The Sex-Starved Marriage (and How to Fix it)

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I wanted to share this TEDx talk with you because I think it can help a lot of us. In this thought-provoking talk, Michele Weiner-Davis shows us why sex plays such an important role in communication and connection, then teaches us what we can do to fix it. Especially recommended for anyone who feels like their struggling sex life isn’t that big of a deal.

After you watch this talk, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Does what she say resonate with you? Do any of these scenarios apply to your marriage?

If so, what steps can you take to fix this?


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19 Responses to The Sex-Starved Marriage (and How to Fix it)

  1. M August 17, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    My issues with sex isn’t necessarily starvation it’s more like I feel like I have to do all the “work”. It’s become a job for me. There’s no foreplay for me but there’s plenty for him which has built up resentment to the point that I’m just not interested anymore. I’m not getting what I need in connection like she talked about in the video. If I don’t have a connection I don’t want to have sex. But she’s right once it starts it is good.

    • tpajevic August 17, 2014 at 12:49 am #

      M, I feel for you–it sounds like you might be the spouse with the higher interest in sex… Have you tried talking to your spouse about this? Does he know how you feel? (You might also encourage him to watch this video as a jumping off point for a straight-up conversation.) But yeah, I’m guessing that until you guys are able to communicate better (or he’s able to fulfill your needs), things are going to remain out of whack. I’m pulling for you guys and know you can make it through this!

  2. Suzy August 28, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    M – you hit the nail on the head for many of us. Intimacy with our husbands is certainly not supposed to “be work” or just “going through the motions”. What I found very important in this regard is building cognitive arousal (e.g. getting mentally in the mood). It took me years to figure this out, but once I did sex became a whole lot more enjoyable. And once enjoyable again, it became more frequent! To help others try to get into the mood I developed a one of a kind film series. Believe me it is not porn or anywhere close to that. It is a short romance story (15 mins long) with actors, and a plot, and some bedroom action. But no nudity. I have also written a number of articles on the topic of desire, sexless marriage, etc. If you want to learn more go to my website or check us out on Twitter or Facebook. Good Luck!
    Suzy recently posted..Help!  I Feel Like I’m In A Sexless MarriageMy Profile

  3. G September 12, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    What about situations where you already have sex daily, but your partner wants you to ‘just do it’ 2 -3 times daily? Has anyone ever feigned sleep due to that; I have. Then if I didn’t put out the 2nd or 3rd time any day, she’d refuse to touch me and totally reject me. Mind you, this was a lesbian relationship, not 2 heterosexuals. If you’re with a sex addict the sexual spectrum changes.

    • tpajevic September 12, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      For sure! That’s a whole other ballgame and I’d definitely recommend your partner seek professional help. In the meantime (if you’re still in this relationship), get whatever help you need for yourself. The situation you describe is a whole other level than what’s being addressed here and I’m guessing you’d both need a lot of support to get through it.

      And thanks for raising a good point, G, that everything on this blog is for anyone trying to jump start their relationship, regardless of sex, race, creed, etc.

  4. KL November 8, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    What about when it’s “I don’t like sex”? When your husband has ED (and has since he was 25), but won’t do anything about it, yet still wants sex. And I have to spend half an hour manually stimulating only to have everything go limp the second I let go, and he still wants sex. And he’s not doing anything for me, BTW. And yes, we have talked about it, but he won’t do anything about it, because every so often, everything does work like it is supposed to, but it is so bad most of the time, I just don’t like sex. And no matter what I do, I am still ignored most of the time and only touched when he wants sex. So bottom line: No communication, no non-sexual touch, no attention, no foreplay and lots of work and effort for me, no decent sex, no attempt to fix a physical issue….why exactly would I want to have sex?

    • tpajevic November 8, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

      That sounds awful for both of you. And yes, your sex life is going to suck if the rest of your relationship sucks. That’s why I don’t write about sex very much, honestly, because I find that there are usually much bigger issues at play when people don’t have a good sex life. Have you guys tried counseling? My guess is that nothing’s going to change until you address the larger stuff under the surface. Which you CAN do, you know.
      Good luck, sister!

  5. Pamela November 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Sex is a big deal in a relationship. After reading this I feel for my honey because he does all the work and I get all the for play. My turn now. Maybe me participating more and taking turns sex wouldn’t be a chore.

  6. bill December 11, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    hi my wife is very sexual she is 31 and im 40, but I am not I never have been now im older I just could care less about sex. Im on a lot of meds and I have a thyroid disorder which I believe is the cause plus im very low on testosterone I have to have injections but still that doesn’t help. I feel really bad because my wife is so young and wants sex and I don’t. I still make sure we cuddle and I tell her I love her all the time. Just feeling bad and I don’t know what to do for her

    • Tanja December 12, 2014 at 9:29 am #

      Hi Bill,
      Have you talked to your doctor about this? It seems to me that he/she should be able to help you with some of these side effects, because my guess is that you’re not the only guy going through this! I would start there, to see what kind of headway you can make on the medical side. You might also want to look into getting a sex coach or someone who’s certified in dealing with these kinds of issues. Someone like that could give you a lot of tips and techniques to help you bridge the divide.
      Good luck!

