Below, sex educator and activist August McLaughlin, author of “Girl Boner” and “Girl Boner Journal,” and Dr. Chris Donaghue, sex and intimacy expert at SKYN Condoms, explain the misogynistic undertones of the former, and how an invitation to sex is a consensual and pleasure-based approach to getting it on.
Plus, how to “send” that invitation at every stage in a relationship.
Admit it: The phrase “initiate sex” paints an image of the sex-starved husband pawing at his less-than-libidinous partner — aka it’s archaic AF.
It’s outdated and problematic to assume that cis dudes are responsible for initiating sex, says Donaghue. “It’s an old stereotype that all men are sexually assertive and always in the mood.”
Spoiler: They’re not.
“Desire is very individual and not based on one’s sex or gender,” says McLaughlin. “Anyone can want and then take steps to make sex happen.”
Inviting also indicates that the other person(s) can say no in a way that initiating typically doesn’t.
“With a sex invitation, you’re checking in, as opposed to definitely starting something,” McLaughlin adds.
Doing anything for the first time is going to feel a little nerve-wracking. Think: swinging a golf club, driving on the left side of the road, meeting your maybe-to-be parents-in-law.
The same goes for inviting someone to have sex for the first time — whether that’s with a long-term boo or Tinder match.
The best case scenario — be it pleasure, naked bodies, cuddles, or something else — is totally worth overcoming those feelings for.
Because inviting someone to have sex also means inviting the possibility that they don’t want to have sex, McLaughlin recommends practicing the art of being rejected in the mirror.
“If someone says no or turns you down, thank them for sharing and respecting their own boundaries, and then move on.”
Donaghue says it’s helpful to remember that someone’s sexual rejection usually isn’t about you.
“It’s often about their mood, body-esteem, lack of chemistry between both of you, or something else going on in their world.”
Walking around the apartment in your négligée might help you get laid when your long-term, live-in boo is home. It obviously won’t be nearly as effective if the person you want to bone is a Tinder match who lives 300 miles away.
Who you’re initiating sex with makes a difference. The same goes for where you are during said initiation.
Still, there are some basic do’s to keep top of mind.
Make it personal
As a general rule, the more personalized the come-on is, the better.
Meaning: I’m not generally a horny meatball. I’m a horny meatball for the way your calves look in those heels or the way your biceps fill out that tee.
People like feeling wanted.
Be clearer than clear
Even if you think you’re crystal-clear, you could probably be clearer. Especially if your boo is a good listener.
If what you want is to go down on them, say that. If what you want is a quickie in the bathroom, say that.
When you’re not in the mood for sex or thinking about having it, getting from there to having sex can feel like a far reach.
Giving someone a specific sex scenario gives them more to go off. If it ends up happening, it also gives you exactly what you want.
Make it a daylong pursuit
Have a dirty dream about your FWB? Think about the match you’ve been chatting up in the shower? Remember the way your partner tastes on the way to work?
Tell ‘em. Sexting is the ultimate foreplay.
Start with something flirty, and if they respond in kind, let the convo build up over the course of the day.
If, however, they shut the conversation down, don’t sweat it — go on with your day.
Learn their love language
This may be harder to implement if it’s a casual sex partner, but try tailoring your invitation to the way your partner receives love.
If their love language is receiving gifts, you might try gifting them some sexy panties, a new box of condoms, or that sex toy you’ve been chatting about.
If their love language is words of affirmation, go ahead and let them know how hot they sound when you kiss their neck, or how turned on you get watching them dance.
No ifs, ands, or buts. Or butts.
It’s one thing to kiss your partner — when kissing is a regular part of how you interact — in order to help them get in the mood.
It’s quite another to randomly start kissing their bits and bobs without first asking permission.
“You want your sexual activity to be rooted in pleasure and comfort for everyone, right? Well that’s where enthusiastic consent comes in,” says Donaghue.
Without enthusiastic consent, it’s not sex, he says. It’s sexual assault.
Most casual hookups fall into one of two camps: folks you meet IRL and folks you meet online. Your approach to each is slightly different.
The public meet
Meet someone at the bowling alley, bar, or speakeasy you want to take home?
