The survey found that 83 percent of female-identifying respondents said they prefer a partner who takes control rather than one who prefers they take control, while over half of male-identifying respondents said the same. Although this concept of control figures big in BDSM, with the ‘D’ often referring to ‘dominance’ and the ‘S’ typically standing for ‘submission,’ taking control during sex (or ceding that control) are often elements baked into any basic or non-kink-based arousal—and sex, too.
“When a partner is initiative with sex, they’re telling us that they’re attracted to us and that they want us sexually.” —Searah Deysach, sex educator
Searah Deysach, sex educator and owner of Early to Bed, says the allure of a partner who takes control may be linked to initiation: “When a partner is initiative with sex, they’re telling us that they’re attracted to us and that they want us sexually,” she says. “This is a big turn-on for a lot of people—it builds self-esteem, and it can make sex more freeing if you feel like you are the object of someone’s desire.”
That initiative act, in and of itself, may also be essential to some people even getting turned on in the first place, given what we know about responsive desire—aka the need to be physically aroused before feeling mentally in the mood for sex. And that could be why the survey’s results were pretty largely skewed by gender, too: We already know that more people who identify as women than men report having responsive desire (rather than spontaneous desire), so it follows that more women than men also prefer their partner to take initiative and control during sex.
“I do not think we can separate the fact that way more women reported preferring their partner to take control from our long-term cultural norm of women being more submissive sexually,” says Deysach. “That said, the fact that over half the men who took the survey also said the same thing does speak to the idea that more people overall do prefer being the responsive partner.”
Even so, not all versions of taking control or initiation may be turn-ons for the other person involved. It’s worth reiterating, for example, that consent at all stages of sex—and especially when one partner is in a position of control or power—is absolutely essential. Beyond that, there’s a wide spectrum of what taking control can look like, and certain actions within that realm may be more appealing for some people than others, says sexologist Goody Howard, MSW, MPH, resident sex educator for sexual hygiene and body-care company Royal.
“Taking control in the bedroom can look like anything from giving directions and changing positions to introducing new toys and places to have sex.” —Goody Howard, sex educator
“While initiating sex is one of the most common examples of taking control in the bedroom, that can also look like anything from giving directions and changing positions to introducing new toys and places to have sex,” she says. And communication is key for ensuring that all parties to the sexual act are not just turned on by the control dynamic at hand but also feeling safe and comfortable throughout. “I like to say intimacy is what happens when you're not having sex,” says Howard. “And it's important to read the room when it comes to leading and being open to being led.”
Below, Deysach and Howard offer their top tips for getting turned on and sharing the control dynamic, even if no one involved is naturally given to initiation.
Here’s how to have more fulfilling sex even if you *both* prefer the other person to take control:
1. Rethink how you define control.
Broadening your definition of control can make the role feel less intimidating. “We often think that taking control means that the other partner is relinquishing all control and being passive,” says Deysach. “But it can also be as simple as making suggestions or decisions about what activities the sex will include, or just doing more of the physical work in any given moment.”
Zooming out to consider why a partner in control may be attractive to you in the first place can also help you understand the situation. “Remember that most people like a partner who initiates because they like to feel wanted and lusted after,” says Deysach. "So, simply telling your lover that you’re interested in sex tonight (or this afternoon), or asking them to do something specific for or to you in bed are small steps you can take toward being the partner in control."
2. Get the communication flowing.
If you don’t talk about what you want in bed, you could easily end up in a situation where neither of you makes any moves, says Deysach, given your naturally responsive nature. Not only is communication essential for voicing what turns you on—your partner isn’t a mind-reader, after all—but it’s also key to ensuring that you both feel safe, desired, and heard.
3. If you’re struggling to get started, enlist some outside help.
Initiating the conversation about sex can feel as tough as initiating sex itself. If that’s the case for you, consider using a sexy conversation-starting card game, like Use Your Mouth, or something more low-tech, like sex dice, says Howard: “That way, the game takes the lead, so neither of you really have to.”
4. Take turns being in control at different points during sex.
Given that there are many ways to take control during sex, it’s very possible that you’ll be more willing to test the waters in certain ways than others. “Perhaps one of you likes being more submissive most of the time, but prefers being on top during intercourse,” says Deysach. “In that case, that can be your chance to be the assertive partner.” Or, maybe you like to initiate sex, but then have your partner slowly undress you, she adds. Consider these different stages throughout the sexual act as different opportunities for one or the other of you to seamlessly take the lead.
5. Tap into your imagination.
Leaning into sexual fantasies can help you find new inspiration for taking control and get out of your own head, so to speak. “Our fantasies are treasure troves of inspiration just waiting to be unlocked,” says Howard. And your partner could have a treasure trove of their own, too. “Talk to your partner about their fantasies as well, and you'll be more likely to come up with a version of control and initiation during sex that you both enjoy.”
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