When He Wants You to Initiate

What does it mean when your husband wants you to initiate sex?

A reader recently sent me the link to A Letter from a Husband to his Wife on Sexual Refusal and Reluctance and asked me what I thought.

The article provides a sexually neglected husband’s point of view and discusses his frustration, the humiliation he feels, the temptation and jealousy he faces, his yearning to be desired, and his desire for his wife to allow him to be captivated by her body.

The feelings expressed in the piece are authentic. They are consistent with what my husband used to say to me, and they have been echoed in many emails and comments I’ve received from husbands who are in a sex-deprived marriage.

I tend to read with the awareness of two selves. One is my former self who refused to have a healthy sex life with my husband. The other is the woman I am now who understands so much more about healthy sexual intimacy and how men experience sexual deprivation.

My reaction to the article intrigued me. I understand—now—that for most men, sex plays a much more important role in their emotional well-being than I had ever realized. I recognize the pain and loneliness a sexually deprived husband experiences. It is real, difficult, and overwhelming. I get all that.

Yet there I was, reading the article as though I hadn’t learned anything at all during the past several years. I found myself verbalizing the same responses I used to give my husband. I even rolled my eyes at one point. (This is how I really know the article expresses authentic feelings.)


Our sex conversations often involved Big Guy being truly vulnerable. He would talk about the same frustration and humiliation described in the article. I remember sitting across from my husband (somehow, these conversations never involved us sitting next to each other) while he opened himself up to me.

My husband’s honest words about his vulnerabilities made me feel an emotional connection with him. I would think, Hmm. I don’t really understand how the lack of sex relates to any of these feelings, and I don’t think sex is the real problem—but this man who is sharing his heart with me is a man I want.

I would feel a stirring of my heart (and even a stirring of other parts sometimes). I was overjoyed to know that my husband was capable of such emotional depth. It was what I’d been craving for so long, after all. I would begin to think that maybe, just maybe, I could want to have sex with this man.

And then . . .

“ . . . and I want you to initiate sometimes. I want you to desire me.”

Whoosh. Click.

My walls flew back up, locking into place.

Just when he would have gotten me thinking that maybe it would be good to have sex more often, he would mention initiation and I would shut back down.

There I was trying to wrap my mind around having sex more often, and he threw a whole new thing at me. What did initiation have to do with anything, and why did he have to bring it up when I was feeling all gooey and lovey from his emotional sharing?


He was the one who was so unhappy with our sex life, and instead of him doing the things that were so obvious to me about helping me want sex more, he was telling me I had to figure it out on my own.

Why did you have to ruin it by bringing up initiation? I would think. All that stuff about the emotions . . . I was actually believing that. But you were just saying that to soften me up for what you really wanted, and all you really want is the sex, isn’t it? It’s bad enough that you’re always complaining about sex, and you just about had me convinced to agree to have sex more. But no, that isn’t enough. It’s never enough is it? You want more sex, and you want me to have to do the work. You say you want me to desire you and initiate. If I’m not in the mood, what do you expect me to do—wave a magic wand and turn myself into some other kind of woman just so you can get laid and have your ego fed at the same time? It’s never enough, is it? I’m never enough.

I would feel heart-broken that I’d allowed myself to be vulnerable to what I saw as my husband’s emotional manipulation-and I was furious at him for having taken advantage of my desire for emotional connection like that.


It never occurred to me that my husband saw sexual initiation differently than I did.

I thought of initiation as an indication of sexual arousal—and since I rarely experienced any arousal until after we’d begun sexual activity, I didn’t even understand how it was possible for me to initiate. My husband always seemed to initiate when he was already aroused (or so it seemed to me), so I saw that request as putting a demand on me that I physically couldn’t even do. It was a completely unreasonable expectation, in my mind—and absolutely unconnected to the emotional things he’d said to me.

To my husband, though, the request that I initiate was deeply emotional. To him, sex was the path to the deepest emotional connection possible. It was the ultimate means of expressing and receiving love. My initiating would be a way of letting my husband know, in the clearest way possible, that I loved him and that I wanted him to love me.

He wanted to feel pursued—not because he wanted the physical release of sex, but because it helped him know that I loved him as deeply as he loved me.

When he would open his heart to me, his expressed desire for initiation was very much connected to the other emotions he shared with me. When he shared that with me and my walls went back up while I chastised him for being so demanding, he felt rejected when he was already quite vulnerable.


I used to view my husband’s request for me initiate as selfish. As I read another man’s words about initiation, my eyes started to roll and I thought about how hurt and upset I’d been every time I’d heard those words from my husband . . . but then my heart settled and I thought about all that I’ve learned about my husband in the past few years.

Does your husband share his desire for you to initiate sex? How do you respond?

Do you roll your eyes and allow yourself to be hurt and frustrated, just as I used to do? Or do you recognize that your husband has shared his heart with you?

