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#054: How to Transform a Sex-Starved Relationship

Idit Sharoni

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I'm a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist based in Miami, a relationship podcast host, and an educator. I help couples transform their patterns of communication and heal after infidelity. 


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Welcome back! Let’s (finally) talk about SEX.

To be more exact – let’s talk about sex-starved relationships:

  • How can you determine if you are in one (if you’re not sure yet)?
  • What’s the real problem and what does this do to your connection?
  • What can you do to change the situation?

Many couples believe that sexual drought is a phase that will eventually fade away or is simply the nature of a long-term relationship. I will challenge that perception and help you get things going in the right direction!

Before you read on: As we discuss sex starved relationships, please recognize that sometimes sex is withheld for reasons other than those mentioned below. These reasons may include medical situations, past trauma, or abuse. Though these are very valid, they won’t be covered in the scope of this episode.

What to read later: The following information is inspired by many couples I’ve seen throughout the years as well as a wonderful and thorough TEDX talk presented by Michele Weiner-Davis. She is a Colorado couples therapist, known as the Divorce-Buster.

Her TEDx talk, The Sex-Starved Marriage, is also the name of her book on the subject.

If you prefer to read, is you may prefer her well-written book, which is a worthwhile read about sex in long-term relationships.

Now, to ground us in the reality of sex in long-term relationships, I’ll share with you the reality of things as they appear in my office:


Parameters of the sex-starved marriage:

  1. Couples state they are unhappy with the quantity or quality of their sex
  2. Partners yearn for sexual activity with their partners but are being denied for different reasons.

To be clear, this situation is not so much about the amount of sex, but how partners feel and experience as a result of their sex life (or lack thereof).

The takeaway? Marriage doesn’t have to be sexless to be considered sex-starved.


The problem of sex-starved relationships is often not sex at all. And this is usually where the problem starts…

How many of the following are true?

  • You’re arguing, bickering all the time
  • You are distant, there is no warmth or affection
  • Your partner cheated on you
  • Your partner enjoys talking to his friends at work more than you
  • Your partner had an emotional affair

Of course, sometimes, couples will straightforwardly state that their problem is a lack of sex, lack of intimacy, low desire, etc. But not very often.

Over time, I’ve learned that sex and desire should be part of every couples therapy. Therefore, I incorporate it into my sessions in a variety of ways.

It’s important to look closely at the following:


I often find that couples have drifted far apart from each other mentally and physically with no clue how to get close again. So, they come up with discussions like this to explain their circumstances:

Partner with higher desire: “We’re not having sex.”

Partner with lower desire: “I’ve told you many times. I can’t just have sex when we’re fighting all the time. We have to have a period of time that we’re okay and happy with each other. Then, I may feel like I want it again.”

This is can become an endless cycle that partners build around why intimacy isn’t happening, why they don’t feel like having sex, and why they really need to be okay before they can engage in sexual activity with their partners again.


I sometimes use the metaphor of Mt. Everest to explain to my couples what is going on with their sex life. Essentially, the partner with low sex drive creates conditions under which sex can happen:

  • No fights/arguing for a specific period of time (more than one day
  • Sufficient time and energy for it
  • Must occur on certain days/ at certain times
  • They must be in the mood, and the partner has to initiate
  • The partner has to stop initiating and allow them to initiate
  • and the list goes on and on…

At the peak of this mountain of conditions? Sex awaits…

Unfortunately, it’s just so unattainable!

The partner who yearns for sex is expected to climb Mt. Everest. And frankly, most of us are just not capable of doing that. So, it remains out of reach.


The power lies with the low desire partner. Why? They have the ability to decide whether sex is going to happen or not. It’s not an easy position to be in, but it is far more difficult to be on the other side. Why?

  1. You are powerless
  2. You’re in pain due to rejection
  3. You often feel humiliated
  4. You may resort to numbing feelings as a way to avoid pain

The takeaway? This is a serious matter for someone on the other side of this relationship. They are sex-starved, rejected and refused.

Can you imagine (or you may not have to imagine) what that does to a person?

Research by the University of Michigan shows that rejection hurts more than depression or anxiety.


Many of us believe that sex is a natural thing. That it happens spontaneously when both partners feel desire equally and simultaneously. For most of us, sex is not something you need to work to obtain. You just want it and it happens.

In reality, this is what happens in the first phase of a long-term relationship. At first, desire is fueled by mystery and novelty. It’s when you’re doing the laundry and have lusty thoughts, or just the thought of your partner ignites desire.

However, a few months or years into a relationship, we all experience a dip in desire levels. That is absolutely normal.

In her TEDx talk, Michele Weiner Davis talks about a research by Dr. Rosemary Basson, who sheds some light on why sex doesn’t happen like a fairy tale story as a relationship progresses.

Basson’s research talks about the 4-stage human sexual response cycle:

  1. Desire – lusty thoughts
  2. Arousal – when you get with your partner and you get physically aroused
  3. Orgasm- sexual fulfillment
  4. Resolution – body goes back to its resting stay

According to Dr. Basson’s research: “for millions of people stages one desire and stages 2 arousal are actually reversed. Their bodies have to be physically stimulated and aroused in order for their brains to register there’s desire. The desire is there but it’s not the compelling force to initiate sex.”

Ideas to help a resolve the arousal/ desire issue

  • If you are one of the aforementioned millions of both men and women, please know that just because you don’t have lusty thoughts about having sex when you’re reading your morning newspaper does not necessarily mean you have low desire or no desire. It could mean that you need to be physically stimulated in order to feel the desire.

So, when your partner suggests making love later, just go for it. Chances are you’ll get into it and remember you do like sex after all.

  • If you are waiting for all the stars to align and your partner to climb your Mt. Everest of conditions, please know that withholding sex may only make matters worse.

Sex is not only for pleasure, it is the most powerful way for a couple to bond and feel connected during the 48 hours following the act itself. Sexual activity releases oxytocin into our bodies which aids bonding in addition to other benefits.

  • As Michele suggests in her talk, stop being a slave to your own emotions! Start taking better care of your partner without fully agreeing or understanding why. As she says, and I fully agree: “Healthy relationships are based on mutual caretaking.”

I hope this information was helpful, got you thinking, and prepared you to take action.

So many couples live in sex starved relationships.This is not your destiny and will not pass unless you do something about it!

For more support and information, please visit my specialty pages regarding couples therapy and healthier communication or contact me for a consultation soon.

Thank you so much for your time!


couple in bed upset about sexless marriage

I'm Idit Sharoni, your podcast host.

I'm an expert on relationships and infidelity recovery. I'm a licensed marriage & family therapist, a podcast host, and the founder of Relationship Experts  - a Couples Therapy & Coaching private practice.

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