initiate sex, can help you better understand how you want someone to approach sex with you and to communicate that in order to really get those sparks flying.
Why it’s worth identifying your specific sex initiation style
The basic idea behind the six different sex initiation styles, Marin says, is to make people more excited and empowered to initiate sex; if you have a good idea of how you and a partner like to initiate sex, you can then do so in a way that improves your sexual experiences and makes you more likely to look forward to sex.
This may be especially beneficial in long-term partnerships, which are subject to what sex therapist and neuroscientist Nan Wise, PhD, calls the “desire curve:” After the honeymoon period wears off—taking the libido-boosting “new relationship energy” with it—your desire for sex with your partner tends to dip, at least a little bit. Pair that with the stress of things like cohabitating and coparenting, which are more common in long-term relationships, and sex can fall even further to the back burner.
When sex becomes less of a regular experience in a relationship, understanding how to initiate it effectively becomes all the more important for actually having it. Unfortunately, Marin says, many couples aren’t very direct about what they want or how they’d like a partner to get things going, and can’t articulate exactly how their partner would like them to initiate, either. The result? Initiating sex gets confusing or tiresome, which just leads you to have even less of it. “It could be that you’re just grabbing at each other, or you’re trying to give each other a signal, but the other person is just not picking up on it,” she says.
That’s where understanding your sex initiation style comes into play. Knowing exactly how you like sex to be approached and communicating that with a partner can help bridge the initiation gap and make sex a more seamless, frequent experience in your relationship.
“When we’re initiating sex, we want our partner to say, ‘Yes,’ which is why it’s helpful to appeal to them in a way that feels welcome and exciting.”—Vanessa Marin, LMFT, sex therapist
While not everyone will subscribe to just one of Marin’s sex initiation styles, the idea is to create a starting point for a conversation about what welcome and pleasurable initiation looks like to you and to a partner. Naturally, these answers might not be the same—but that’s totally okay, she says.
The key here is to identify each person’s sex initiation style (or version of a style), so that both of you can initiate sex in a way that’s pleasurable to your partner. “When we’re initiating sex, we want our partner to say, ‘Yes,’ which is why it’s helpful to appeal to them in a way that feels welcome and exciting—and not like a bother or an annoyance,” says Marin.
6 sex initiation styles, according to a sex therapist
1. “Excite me”
The people who identify with this sex initiation style want sex to be an event they can look forward to and get excited about in advance. Marin says drawing out the anticipation of sex is part of the reward here. “Initiation for these folks is a slow burn,” she says.
Scheduling sex may really resonate for people who have this initiation style, as will “teasing looks and knowing touches” to get them going, says Marin. These folks also typically enjoy openly talking about having sex, as a way to ramp up their mental excitement for it.
2. “Take care of me”
People who fall in this bucket need to feel fully safe with and nurtured by a partner before they get busy. Especially if they’ve had a stressful day, they’ll want to be cared for by a partner in order to get in the right headspace to be intimate. To be sure, that doesn’t have to be a huge lift; even a partner offering to do a couple chores or errands could do the trick, says Marin.
“You have a hard time closing all the tabs in your brain and shifting into sexy mode, so you appreciate when your partner takes over and gives you a few minutes of time for yourself beforehand,” says Marin, of people who resonate with this initiation style.
3.”Play with me”
Sex is at its best for people with this initiation style when it’s fun and light-hearted. “The fastest way to get into your pants is to make you laugh,” says Marin, of folks who fall into this camp. “You don’t want sex to feel serious all the time, and your partner definitely does not need to seduce you.”
Inside jokes signaling that it’s time for sex—for example, sending each other a specific emoji via text or cueing up a particular song—are good ways to get things going with people who enjoy making play an element of sex.
4. “Desire me”
Someone with this sex initiation style needs to feel their partner’s clear and unwavering desire for them and know, deep down, that they’re wanted and needed. “It’s an intensity of emotion that they’re looking for,” says Marin. This might include explicitly telling them how badly you want and need them to get their engine revving.
5. “Connect with me”
This type of person needs some version of emotional connection before physical connection can get started, says Marin. “If you just touch them, or you try to pull some sort of physically sexy move, they likely won’t respond to that because they want to feel emotionally intimate with you first.” This might just look like asking about their day (and really listening to the response) or choosing to put your phone down and engage in a fully present conversation.
6. “Touch me”
By contrast to the last initiation type, this one refers to the kind of person who will respond well to physical touch (with their consent). Words aren’t the best method to initiate with someone who identifies with this style. “You like [your partner] to appeal to your body first,” Marin says, of a person in this bucket.
This is someone who will respond well to passionate touching, such as surprise kisses and back rubs. “For this person, it’s not so much about feeling desired by a partner,” says Marin. “It’s more about feeling like their partner is willing to put the time into awakening their body.”