Feature Archive

Who's Lighting the Fire?

A look into the importance of initiating sex.

WebMD Feature

Be honest. In your romantic relationship, who usually initiates sex? You? Your partner. Or do you both take turns?

Your answer may be linked to how sexually satisfied you are, according to a study by Susan Sprecher, PhD, a professor of sociology at Illinois State University, Normal. Sexual satisfaction was greater, she found, in relationships in which partners initiated equally or in which women sometimes initiated sex.

Sprecher tracked 38 college-educated couples (28 of them were married) in their twenties over a four-year period, asking each partner at the beginning and then every year thereafter, "Who usually initiates sexual activity in your relationship?" and "How sexually satisfying is the relationship to you?" Throughout the study, partners' responses to the first question agreed to a high level, suggesting that both were being truthful.

The Results

Among the findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

In more than 60% of the couples, men initiated more often than women; in 30% of couples, initiation was equally divided between partners; and in those remaining, the women initiated more frequently. Like other similar studies, Sprecher says she found that men usually suggest having sex more often than do their wives or girlfriends.

Whatever patterns of initiation were reported at one year into the study usually remained the same after three or four years.