My husband asked that I initiate because it helped him feel loved and showed him that I wanted him to love me.

If your husband asks you to initiate, what do you think it means to him?

Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. Song of Songs 1:4

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20 Comments on “When He Wants You to Initiate”

  1. Wanting to feel desired has been a HUGE thing I have learned from my husband and how it is a GREAT need for him. What makes him feel desired? Me initiating… whether it’s sex, touch, or sexual touch. Just reaching out and fondling him has been one of biggest things that says to him, “She wants me. She desires me.”

  2. Problem is, what is pursual to a man? Is it according to the porn he may have watched? To a woman its candles, thoughtfulness and touch. Is it hands and knees oral sex initiation? My husband has asked this from me, too, and I’ve tried to pursue him but he has gotten angry with me. He asked me to touch him to make him feel wanted, and I guess I was being too playful when I tried to touch him? I’ve stopped trying.

    1. The desire for a wife’s initiation and pursuit seem to be God-given emotional needs in men. Unfortunately, they sometimes develop ideas about what this looks like from porn or other popular culture sources. Our husbands may not even know what, specifically, they would like to see? If they ask us to initiate in a particular way and we do, does that remind them of how it looked when they saw it in porn and make them feel dirty? Do they see it and recognize that what they thought they wanted isn’t meeting their emotional needs? Do they feel upset because we’re doing what they asked as though it’s a how-to checklist rather than an expression of our own innate desire for them?

      Don’t stop trying, but it may be that your husband doesn’t truly know or that he isn’t seeing your loving heart in what you have tried. Sometimes, the hardest words for us to say are the ones that are clearest: “I’d like to have sex with you” or “I want you to make love to me.” A grab between the legs may be enough, but words that communicate our desire matter a lot, too.

      1. My husband wants me to be the one to initiate most all the time, so I try. But I’m never sure want it is that he really wants me to do…it varies so much. I am so glad you explained this the way that you did…I think I finally get it. Walls still go up for me, especially when it seems that initiation means so many different things to my husband. What do you do if it is several times a day usually? My ideas run out as do my ability to keep the walls down. (We’ve been married 34 years.)

        1. Your husband wants you to initiate sex several times a day? I would run out of ideas, too. Have you asked your husband to share with you what emotional needs your initiation fills for him? I wonder if that would make it easier for you to get ideas.

    2. Believe it or not, your pursuit might be too aggressive. Do not try to imitate porn, especially if you do not know what kind of porn he might have watched (and really liked) before. You are MUCH better than porn EVER will be. You are actually there, interactive, willing to adapt–and MOST importantly–IN LOVE with him. You know your husband best. And you know yourself best. When he says to ‘touch him’ he could be meaning just to hold his hand.
      And to put it bluntly, sex is not a laughing matter to a man. You can easily shatter him by laughing or joking at the wrong time.
      Keep in mind initiation and invitation are not the same thing. Communication is key, but he might not be a good communicator, so you will have to be, and without many words.

      If it is an invitation he wants, then try walking up to him, take his hand in yours and place it on your face, lean into him, then take his other hand and *gently* place it, for example, on your breast. Here is where knowledge of your husband comes into play. If HE REALLY KNOWS where YOU like to be touched, then that is where you should place the hand. If he does not, then place the hand where he usually likes to touch you.
      Look into his eyes and say “I need you” with all the love you feel for him.
      “I need you” instead of “I want you” because he probably wants to be your hero much more than you realize and “I need you” sends the message that that is exactly what you want.

      And do not forget your best adviser: Pray for insight into the the man you love.

  3. What if sexual desire for one’s spouse no longer exists and a heart is flat lining? How can one have sex? Should one have sex anyway just to make ones spouse happy? My spouse is hurt and angry. My spouse has withdrawn. Women need emotional intimacy. That is being denied. So much focus on his needs and no mention of her needs. Stale mate.

    1. Wraine, the focus of this blog is about how break the cycle of hurting each other. I write to women about the things they can change. Although there is a lot that I could say to men about meeting their wives’ emotional needs, that isn’t what I do here.

      I needed emotional intimacy through conversation and non-sexual touch; my husband needed emotional intimacy through sexual connection. The more we hurt, the more we withdrew and hurt the other. I decided that it was time to try sex. Nothing was getting better, and it was the only thing I could think of to do. I did work on having sex anyway just to make my husband happy. It felt like a complete dying to myself. Over time, though, our marriage began to improve. As my husband felt less tense and more loved, it became easier for him to meet my emotional needs. When sex got better, everything in my marriage improved. The true blessing in working on sex in my marriage wasn’t that it made my husband happy. It was that our marriage transformed into something that gives us both much comfort and joy.

