Address The Elephant In The (Bed)Room Before It Damages More Than Your Marriage

Posted: October 29, 2018

Sexual dysfunction is the elephant in the room we need to address, which may be a bigger problem than is reported. It can seriously affect a marriage, and this in turn can cause problems in the family.

We are witnessing a revolution in attitudes towards sex. In the last couple of years, we as a country have successfully put the spotlight on a number of taboo subjects like consent, menstruation, LGBTQIA+ rights, female foeticide and sexual assault.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Marital rape and sexual dysfunction need to see the light of day. These subjects are suppressed to ‘avoid embarrassment’ and ostensibly to ‘preserve the sanctity of marriage and stability of family life’. But in reality, suppressing these issues can cause immense stress to a marriage and destroy the confidence of the individuals involved. Kids and the extended family may suffer serious collateral damage too.

What is Sexual Dysfunction and why is it a big deal?

Sexual dysfunction is defined as any problem during sex that makes it difficult for an individual or couple to achieve sexual satisfaction.

Ideally, sex should involve a give and take where partners are considerate of each other’s insecurities, sensitive to each other’s needs, and endeavor to bring each other pleasure. Sex of this kind increases intimacy, happiness and mutual respect in a marriage, and contributes to a stable and happy family life.

But sex is a sensitive subject. Not being able to enjoy it, can make you feel humiliated and guilty. You may also fear, that if you can’t keep your spouse sexually satisfied, they may look for it outside the marriage.

You may choose to hide your reluctance, grit your teeth and get through it, or make excuses to avoid it as often as possible. You may think you are being kind to your spouse. But the facade is difficult to keep up. Sex is intimate, and your spouse is likely to notice your reluctance. This can make you spouse feel offended, under confident and unattractive. This can cause you both to feel resentful and sex becomes a chore.

If you don’t address the problem, the resentment will grow and leak out in to other aspects of your family life. Soon, it’s likely, you will be snapping at each other, provoking or goading each other, and feeling dissatisfied. It won’t be long before the kids bear the brunt of your ill temper and frustration.

If you are a woman, your husband may not be very patient. In a country that does not consider marital rape a crime, he may not wait long before he forces himself on you and then makes a habit of it.

Erectile dysfunction is an emotionally traumatic condition for many men and can destroy their self confidence. Some men may blame their wives, but even if that’s not the case, some women blame themselves, believing they are not attractive or are doing something wrong. Others experience bitterness, resentment and anger.

In India, where female sexuality is a taboo, a man suffering from erectile dysfunction may not even be aware of the frustration his wife is experiencing. A woman seeking legal advice for divorce has posted an account of the difficulties she faced in an arranged marriage with a man, whose family was allegedly aware he suffered from erectile dysfunction, but hid it before marriage.

As uncomfortable as the issue may be to address, it must be tackled as early as possible.

What causes sexual dysfunction?

Sandhya has written an illuminating article detailing the causes of female sexual dysfunction (FSD), where I learned about vaginismus. It is an involuntary constriction of the perivaginal muscles, that occurs due to a fear of sex. Isn’t sex supposed to be divine? Why would anyone fear it?

When is sex scary?

In India sex education is barely touched upon. Even if the mechanics of sex is clinically explained, the importance of foreplay and lubrication isn’t mentioned. Women are discouraged from exploring their sexuality to figure out what they find pleasurable. In case of some arranged where the couple barely know each other, discussing sexual preferences awkward.

In the absence of sexually stimulating circumstances, if a woman has to open up her body for penetration without the overwhelming desire it, sex can be quite terrifying. painful first experience can then result in a fear of sex.

Child sexual abuse and marital rape can also cause vaginismus. In the absence of foreplay or sufficient lubrication, sex can be painful.

Other hurdles

Small homes with large families and limited privacy are not conducive to spontaneous love making. Parenting, work commitments, and fast paced modern lives leave little time for intimacy.

My husband and I were in a long distance relationship for 6 years. We sometimes found physical intimacy difficult on short visits after long separations although emotionally we were always very close. It was difficult to indulge in physical intimacy knowing it would soon be snatched away from us again.

Health problems

Apart from these psychological issues, a number of physiological health conditions can result in FSD. Polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis are both difficult to diagnose and can contribute to FSD. Injuries during childbirth make sex traumatic and result in vaginismus. Women often ignore their own health issues. Problems like urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis left untreated can make sex unpleasant. Vaginal dryness and other hormonal issues during perimenopause and menopause can make sex unpleasant resulting in FSD.

What can you do about it?

Get over the denial

Whatever the cause of sexual dysfunction, living in denial, does not help. A healthy marital relationship leads to a happy stress free family life, especially for kids. On the other hand, constant festering resentment among parents can make home life quite traumatic for children.

Talk with your spouse

Keeping this in mind, however uncomfortable the subject may be, a couple must find a way to talk about it. In such conversations sensitivity is of utmost importance. Both parties must make an effort not to trigger insecurities the other is likely to be experiencing.

Couples therapy

If the cause is psychological, couple’s therapy may be required. Couples are often embarrassed or reluctant to sought therapy for various reasons. But sexual dysfunction is not just going to go away unless a couple works at it together. Therapy can help overcome sexual dysfunction resulting from psychological causes.

Medical help

Sometimes the cause is physiological and seeking medical help can be quite embarrassing in this case too. However in many cases it may be possible to treat the underlying cause when sexual dysfunction stems from physiological problems like PCOS or endometriosis. Erectile dysfunction is often treatable with medication.

In case of physiological causes of sexual dysfunction that cannot be treated, therapy can help couples deal with the difficulties of married life under these circumstances. Here is one woman’s account of being married to a loving man with erectile dysfunction.

Arguments and fights in the family that destroy its harmony and affect you as individuals and a couple, and also seriously affect your children, and other family members can often be traced to the chill in the bedroom. Are you talking about it already?

Image source: shutterstock

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Kanika G, a physicist by training and a mother of 2 girls, started writing to

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