  7. R December 30, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    My husband rarely wants sex. Maybe once a month if I am lucky and even then it is with a take it or leave attitude. If I am not ready at that moment he could easily go another month without wanting it again. 2-3X a week is as low as I feel I would want our intimate life be reduced to. My advances are always rejected and often non sexual contact too. He always has a legitimate sounding excuse and claims there are no physical/emotional issues. He doesn’t think we need help, will not consider therapy, and says I am basically a nympho for wanting more. I do feel like he holds all the cards and it is hard not to feel resentful. I feel so frustrated I just want to cry sometimes. What is even more hurtful in my eyes is that he always wants me to perform oral sex on him but seems to despise anything mutual. It makes me cringe to hear others complain about how their husbands will not keep their hands off them. I really want to be desired and crave physical affection! I feel like a martyr trying to save this marriage.

    • Tanja December 30, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

      R, that sounds really rough. Have you considered seeing a therapist yourself? I’d definitely recommend starting there, because you’re going to need to learn how to deal with this and you may very well need some serious support. I don’t like how non-reciprocal your husband is being–that’s a red flag to me, and it definitely sounds like there are some bigger issues he’s not willing to face.

      Have things always been this out of whack in your relationship? A good counselor can help you figure out why, and what you’re willing to do about it. He/she can also teach you how to how to put up some boundaries so you can start to take back some of your power.

      That seems to me to be the larger issue here, and I don’t know anyone who would feel good when their spouse holds all the power (or all the cards). So let’s get you back on track by learning to take back your power in small ways. Go out by yourself/with friends, do something you enjoy, follow your dreams, and bit by bit you’ll get there. But stop letting him make all the rules–you’ll just become more and more miserable, and that’s no fair to either of you. A healthy marriage is about give and take, both inside and outside of the bedroom.

      Good luck, sister!

  8. Jason September 14, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    This is very close to my situation and other things have now caused problems. We have been married for 13 years and we have never had sex more than 3 or so times per week. Over the last 5 or more years that has been reduced to about 1 time per month sometimes less. I am an affectionate person and need intimacy in my life whereas my wife does not. I feel like she could go months without hugging, holding or sex with no problem at all. We have talked about this and she knows it is a problem that she “will work on”. She determines when we have sex – if she hasn’t showered it’s a no, isn’t shaved it’s a no, if she is tired it’s a no, on her period it’s a no, if she puts this awful smelling face cream on then I am totally turned off – it’s a no. We have determined that out of the month there are only about 7-9 available days that she might “be in the mood” but she doesn’t make the move. If (when I used to) try for sex often I would be rejected about 3 out of 4 times due to the above reasons. I felt rejected all the time and chose to no longer make the advances and told her that since it is mostly around her time frame then I will wait for her. This has not helped with the sex but at least I no longer feel rejected and unattractive. I do (as I think many others do as well) take care of my needs in other ways. I do not cheat on my wife but will choose to masterbate or watch porn to fulfill some of these missing needs. Don’t get me wrong, I have always done so from the beginning of my sexual awareness so I am not replacing real sex with anything else. This is not new. I have always wanted love and sex with my wife and my desire has not changed. When my wife sees or finds that I am watching something she blames me making me feel ashamed and says I am the problem and make her feel less of a woman. When I bring up what is going on with me she says that all I am doing is making her feel bad.

    Am I wrong for watching porn and taking care of myself? Am I wrong for wanting to be with her more than she wants to be with me? I don’t know what to do and I am looking for any help you can give me. I really hope you are still responding to these messages.

    • Tanja September 15, 2015 at 6:26 am #

      I don’t think it’s for me or anyone else to tell you and your wife what your sex life should look like–I think that’s something you two need to figure out. What I do wonder is if there’s something else going on underneath this all, especially if your wife is saying things like that to you. Has there been a breakdown in your communication? Do you have kids? Are you guys stressed at work and/or at home, overwhelmed, etc.? All of those things contribute and the more I read about women’s sexuality, the more it appears that so many outside factors are at play. But it seems to me that nothing much is going to change until you can get to the bottom of what’s going on with your wife, and that might take a counselor or some professional help. Consider asking your wife to go to a couples therapist with you–I think that would be a good place to start.
      Good luck, friend.