    2. Stalemate only occurs when all parties give up. You have obviously not or you would not be posting here. For my part, I broke the cycle. Over one year of deep personal study, meditation and heart rendering prayer. And tonight, after more than 8 months of consistently applying what I learned, my spouse finally noticed. Now my spouse is beginning to realize how inattentive she has been. Will she change? I hope so, but even if not, I will trust in Jehovah and follow his ways. His ways are love and love never fails. Never return evil for evil to anyone. But do not go at this alone. Put all your faith in God, throw your burden on him. How? Ask him to give you the strength, compassion and even desire to bring comfort to your husband. Jehovah knows your pain better than you do and wants to help. But you need to forget about yourself and put yourself in God’s hands by focusing on your husband.
      Give yourself to him in the gentlest way. Just cuddle naked next to him. Something may happen or not, if something does then be warm and tender, but do not fake anything. Do not be surprised if things get emotional. Men can get all gushy.
      Just keep offering yourself until something does happen. He has to be the one who actually starts the action or he might think you’re the one who needs sex and not realize how much you are conceding.
      If he asks what’s going on, something like “I’m yours. Always have been. Always will be” is appropriate and should get through a thick skull. After your offering has been “successfully ” received, whisper into his ear how wonderful it feels to have the physical connection with him but that it was so much more when you could also feel the emotional connection between you as well and how alone you feel now that he has shut you out. Tell him how much you miss your husband and be specific like I miss holding hands, going for walks. Etc.
      Keep praying. Keep doing what is loving. The man you loved enough to marry needs you. Do not be afraid to ask for professional help or mature Christian counseling.
      Nothing worth having comes cheap. Jehovah wants your marriage to be successful and happy. But he will only help. You must do the work and put your husband’s needs before your own. The time will come when he will need to do the same. And he will once he is healed.

  4. As a husband, I too want my wife to want me. But, I’ve also think there may be another aspect to this. Friendship is sweetened when the friends share a passion for something. When husband and wife share a passion for the very thing that bonds them together, it sweetens the marriage.

  5. Interesting how husbands read their wives initiating sex as their wives wanting them; yet wives may read their husbands initiating sex as having been aroused by another source and seeking only physical release.

    I used to think if my husband initiated sex that just meant he was horny and it didn’t have anything to do with me or his feelings for me. He was horny and I was the only outlet he was allowed to utilize. From that perspective, it was difficult to understand why my initiating would mean so much to him.

    I still struggle with this and did so just last night. When awakened by his caresses in the wee hours of the morning I wondered of whom he had been dreaming. Our insecurities are very powerful and old habits sure die hard.

    We have talked about this a few times and he insists that even if he is aroused by another source (it happens) he wants ME. It makes sense that if he understands my initiating to mean I want HIM, that assumption is based on what he is feeling when HE initiates: he wants ME.

    I still don’t like that he is aroused by other sources, but I can’t control that. I would like any sexual arousal he experiences to be only with me. It feels like a violation of something special that should be between us exclusively. It’s not easy to lay that aside and feel safe and secure in the bedroom. But there is progress.

    1. I know what you mean. I think it’s more like men may be initially aroused by something and not even be aware of what triggered it–but the physical arousal automatically brings their wives to mind and all they know is that they want us (not just orgasms).

      I’m glad you’re making progress. It is hard to set those insecurities aside, but the more I do it, the easier it gets.

  6. Assumptions cause trouble in relationships. A husband may assume that sex does for his wife what it does for him–makes her feel loved. (That may not be true for her.) So it is difficult to understand why she would never initiate. If both spouses work toward expressing love the way their partner best receives it and toward receiving love the way their partner best expresses it, we do much better.

    I cannot help but think of the box step:
    as he steps left, she steps right,
    as he steps forward, steps back
    as he steps right, she steps left,
    as he steps back, she steps forward

    After awhile and with some practice, the dance (relationship) loses the lines of distinction and becomes fluid and graceful.

  7. Do you think this still applies if your mother has been dying for 3 months? And has been in and out of hospital and hospice? My husband keeps sending me this blog and I get it but I’m too emotionally and physically exhausted.

    1. I am sorry about your mama. Your body and heart must be very weary right now. Your husband should not be sending you my blog–which is something I state on my For Husbands page. His timing is certainly not good, either. He should be looking for ways to ease your pain and discomfort in a way that would feel loving to you.

      Although his sending you my blog seems thoughtless on the surface, my guess is that your husband is struggling with his own pain and simply isn’t able to see from your perspective right now. In a marriage where sexual intimacy has been fairly good and regular, a time of no sex or little sex due to a family illness should not be a big deal. If sexual intimacy has not been good, however, a spouse’s sexual absence–even when that absence is for a very good reason–can escalate feelings of disconnection and neglect. Is there a way you can communicate to your husband that you get it and that you understand why he’s been sending you this blog, and that as soon as you are past this short season with your mother you will begin praying about sexual intimacy and working to grow in this area?

      1. 100% agree intimacy is a problem and has been. I do understand your blog and his needs although I need time and I guess he doesn’t get that !

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