It happens. Sometimes the person you want to have sex with declines the opportunity to have sex with you. Or maybe they just don’t seem to be initiating. Maybe this person is your boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse. Or maybe he or she is someone you’re hanging out with and haven’t yet had sex with. But WHY???? Why this awful, confusing, sexually frustrating situation?
Frankly, there’s limited research on initiating/declining sex. Anthropological research suggests that women often initiate sexual and romantic opportunities non-verbally (such as by wearing revealing clothes or walking past someone over and over again as a way of getting noticed). Men are more often expected to make the first move for initiating dates and/or sexual contact by asking someone out, leaning in for a kiss, etc.
More recently, Canadian researchers have examined sexual initiation among couples and have found that men are more likely to initiate, both sexes are more likely to initiate nonverbally rather than verbally, and nonverbal initiations are preferred (so, for example, walking over to your partner and hugging/kissing rather than saying “Do you want to have sex?”). Also, when a person declines the opportunity to have sex with their partner, it was often because they had other things to do or because they were feeling tired or sick. These couples were quite young (college-aged) and lack of desire wasn’t as prominent as you might expect with couples who are older or who have been together longer.
Because I teach and work with college students, I’m often asked about non-couple situations – the whole “why doesn’t the person I like seem to want to have sex with me/make out with me/date me?” – more than I’m asked about this situation in long-term relationships. [Well, in long term relationships, this question often manifests as desire discrepancy or concerns about low desire.]
Of course, there is no way to know 100% for sure why someone isn’t jumping into bed with you (or at least kissing you) unless you and that person are able to talk openly about it, but here are some possibilities:
- He or she cannot read your cues. You may think your emails/texts/smiles/jokes are obvious signs, but he or she doesn’t get it. And – as the Canadian research team found – no one really wants to get too verbal with this. Most people don’t want to say “I’m hoping you will kiss me and maybe then we can have sex at some point. What do you say?” Nope. We want the lean-in for the kiss. The hands brushing against one another. The cuddling and mystery and wondering “where will this lead? how far will we go?” We want it all.
- He/she is just not into you. If you get that sense, it’s perhaps better to move on. Someone else may want you. I’m sorry this particular person doesn’t (particularly if it’s not for lack of trying on your part!).
- Their sexual orientation doesn’t match with what you have to offer. In other words, he/she is gay or straight or whatever orientation would mean “likely not to be interested in you or anyone on your team” (depending on whether you are a guy, girl, etc).
- He has erectile problems. Or a very small penis (or has an average sized penis but worries he has a small penis). It’s not likely, but it happens and I occasionally hear from men who basically don’t date/put the moves on people they’re into because of their sexual performance and/or genital concerns.
- She has her own genital hang-ups. Yes, women feel anxious about their genitals too sometimes.
- He/she is hung up on an ex. Especially if it’s fresh after a break-up. If you haven’t yet been there yourself, just wait and see. One day you may understand. Hopefully he or she can let you in on this secret and that will give you closure and you can (once again) move on.
- The object of your affection/attraction is afraid of being hurt. Maybe he/she isn’t into casual sex and only wants relationship sex and is convinced that if they make a move, they will be painfully and irreparably hurt. Hopefully he or she can get over those fears and take a chance on life. But some people are slow and/or prefer to be alone without hurt than diving into life. There’s not always much you can do about those people (see “move on”, above).
- He or she thinks you’re not into them. Or thinks you’re taken. Or thinks you’re celibate. Or part of a “no sex until I’m 80″ cult. Stranger things have happened.
So, what to do? You can try to make your cues more noticeable. Or you can move on and see if someone else catches your eye. Or you can come out and say “hey, I like you” and see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen? He or she might not like you back. Or might ignore your profession of like. In which case, you have your answer.
Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor