For most married couples, the bedroom is a place of privacy and sexual intimacy. But many who have been married for a while know that this is often not the case.
Sometimes and for a long period, the bedroom can become a lonely place. To be clear, a sexless marriage is a marital union in which little or no sexual activity occurs between both spouses. A Newsweek magazine survey found that 15 to 20 per cent of couples are in a sexless union.
Studies have even showed that about 10 per cent of couples below the age of 50 have not had sex in a year. The definition is often broadened to include those where sexual intimacy occurs less than 10 times per year.
In addition, less than 20 per cent of them report having sex a few times per year, or even monthly, under the age 40. This definition takes into consideration the fact that partners may have varying sexual drives, but not as bad as having sex only 10 times in a year.
It is difficult to obtain statistics about couples in Nigeria, but sexless marriages may be common among our modern, educated couples. Our religious and socio-cultural values that accommodate polygamy and forbid divorce may mask research findings and inadvertently encourage marriages, even if it is sexless.
If you are in this category, there is no shame. What you need is help before it begins to affect your mental health.
The major causes of sexless marriages are psychological, but a few are understandably due to some biological and clinical situations that could be handled medically, such as vulvae pain syndromes, fragile vagina tissues from low levels of oestrogen, prostate difficulties in men, post-heart attack or stroke states, chronic arthritis, chronic low back pain, side effects of medications and diabetic complications.
There are also clinical psychological states such as depressive illness, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypoactive sexual drive, gender identity problems or body image difficulties. However, more than 90 per cent of the causes of sexless marriages are due to issues in the psychodynamics of the marital relationship.
A partner may have feelings hurt repeatedly, get turned down too many times, get disrespected and erect a wall that does not allow issues to be resolved promptly. These unresolved conflicts can generate a state of permanent hostility that blocks sexual expression.
The partner, who behaves in a passive-aggressive manner, may block sexual intercourse as punishment or protection from hurt inflicted by the mate. The perceived rejection may lead to loss of interest in sexual communication, which may be complicated by loneliness, anger and lowering of self-esteem in the spouse who feels that basic sexual human needs are deliberately frustrated by the rejecting partner.
Other causes of this resentment may be due to perceived imbalance of duties and responsibilities, including moral, religious and financial issues. This may get complicated when extra-marital affairs set in, which may lead to reduced sexual interest in the estranged spouse and, if the affair is discovered, the innocent spouse may cease to want to be intimate with the offending spouse.
This may manifest as restricted, formal and coarse communication as partners treat each other with contempt. Couples in this situation are definitely in mental distress or already mentally ill, hence they require professional help.
Those deeper feelings of resentment must be uncovered and dealt with as they practise active listening and try to communicate creatively in the process of discovery. You may think you have a right to be resentful of the way you have been treated, and while it might seem natural, resentment creeps into everything you do.
Every time you talk to your spouse, every action you take can be so tainted with this resentment that it becomes a psychological burden. The path to recovery is that you make a conscious effort to do everything for the benefit of both of you, and not just yourself. You must be honest and, without hatred or fear or anger, confront the problem of sexual intimacy together.
The bedroom should be a peaceful and relaxing place by keeping it free of clutter. To bring the spark back, you can go on dates, do fun things together, especially things that ignite mutual passion and excitement.
There is a need for the services of a professional marriage counselor, who will help couples to navigate and elicit hidden resentments and resolve. Such a counsellor will also help to identity faculty communication styles that may have shut down sexual intimacy and suggest new patterns and also appropriately refer those with mental health issues.
A successful marriage requires commitment, effort, compromise and forgiveness. Sexless marriage can impair wholesome development of children in the home because of discordance in communication. In addition, less than 20 per cent of them report having sex a few times per year, or even monthly, under the age 40.
The facility of education and financial empowerment of our modern wives may serve as templates for more conflicts leading to ego-stalemates that may injure sexual intimacy. Our relatively lower rates of divorce, even among our educated couples, compared with the western world, may find compensation in sexless marriages as a manifestation of emotional divorce.