This is an excerpt from "Inviting Desire: A Guide for Women Who Want to Enhance Their Sex Life" by Walker Thornton. It has been republished here with permission from the author.

Have you ever agreed to have sex with a partner, knowing you didn’t really want to, but were giving in for some reason? You said yes, with (unspoken) reservations. Your ambivalence, detachment, or resentment - whatever emotion that might go along with that reluctant “yes” - creates a lack of desire, which over time could result in you avoiding intimacy.

Being able to comfortably say yes or no is crucial to inviting desire into your life. When you invite something into your life, you’ve made a choice to welcome that thing, to find enjoyment in the experience. Ambivalence can shift to a more enthusiastic attitude if you are open to possibilities. There may be times when you agree to sex even if you’re a bit uncertain. By telling your partner how you’re feeling, you leave open the possibility of changing your mind. And that’s a legitimate place to be. But if you’re always ambivalent about having sex, maybe you need to figure out what’s getting in the way of your pleasure.

When you say yes and make a conscious decision to have sex, you give yourself permission to get excited, to prepare, to be flirty or sultry. You do whatever you need to do to make the experience pleasurable. Because you said yes you’re not going to show up with a borderline attitude. Your experience will be much more fun if you have an open, receptive attitude. Though remember, you always have the option to change your mind if something changes or you become uncomfortable.

It’s more fun for our partners when we show up as a willing participant. We’re more likely to have greater sexual pleasure when our mind is engaged, along with our body. We are more excited about being with our partner and that feeling communicates itself. This idea of fully embracing our sexual moments makes things better all around.

Let’s look at saying yes and how it might lead to a more fulfilling sex life - whether you’re partnered or solo. There are legitimate times when you want to say no and that’s normal. It’s actually very healthy for relationships if you can communicate what you want in any given moment. The process of being able to say yes requires you to think about what you like about your current sexual activity and what you don’t like. Is there something you’re currently doing that feels more like a “Maybe”? If you’re not sure, consider it a “No” for now, until you’re ready for a heartfelt “Yes”!

Is there something you’re currently doing that you actually want to say “No” to? If you can’t articulate your “No” then you can’t fully say yes to sex, can you?

You’re the only one who can really know what this would look like for you, but here are a few examples that might feel familiar:

  • When I was married, I often had sex with my husband because it put him in a better mood the next day. It seemed easier than the growing disquiet that settled in if we went too long without sex - or, at least, by his definition of “too long.”
  • You know your partner loves sex in the morning, but you always worry about morning breath or body odors. You want to freshen up first, but it feels like you’re breaking the mood. You know you’re more likely to engage and enjoy the intimacy if you can brush your teeth first.
  • Your boyfriend wants you to watch a sexy video with him before having sex. He thinks it will get you more excited. You’re not sure about that so you hesitate. Maybe you should say yes once, sharing your reservations, but being open to how it might make you feel. You can always say “no thanks,” even if you’re in the middle of watching the video.
  • “My husband doesn’t understand that my dryness is partly due to not being fully aroused. He tends to rush straight into intercourse; I need more time to get ready. I might still want lube [and by the way - lube is a wonderful sex tool for all of us, dry or not] and I’d be more aroused and psychologically ready for sex if I could tell him that I want more of certain kinds of touch and kissing before intercourse.“
  • “Just once I want to tell my partner exactly what I want sex to be like. I want to describe in detail my ideal sexual experience. How he would undress me, where I want to be kissed, stroked, and how slowly I want it to happen. I don’t always feel like the sex I’m having is the sex I’d like to be having.”
  • “I miss having sex, but I don’t know what to do and I don’t want to find a partner just for sex. I feel a little awkward about self-pleasuring, but don’t I deserve to feel pleasure? Maybe I should try it out and see how it feels to be giving myself what I need.”

If you could learn to speak about the things you want, to talk about what works and what doesn’t, you would have better sex. You can begin to fully embrace and express your sexual needs, which has the effect of making you more receptive to, or excited about, having sex. Better sex in that you’re not holding back or feeling uncomfortable. Better sex because you’re sharing the things that matter to you. Better sex because you found your voice and your partner listened and respected your needs. This is what consent, in this context, is all about. (Yes! Why Consent Is Totally Sexy.)

You can’t really enjoy an activity if you’re not fully, truly consenting, or saying, “Yes!” You become an unwilling participant, possibly a bit resentful, or you tune out because you don’t really want to be a part of what’s happening. Could it be as simple as articulating your wants and desires? What would happen if you found a way to share your vision of intimacy? If you could express your thoughts and stop doing things just to please your partner?

Daily Exercise

This is an exercise just for you. Be honest with yourself about this - write the answers down if you want, but take some time to really think about what happens when you’re having sex with some degree of reluctance or ambivalence. Notice what it’s doing to you emotionally and possibly physically.

  • What are you doing during sex that you don’t really want to do? Do you know why?
  • What’s your most frequent reason for not wanting sex?
  • What do you want to change that would make you feel more excited about having sex?
  • Are there things you want to say yes to, but something gets in the way? For example, maybe you’re angry with your partner so you deprive him. Or maybe you're worried he won’t like how you look, or that you won’t please him in bed.
  • Are there medical issues or physical concerns that affect your interest in having sex? Are you willing to talk about them?

Want to read more? Buy the book here.