“Start with some genuine small talk before going straight to sex time,” says McLaughlin. This will help you make sure you actually want to have sex with them (important!).
If you’re still interested after a bit of chatting, she recommends going for honest and respectful.
For example, “I know we don’t know each other, but can I ask you a personal question?”
If the answer is yes, find out if they’re in a relationship and, if so, if they have any relationship agreements, such as monogamy.
Another option: “I think you’re really [insert true and specific adjective here] and, if you’re interested, I’d love to kiss you and maybe see where that goes. If not that’s completely fine.”
Swipers swipe for a myriad of reasons. If yours is because you want to have sex, you need to be clear.
Some lines to try with an online buddy:
- “I want to drop all pretenses and be clear: in addition to [date activity here], I would also like to [sex act here] on Thursday. Are you up for that?”
- “What does your schedule look like next week? I’d love to finally [insert sex act here].”
- “Before we meet up in person I want to be up-front: I’m looking for casual sex partners and I’m hoping that’s what we’ll find in each other. If that’s not what you’re looking for, I totally understand. But I think it’s best if we cancel our date if we’re not on the same page.”
There are different types of newly formed relationships. Here’s how to navigate some of them.
Someone you’ve hooked up with a few times
“U up?” has, admittedly, become ubiquitous with “It’s after midnight. Want to come over and bang-a-lang — casually, obviously.”
There are way more creative and sexy ways to initiate a hookup with your sex mate. For example:
- “I really enjoyed going down on you last weekend. If you’re around later I’d love a repeat.”
- “Thinking about the way you looked in my sheets and would love to have you there against later tonight if you’re interested.”
- “What’re you up to tonight? Might I propose that we meet up and play with my new vibrator together.”
Someone you’ve been ‘seeing’ but haven’t had sex with yet
So you’ve gone on a handful of dates. Maybe you’ve smooched. But you haven’t had S-E-X.
Your move: Don’t make one! At least not before talking about whether you both want to have sex.
“You don’t want to automatically assume that they’ll want to have sex just because you’ve been going on dates and kissing,” says McLaughlin. Fair!
Some ways to bring it up:
- “I’ve been enjoying getting to know you and kissing you. I just wanted to do a temperature check and see if you might be interested in doing more than kissing.”
- “I’m really enjoying getting to know you and, if you feel the same way, I’d love to take things further. How would you feel about making out naked and seeing where things go?”
You might even use this as an opportunity to talk about current STI status. For example:
- “I’ve been enjoying being physical with you and would like to have sex. If that’s something you’d also like, I’d love for both of us to get screened for STIs.”
Someone who you’ve been dating and having sex with… but it’s new
Black coffee or with cream. Morning or night sex. The beginning of relationships is filled with all sorts of learning curves.
How they like to be invited to have sex is one of those things.
By now, you’re at a good point in your relationship to ask your partner the following questions:
So, you’re past the getting to know you phase and fully aware of how your partner likes to commence sexy time. Have at it!
“And if you’re still not sure, ask — it’s never too late,” says McLaughlin.
Maybe you’ve been married for 20 years, primary partners for 15, or are 3 years into living together.
Whatever the reason, if you’re feeling like sexy time also starts the exact same way (*yawn*), McLaughlin offers the following tips to initiate sex in new ways.
Make a Yes, No, Maybe list
Go to a sex shop
Online ones count, too!
Take turns adding pleasure products to the cart. This will get you talking about sex in a new way, says McLaughlin — which is step #1 in having sex (and having sex in new ways).
Trust, once you get home or that package arrives, chances are you won’t have to do much initiating. You’ll both be eager to try out your new goodies.
Time to sync up those Google calendars and find a night (or morning!) when you have time for a standing (or lying, wink) sex date.
Use the time to give each other massages, watch porn together, make out, take a bath together, or masturbate side-by-side.
If no sex happens, no biggie. The goal is to initiate sexual intimacy, not necessarily have sex.
Let’s say you have a weekly date night. Try alternating between whoinitiates sex — that way nobody feels it’s their job, says McLaughlin.
It’s cliché, but it’s true!
The more you put yourself out there, the easier it becomes to ask for what you want (sweet, sweet loving) — and the easier it becomes to not take it personally if the person(s) isn’t interested.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.