The sex-starved marriage (TEDxCU talk)

Submitted by CuriousFellow on
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I think this is an excellent video. The speaker, Michele Weiner-Davis gives a very accurate (from my experience) description of sex-starved marriages, where one partner has a much higher sex drive than the other.

Michele is apparently also a best-selling author. I haven't read any of her books, yet, but it sounds like they might be good too.



Watched this

Seems to be confounding the benefits of intimacy with conventional sex with orgasm. Nice job of dishing out the standard, superficial advice.

I still think the video is valuable

I just watched the video again. She only says "orgasm" twice, and orgasms are not a key part of her message. She talks a lot more about connection, intimacy, touch, watching a sunset together, etc., and the emotions and situations that arise when there is not enough sex or intimacy (from one partner's point of view).

I've been practising karezza consistently for five years now (with unintentional orgasms half a dozen times a year). Still, we do it about once a week (average over last five years), which is less than I would like. I also feel like we don't snuggle enough, although it's been better this last year. The video really resonates with me; Michele could be talking about my marriage.

I don't think my wife is trying to be mean by refusing more frequent sex and cuddling. I think it's just a low sex drive - very little interest in sex and other sorts of intimacy. She's been that way from almost the beginning of our marriage. And it's common and natural for people to assume that others think and feel the same way we do. So if she has little interest in sex and intimacy, then it's hard for her to understand why it's such a big deal to me.

Michele, and Julie Sibert, author of this article: agree with that analysis.

Karezza has lots of benefits, enough that I'm committed to doing it for the rest of my life. But it's not always enough, by itself, to resolve the situation of mismatched sex drives, as my experience demonstrates.

For the last year, we've been cuddling more (although I would like even more). I think what helped was telling her, many times, that I wanted more cuddling. She doesn't like me to put my arm around her, or put my leg on top of hers - she feels like it is too heavy. So I had to tell her many times that I didn't feel the same way; I like it when she puts her arm or leg on me. She also doesn't like to be disturbed when she is sleeping. I still haven't convinced her that I don't mind being woken up and would welcome her to snuggle with me any time.

A few weeks ago, after she refused sex, I told her quite earnestly that I don't want our next 30 years together to be like the last 30 years - not enough sex. I also put The Sex-Starved Marriage video in her web browser and asked her to watch it when she has time (despite her otherwise busy schedule she seems to have a lot of time available for watching TV and internet videos, sometimes for hours after I've gone to bed). I really don't know if she watched it (I'm hesitant to ask because discussions about sex often annoy her). But since then, we've been having sex twice a week most weeks. It's too early to say if this is a permanent improvement.

what we've done

is have sex 4 times a week. But my wife doesn't really feel much, she says. She enjoys it but not nearly as much as I do. And she's fine with doing it that way, but it isn't fulfilling to me as much, obviously, and it continually bothers me that she isn't experiencing what I am. So we are not sex starved by any means. Plenty of sex. Lots of sex. Very few orgasms. But I'm still working on how to help her experience something more. 

How much is enough?

I've often wondered about frequency of sex, and how it relates to quality. What I've found over time is that the more engaged we are, the more fulfilling the sex is; and the level of that fulfilment determines how soon I will feel the need to repeat the process.

I thought initially that duration had a lot to do with both engagement and fulfillment. I felt my wife and I both needed time to move from the realm of enjoyable fun to a place of ineffable pleasure, and that when we had to stop too soon, satisfaction became blunted.

This is certainly true, to an extent; but we've had enough encounters over recent years that have lasted very little time but still been memorable enough to fix themselves in my mind to make me realise the key element is not actual duration so much as the potential for it.

We've now more or less abandoned sex in the evening, in bed. In the old, orgasmic days, this was fine, because climax was like a sedative that knocked us senseless, so we could be confident, when starting, of drifting unhindered into sleep. Because of the open ended nature of Karezza, we ran into a major problem, which was that my wife started the drift into sleep well before I did, meaning she became less and less engaged, while I was still palpably enthralled. This reached its nadir in her falling asleep a couple of times, her increasing stillness prompting me to get more and more excited, before realising what had happened.

We've now recognised that mid morning or late afternoon are far better times for lovemaking. Obviously, this is only possible if the time can be carved out, but we manage every other day or so. We allow ourselves as much time as we want, and I have to say it often doesn't last much longer than it used to, at the more traditional time of late evening, but in terms of mutual engagement, it is world's apart.

Generating engagement becomes a lot easier if we are neither sleepy nor concerned about time, but getting the circumstances right is not the only thing. Something about the way we do what we do either enthrals or subdues, and it is sometimes a balancing act to not spill over into excess or ennui. Karezza can be so calming, it can become little more than an extended, connected cuddle, or it can be so exciting, it becomes rampant. Personally, it is the rampant times that I find most fulfilling.

I keep a diary now, detailing all our encounters, and although we have a very loose schedule of 'every other day', it probably works out around ten times a month, because circumstances often intervene to cause us to lose a day, but rarely to gain one. Of these ten, I would say three or four are sufficiently memorable to stay in my mind, and nourish me for several days afterwards; the others are like subsistence rations, by comparison.

My wife's sex drive is a mystery to me. If I suddenly lost all desire for sex, I think she would accommodate herself to celibacy with acquiinimity, which I would find impossible, were our roles reversed. But she is more responsive that I've ever known, and never says no - so long as the time is right. I'm not sure she's changed much over the years. She's always liked sex, but in the past, we had so many more demands on our time, it was impossible to make love other than in the evening. What I took as her disinterest then was almost certainly the same desire for sleep I now see as something to work around rather than confront.

No fun, only having

No fun, C-F-, only having intercourse twice per week (great to hear that it is up from once per week) in a 30 year marriage in which there is Karezza.

Does your wife get sufficient exercise? Does she eat well (lots of fresh and cooked vegetables; omega 3s from free-range eggs, deep water fish, or a krill/fish oil supplement; sparing/no wheat or cow's milk, which are common allergens and which cause all sorts of seen and unseen problems)?

If not, can you help her: taking walks with her, cooking good food for her?

May your next 30 years improve in the sex and cuddle departments, C-F-!

Another perspective

From Alice Stockham's book, Karezza: Ethics of Marriage:

"The time and frequency of Karezza can be governed by no certain law. Experience, however, has proven that it is far more satisfactory to have at least an interval of two to four weeks, and many find that even three or four months afford greater impetus to power and growth as well as more personal satisfaction; during the interval the thousand and one lover-like attentions give reciprocal delight, and are an anticipating prophecy of the ultimate union."