  9. Meg May 23, 2016 at 10:36 pm #

    Not sure if this is an active blog but I am desperate. I have been married for 11 years. My husband wants sex daily and I really don’t have much interest due to various reasons. I really do “just do it” even though I feel very dead inside. We separated for almost 3 years and he was unfaithful and I can’t help but feel like I am just a means to an end. He doesn’t touch me unless he wants sex. I was a victim of rape and molestation and when he tries to touch me when i am sleeping in am or pm I get frightened. I have shared this with him and yet he still does it and then treats me with utterly hurtful words, threatens divorce, shames me and is outright mean. He apologizes but it hurts deeply and then he expects me to still make love. I often lay there wanting to cry. He takes care of me, he isn’t selfish but i just get more resentful most every time we make love. I have been thinking about women, fantasizing and feeling guilty because his body is starting to discust me. I feel alone and unlovabke apart from my ability to give him sex. I am questioning my sexuality when I am a Christian who doesn’t believe in such things. Am I losing it?

    • Tanja May 24, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

      Meg, there’s so much going on in your letter that I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t steer you toward counseling. I’m not a trained therapist, but it seems clear to me that your past trauma needs your attention and some serious support. A good therapist can help you unravel those threads, as well as see how some of those issues are playing out in your marriage. From there, you’ll be in a much better position to decide what it is you really want/need. First and foremost, though, is getting you a sense of safety and some support. Don’t hesitate on this one — reach out today and start looking for a therapist. Your doc might be a good place to start, as he/she could have good recommendations. If need be, check out community support centers or university campuses or other places where you can find someone who works on a sliding scale. But until you address those old wounds, any current relationship might be problematic. Finally, your husband’s behavior is disturbing on so many levels that I’m not sure where to start. Your therapist can help you start to sort this all out.
      Good luck, sister!

    • Tanja May 24, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

      Meg, I’m so sorry to hear this — have you tried counseling? If your husband’s not willing, please go yourself. It sound like you’re still dealing with those old issues and I can’t imagine your husband’s behavior is helping. A good counselor can help you gain some clarity aroundall this. Good luck, sister — we’re pulling for you!

  10. Jesse December 14, 2017 at 10:31 pm #

    I feel like I am so ugly and unattractive that it’s made me sink into a major depression with psychotic features. I speak with counselors when I’m at my lowest but it’s never helped fix the issue. My husband and I started out with a great sexual connection and then he stopped wanting me. He said he was too stressed out over financial issues and it’s not me. But he has since figured out a plan of recovery from our financial issues and things still aren’t getting better. I’m expected to give in or lose it when he wants it which is only once every few weeks. I try to initiate, I flirt when initiation isn’t possibly so that I’m making him feel wanted and attractive. I try to help him bear the load of our life together even though he is the provider and I’m the stay at home parent. I don’t know what to do. I’m starting to resent him. This isn’t what I signed up for. How can he simply not care that he’s making me feel so bad about myself and then tell me he loves me, he just doesn’t want sex? I feel like I was lied to in the beginning and didn’t figure it out until after the marriage. He refuses to have his T levels checked because if they are low the med will cause cancer, yet I am on a cocktail of meds trying to keep the depression from his constant rejection under control. I have even considered asking for more meds to kill my libido because I can’t take it anymore but in every other area he’s a wonderful man. I feel like the ultimatum in my marriage is be married to a great guy and have a sexless marriage or leave and be a single mother and be alone. It’s an ultimatum that leaves me lonely either way. My therapists aren’t concerned with helping me fix this problem, they are concerned about me not having a safety net when I have my episodes and start self harming. He’s supposed to be my safety person and doesn’t even pay enough attention to me to recognize when my depression is taking over. The scars on my arm are the only proof of the pain in my heart. I can’t keep doing this with him but I love him so much I don’t want to leave. What is wrong with me? Why does he hate me so much? Why do I deserve this? He won’t even say goodnight to me. He’s recently started blaming me for fighting with him all the time and I have tried to explain that it’s my last desperate attempt at communication. At least if we are fighting, there’s an exchange of words and maybe something I am saying will register with him. I am really starting to hate the man I love. How do I stop this resentment from building when my situation seems so hopeless?

    • Tanja Pajevic December 16, 2017 at 9:13 am #


      This is a LOT. Please do talk with your therapist/s about the self-harm–that’s big and issue #1. I wonder if someone else needs to be your safe person — I don’t know that that’s a good role for your husband to be in right now. Once you can figure that out, I’d talk with your therapists more in depth about all this. Are they helping you get to the root of where this comes from? (For most of us, it’s usually rooted in the past, often our childhood.) Once we can figure that out, we can start to move forward. But I’m concerned that therapy’s not helping you here. It sounds to me like you need to find a safe place, that that’s the where you might want to start. Self-harm is way out of my league, my dear, so I want to make sure you’re in good hands and safe. Please do whatever you need to to set that up. OK?

      Good luck, my dear. We’re pulling for you!

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