The XX Factor

Are Women Passive When It Comes to Sex? Yes, I Never Make the First Move.

Photo by Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Earlier this week we asked female readers to write in telling us whether they experience their sexuality as relatively passive and male readers to write in telling us if they see female sexual passivity as the norm (or not). Many responded. We published some responses yesterday and have a few more today.

From: Elizabeth

Do you, as women, experience your sexuality as relatively passive? For you, does female desire feel like a fundamentally receptive force?

After reflecting on my sexual experiences over the past five years, I’ve discovered that my answer to your question is yes: I am a woman, and much of how I internally construct sex relates to receptivity. Here are some details to illustrate my response.


My sexual awakening occurred at age 35. Up until that time I believed strongly that I should always strive to subordinate my desires to those of others. My divorce was one result of an end to that way of thinking.


I became involved with an ex-boyfriend of mine who, it seemed, had learned a thing or two in the seven years we had each been with other people. His birthday came around a couple of months into this iteration of our relationship. I took him out to dinner, and we got a little drunk. After the cab ride home he pushed me against the wall of my bedroom and took my clothes off. The next morning he asked me a little sheepishly if that had been OK.


I sighed, “I was waiting for you to do that.”

Later that winter, he got into bed with me at my place, complained that he was exhausted, and fell asleep. I really wanted to have sex with him and barely slept at all. The phrase “climbing the walls” made it into the journal entry I wrote later.

At dawn he found me in the kitchen, angrily grating frozen butter for a blueberry scone recipe. He wanted to know what was wrong. Finally he weaseled it out of me.

“Well, why didn’t you tell me last night?” was his response. Initiating sex with him would have been perfectly reasonable, but I didn’t do it.


I am now in a romantic relationship that is only a few weeks old. However, the feelings between my new lover and me had already been acknowledged on the day that I decided I would let him have sex with me. Note that I did not think to myself, I am going to have sex with him; I thought instead, I will let him. During the date leading up to that initial encounter, I tried to be strategic with my body language. After dinner I sat close to him at the bar, placed one foot on the floor while the other dangled over the barstool, and partially faced him. When he talked about something that was preoccupying him and mentioned that he would probably be thinking about it while staring at the ceiling at 1 in the morning, I said, “No, you won’t.” As we strolled out of the bar I said, “You live walking distance from here, right?”

I sent him a strong message, and later that night I got what I wanted. I’m not sure I would call this passive behavior, but at least based on my perceived process of inviting, waiting, and experiencing rather than initiating, I would have to answer your question with a yes.

Previously in this series:

Are Women Passive When It Comes to Sex? Yes, If the Risk Is Greater Than the Reward.

Are Women Passive When It Comes to Sex? Yes, and It’s Biological, Not Cultural.