It's hard to ask... and it's hard to say yes OR no. Things can be itchy all over, right?
Initiating sex is vulnerable. We’re expressing a need. We’re asking for something and we’re offering ourselves… So the possibility of hearing “no” in response exposes us to the risk of feeling rejected. Of course, framing a declined invitation as “rejection” is a choice, and only one of many ways we can frame it, but our cultural story about offers and responses encourages us to think of the initiator as the vulnerable party and the one being propositioned as the person with the power to approve or reject the other.
But that brings us to the person receiving the request… and the offer. Being propositioned - or hinted to - for intimacy is vulnerable, too. It’s volatile. There’s positive potential, and negative. When your mate makes an overture or takes an action that you interpret as a invitation to the dance, how do you feel?
Just as when you initiate, how you feel when your partner initiates depends on a great many factors. Regardless of which side of the "wanna?" question you're sitting on, the following questions can help you excavate your challenges and, with reflection, carve out new territory for more ease and possibility:
- What is the history of their initiating and of your responses? How do they tend to react when you say yes? How do they tend to react when you say no? And how do you predict (accurately or not) they will react?
- What is the history of your initiating? Is that something you do? How does your partner tend to respond? How do you assume they would respond?
- What is your sexual history with other people? Is there any trauma or emotional pain connected to sex for you?
- How is your physical health? What sensations and energy level are alive in your body right now? How are you anticipating that your partner’s proposed connection would affect that?
- What kind of erotic and/or intimate experience would you desire most, if you could have anything you wanted? Do you know? Can you imagine having that with your partner? If so, is that something that effortlessly happens, or would you have to ask? If you asked, what do you anticipate would happen? Can you imagine they would get what they desire if you had what you desire most?
- What are you assuming your partner is asking for or offering? How much room do you feel like you have to counter-offer or to make requests inside your “yes” if you do turn toward the offer? Does their overture feel like a yes or no question, or like the first volley in a game the two of you can enjoy playing together?
- How comfortable and confident are you in your own body? In being naked? Being touched? Being seen naked?
- To what extent are you comfortable with and receptive to receiving pleasure, having your partner give to you, sexually? How comfortable are you with “letting go” and going into the involuntary places pleasure and erotic adventure can take us?
- To what extent are you comfortable with and confident in giving pleasure, in deliberately creating sensations in your partner with your words, your eyes, your mouth, your hands, your body, and beyond? How does it feel for you to think about being “in charge,” for moments or minutes or hours? Are you able to be generous and focus on their pleasure? Are you able to be assertive and stay that way even when - as they invariably do - things get wonky?
- What’s the timing of the invitation? Were you doing something else when you got this cue? What was it? What time of day is it now? Where is your head? How much gear-shifting will you have to do to enter an erotic space?
- What’s the emotional tenor of your connection right now? Are you feeling close? Distant? Have you been bickering? Generous with one another? Have you each had enough time alone? Have you had enough time together to be caught up on logistical communication and “news?” Are you feeling supported, respected, and cared about by your partner? Are you feeling good about the ways you’ve expressed support, respect, and care for them? Will sex build upon good feelings? Or will it be an attempt to shift into a better space? Or are you concerned it’s an attempt to get something “from” you in a way that doesn’t feel good to you?
With all these, and more, coming into play, it’s no wonder it’s hard to ask and so hard to answer when our partner proposes intimacy.
What to do about it? Each of your answers to the questions above has the potential to guide you to a way you can expand what I call your Erotic Intelligence: your capacity for holding your own generative, sexual power (in a sexual context or otherwise) and exchanging erotic energy with others of your choosing.
And I’ve created a course called Getting to Sex that helps you and your partner find the obstacles to being on the same page at the same time, makes initiating (and saying yes) easier, and helps you establish a practice of pleasure together that will not only help you connect more often but entirely rewrite your erotic connection, if you so desire, without having to talk about it ad nauseum. You’ll transform your connection in the most fun place possible: between the sheets.