Mumbai-based IT engineer Venkat, 41, and his wife Asha, 35, were married 13 years when they decided they wanted a child. But there was a small problem: They had not consummated their marriage. In simple English, they had never had sex. The couple, who otherwise share a warm and loving bond, had decided to abstain from sex because they assumed that if they had intercourse, they’d conceive a baby. But when they were ready to have one, they realised they had no idea how to go about it.
Venkat and Asha aren’t the only two babes in the woods as far as sex is concerned. Doctors say that they see far too many cases of unconsummated marriages every year. Mumbai-based andrologist Dr Rupin Shah says he advises five such couples every week. Some come to him after six months of marriage, others after two years. And those who don’t seek out a doctor turn to the internet, and online forums are filled with discussions on how to have sex.
It’s not about sex
Isn’t sex a natural instinct, something that you don’t really need to take classes on?
“Yes,” says Dr Rajan Bhonsle, sexologist and head of department of sexual medicine at KEM Hospital. “For most people it comes naturally as it does to animals who are never taught about sex.”
But he says married couples who say they don’t have sex because they don’t know how to, have other issues. “Most times, when a couple says they don’t know how, it’s because they don’t want to have sex,” he says.
This is either because they’re not attracted to each other, or because the guy may be gay and hasn’t admitted it yet, or because of underlying psychological issues such as shy-guy syndrome, or because s/he may have been abused as a child, he adds.
Often, one partner’s anxiety can led to the other partner’s inability to perform. Some women fear ‘pain’ during sex. This can lead to a condition called vaginismus, where the woman holds her muscles tight out of fear and the vagina becomes almost impenetrable, says Dr Kiran Coelho, head of gynaecology, Lilavati Hospital. “When the male is unable to enter, he loses confidence. The next time they try, he may be unable to get an erection due to anxiety,” adds Dr Shah.
Another common reason why married couples shy away from sex is performance anxiety, adds Seema Hingorrany, psychologist and author of self-help book Beating the Blues. “Men feel they will not be able to pleasure the woman, especially if he’s tried unsuccessfully to have sex in the past.”
Then there is the shy-guy syndrome. Yes, really. “The guy is just too shy to ask his wife to take her clothes off. So the couple just doesn’t have sex,” says Dr Bhonsle.
Body confidence issues also prevent men and women from initiating sex. “Many women feel their breasts are either too small or too big, and that their boyfriends/husbands might reject them because they don’t have hourglass figures,” says Hingorrany.
These psychological issues can easily be resolved with counselling, feel doctors.
The fear of intercourse
But often, men and women shy away from sex because they were molested during childhood or because they witnessed rough sexual acts when they were young. It takes longer for such people to overcome their fear/revulsion of sex.
Himani, a 30-something banker in Mumbai, panicked after her husband started making advances at her six months into their marriage. He hadn’t made any attempt to get physical throughout their courtship so she assumed that theirs would be a sexless marriage. “I have nothing against my husband. It’s just that I never want to have sex with anyone,” she told her doctor.
Himani’s aversion to sex came from the fact that a family member had molested her when she was a child. It didn’t help that her older cousins also made sex sound crude and painful. This increased her aversion to sex. It took months of counselling and medication to warm her up to the idea of having sex. And it was almost a year after starting therapy that she even attempted to consummate her marriage.
Those familiar with the pleasures of sex find it incomprehensible that married couples can spend years together and remain celibate. No wonder then that most sexless marriages are strained because failure to consummate a marriage can leave one or both partners frustrated and angry. Often, even before seeking help, they decide the marriage is over.
The sad part about unconsummated marriages is that couples don’t want to talk about their issues, say experts. “Rarely is it ever an issue with just one partner,” says Dr Shah.
“What people don’t realise is that sexual problems are usually easy to solve, if only they’re willing to try.”
Some names have been changed on request