By Corinne Farago
When I was 19 years old, I wandered into a tiny antique shop in downtown Toronto. It was cluttered with a wide assortment of international nicknacks, worn carpets, and furniture in need of restoring. An old Japanese man sat in the corner working on an ink painting.
When he saw me staring at a pair of wooden ducks high up on a shelf, he asked me if I knew about how these wooden ducks were traditionally used by married couples in Japan.
I deciphered from his broken English that usually the ducks sat facing in opposite directions in a home. If the woman was interested in sex that night, she would place the ducks facing each other.
When the man came home at the end of the day, he would check the placement of the ducks to get a read on her interest in being intimate. No words needed to be exchanged, no long conversations had to take place. The ducks facilitated what many couples struggle with, the comfort to talk about sex
What the old Japanese man shared with me that day stuck with me over the decades. It was the first time I really thought about creative ways of expressing desire and initiating sex.
Clearly, the decision to use ducks to initiate sex began as a solution to a problem; a problem that was, no doubt, causing friction in the relationship; the discomfort with talking about sex.
If you find it difficult to talk openly and honestly about sex with your partner, initiation is going to be an ongoing challenge.
Initiating sex with our partner is a mixed bag for couples. It comes with ease for some, where just a look or an innuendo sets things in motion, but for most couples initiation is laden with a dynamic that creates feelings of frustration, misunderstanding and resentment.
If we’re going to understand how to tackle this emotionally complicated issue, we need to really feel what’s happening for our partner. We need to step out of our defended positions and start to share our experiences.
When we start to communicate and share, from an undefended place about our needs and desires, we open ourselves to empathy and connection. The higher desire partner and the lower desire partner can begin to bridge the silent chasm they so often find themselves in when it comes to sexual initiation.
Both partners get lost in their own emotional experience.
I see every couple as a unique puzzle to be pieced together based on their sexual histories, and how those histories combine. It’s helpful to see the complexity of emotions on both sides of fence.
The higher desire person is often the one to initiate, believing that if they didn’t, sex would never happen. If there’s a pattern of their initiations being refused, then they will be bracing themselves for disappointment, which undermines the energy of confidence and seduction that leads the way to intimacy.
The lower desire partner is the one being pursued. They hold the power in that moment to say yes or no. It’s a depolarizing position for both. This ‘yes or no’ question flattens the energy of seduction, and the lower desire partner will find all the reasons why sex, in that moment, doesn’t work for them. At this point their answer will default to a no. This dynamic kills desire for multiple reasons.
Let’s unpack this exchange by looking at all the feelings involved for both partners.
If the higher desire partner is the one to initiate, and is more often than not refused, they can end up feeling:
- Alone as the only one who is interested in making sex happen
- Shameful about their desires
- Disempowered in the relationship, in and out of the bedroom
- Resentful toward their partner who holds the power
- Judged for their sexual expectations
- Sad that their sexuality has no place for expression
- Unloved and undesired by their partner
- Doubtful that they’re worthy of a life that includes desire and affection
If the lower desire person is always the one being pursued, they’re spending more time assessing their answer rather than locating their own desire. When they default to a no, this often leaves them feeling:
- Guilty about always being the one to say no, knowing they’re not meeting their partner’s needs for sex and intimacy
- Pressured to meet their partner’s needs in the moment
- Misunderstood when it comes to their needs, and what might work better for them
- Broken, believing there’s something wrong with their sexuality
- Resistant in their bodies, which can appear as tension, contraction, or numbness
- Defended in trying to stay true to their preferences in that moment
- Ashamed that they can’t have the kind of sex life they think they should be having
- Resentful that they’re made to feel wrong for their feelings
All these feelings are valid, and this onslaught of negative emotions are all being felt at the same time, by both partners within a few minutes or even seconds.
There’s nothing sexy about these feelings. It’s not sexy to feel them, or to witness our partner feeling them.
If the higher desire person views sex as something their partner has the power to give or refuse, then their initiation is going to be laced with the expectation of disappointment, even if it’s hidden behind an understanding smile.
If the lower desire person views sex as something their partner wants, to just get off, then they’ll feel used solely for someone else’s purposes, and they’ll disconnect from their own pleasure.
Understanding what our partner is feeling and needing, and being able to talk honestly about the challenges of initiation without blaming the other, is the first step in healing this unhealthy pattern.
Whether we’re the high or low desire person in our relationship, sex offers us more than orgasms. We may not even be conscious of the many human needs that lead us to sex. Needs like:
- Physical affection and touch
- Intimacy and connection
- Support and being nurtured
- Escape from life and responsibilities
- Excitement, and feeling erotically turned on
- Validation of our sexuality
- Embodiment, and feeling connected to our bodies, below the neck
- Vulnerability, and a place to show it
- Being desired, as an attractive, sexual being
- Safety and being accepted for who we are
We enter relationships hoping to get these needs met.
Yet, so many couples are stuck in this negative feedback loop of failed initiation and disappointment, and the human needs that sex offers us, go unmet.
No matter how hard we may try to tuck this ‘bid and refusal’ pattern under the rug, we’re going to trip over it in other parts of our relationship.
This struggle isn’t just felt in moments of initiation, It’s an undercurrent that’s felt everyday, all day.
So, let me make a suggestion that I make to every couple who comes to me with this push and pull dynamic going on…
Stop initiating sex in a way that creates tension over and over again.
Stop reaffirming the negative stories that come up during these moments of initiation; stories you tell yourself about your partner, and stories you tell yourself about you and your sexuality.
Stop disempowering yourself and each other, by setting yourselves up for the same experience.
Replace the bartering, the hopefulness, and the resistance, with something completely different. What that looks like depends on both of you, and your willingness to find solutions.
Acknowledge that this dynamic sucks. Confess what it’s like for both of you, without blaming the other person. Start getting curious about co-creating new approaches to sexual initiation that work.
This is where sex and relationship coaching comes in. This is a process that all couples need help figuring out at some point in their relationship, because every other challenge a couple may be experiencing in their relationship, is impacted by this web of negative feelings and resentments.
Failing to step out of this quicksand has consequences. You’re probably living with some of those consequences right now.
Next week’s blog will be The Art of Initiation Part 2, where you’ll learn more about desire, and how to initiate in a way that works for both of you.
Every couple is different, and discovering what would work for you and your partner depends on who you are, as two sexual individuals, and who you are as a sexual couple.
Using two wooden ducks to indicate sexual availability is one way of initiating. But learning to talk about sex is even better.
When you understand each other’s needs, you don’t have to cross your fingers and hope for the best the next time you invite your partner into the bedroom.
Book a Discovery Call with me, and we’ll talk about how to put your ducks in a row and learn The Art of Initiation.
Stay well and love deeply,
Be sure to download my list of 186 erotic activities that I outline in my new e-book, Your Erotic Menu.
It may be the single most impactful step you take toward your sexual evolution. (I can confidently say, your dates nights will never be the same!)
(Mail about sex will often get sent to promotions or junk. Move me to your inbox so we can continue to stay in touch regularly. ☺)