Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Not in the Mood

The fastest growing epidemic in nuptial bliss, sexless marriages, is now plaguing the Jordanian wedded. Why is it that some couples just cannot keep the flame alive? Oula Farawati investigates the truth behind why so many have lost that lovin' feeling.

Last year, Um Ala' had what she explained to be a big fight with her husband. According to her, things have changed between them since then, perhaps forever. The 42-year-old mother of four says her marital life was "technically and practically the same", however, after the fight one major element had been deleted; sex. "Things are basically normal; my husband goes to work, I do the house chores, and we spend time with the kids like always. People don’t sense that our relationship is strained in any way. But when we close the bedroom door behind us, we both feel the presence of an ever-expanding wall between us; we sleep with our backs to each other. We have not had sex for almost a year now," Um Ala' shared.

Sharing Is Caring

Women in Amman and elsewhere in Jordan are becoming more vocal, albeit cautious, about what seems to be an emerging characteristic in today's marriages; the loss of intimacy. Wives alternate between hushing each other when this topic is broached, or daring to occasionally divulge openly about their issues in female circles. "When we get together for coffee in the morning, we joke about what happens during the night. Sometimes, however, a neighbor will disclose that she and her husband are just out of touch," Um Anas, a resident of Jabal Jofeh confided.
In all-male circles, the issue of sexless marriages is very rarely talked about; some men describe the situation with their spouses using a well known-phrase, "My wife and I are now like brother and sister."

Root of the Problem

Experts are pointing out that many Jordanians are coming forward and taking steps to rectify the situation by visiting specialized clinics to get advice on how to spice things up, or at least try to catch a glimmer of their once vivacious sex life. Sadly, with some couples, the lack of sexual activity is a direct manifestation of a much larger underlying issue. Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Josi Salem-Pickartz explains by saying "Many couples come to me saying that they no longer have sex because they are not happy with each other. Some of them say they married someone they neither like nor respect and admit that they regretted their choice in spouse selection since day one!"
Dr. Salem-Pickartz is quick to point out that not all problems are that deeply rooted explaining that couples these days are preoccupied with their children, jobs, and families rendering physical intimacy insignificant. "Life takes these couples away from each other and they become too exhausted to think about or want sex, and this has negative consequences on their marriage" she explained.

Hell Hath No Fury

Randa*, a nurse with three children and a full time job believes that sex is a luxury she cannot afford. She says she has sex with her husband once a month at the most, explaining that the late night work shifts, house chores, kids, and breastfeeding take up all of her time. Her husband, she added, constantly complains about their situation. "When we first got married, we used to have sex twice a day and we were very happy about it. But after taking on the night shift at work and having three kids, I just can't find the energy to have sex. I am tired and overworked, and my husband is not being very cooperative," she said. "He complains about it, but is not willing to help out by taking on some of the responsibilities. When I finally go to bed and am dying to get some rest, he is wide awake and energized" she complained.
Asking around, one can observe that a lot of women, regardless of whether they are women with full-time jobs, stay-at-home moms, or women without children, are very angry. They’re infuriated that their husbands are neither considerate nor sympathetic and would never even think of playing a more supportive role. They are mad that men take laborious tasks such as grocery shopping, meals, laundry, telephone bills, and kids' school exams for granted and do not trouble their heads with these details.
Some of these irate ladies have resorted to using sex as a weapon, and the lack of it as a punishment. Interestingly, research results posted on the Johns Hopkins University website claim that women do have some legitimate gripes. Most two-income couples without children divide up the household chores pretty evenly. After the kids come, however, men may be happy to play with the new family member, but they actually do less around the house. Men’s contributions to household chores increased dramatically in the 70s and 80s, but haven’t changed much since then, according to Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins. He found that 55% of fathers actually start spending more time at work after a child is born. His interpretation of this phenomenon is that some fathers may suddenly take their role as the breadwinner more seriously while others may feel slighted by how much attention their wives lavish on the new baby.

Aggravating Apathy

Husam’s* brief marriage ended last year with a bitter divorce. I am embarrassed to admit it, but lack of intimacy was the reason why I left her" he said. The 32-year-old IT professional said his wife was responsible for the collapse of their once drunk-with-love relationship. "When we were engaged, I used to travel 300 kilometers everyday from Ma’an to meet her in Irbid were she lived with her parents.” According to Husam, their sexual relationship faded rapidly "She was so monotonous, she made no attempt to make herself more desirable to me.” He further confided that his wife was not at all interested in sex “at the beginning of our marriage that was not important because her body was new to me, but after two years, things changed and I needed her encouragement to initiate love, but she was not interested, or interesting enough.” Ultimately it was his wife’s nonchalance that severed the relationship “I used to feel like she is a pillow lying next to me and not a woman. I would look at her and feel nothing but disgust and lack of interest. Until now, believe me I don’t know why she hated sex." Husam said.
Ironically, Psychiatrist Mohammad Habashneh acknowledges that routine sex is the top reason for sexless marriages. He is receiving an increasing number of patients who complain about that lack the element of surprise and creativity, in addition to redundancy in sexual intercourse were the key reasons why couples are drifting apart.
"Many couples are living with each other as hating friends. They have to live with each other for the sake of their children or other commitments. Their sex life becomes as boring as eating the same kind of food everyday," he said.

Cheese, cheese, cheese…

Routine is what also made Odeh* distant from his wife. "She tastes the same everyday. After trying other women, I discovered that each one has a different taste and aroma," laughed the middle-aged, Russian-educated engineer. Odeh is still married to his wife because he has three children. Yet he boldly blames her for his constant infidelity by explaining that he had asked his wife to become more playful during intercourse only to be reprimanded and told that she was not a whore.
"I am man with needs, if she is not wiling to fulfill them, then I have the right to go look for happiness somewhere else.” Odeh seems to be content with his current situation explaining “the last time I had sex with her was two years ago, and she still tasted like unsalted cheese. Since then, I live with her happily as brother and sister."
As explained by Dr. Habashneh, lack of communication is a major hindering factor in suffering sex lives; couples are urged to communicate freely and openly about their feelings and fantasies. He points out the other repercussions by saying “lack of intimacy leads to masturbation and watching pornography, and these are also a main motive behind sexless marriages, it is a vicious cycle.” According to Dr. Habashneh, solo-sex is also a main cause for sexless marriages “We just get so many people suffering from these interconnected problems." Social constraints and a traditional upbringing make some couples totally unaware of pleasure techniques. Many are also reluctant to go beyond traditional sex because it is socially unaccepted.

Let’s Get Physical
Dr. Salem-Pickartz says pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding make men feel sidelined. "After delivery, women become very protective of their bodies, especially if their experience with child birth was difficult. They become preoccupied with their new baby, weight loss, in-laws' visits, and so on. Many marriages also suffer from the lack of sexual desire at the time of post-delivery, especially when wives go through post-partum depression," she noted.
Gynecologist Efteem Azar explained that men rarely speak about less sex in their married lives and that it is ultimately the women who speak-up "Some of my female patients are too shy to talk about this [initially], but when they visit me several times, they feel less reserved and ask for advice on solving such problems [like sexless marriages]," he said.
In addition to the most common of reasons for sexless marriages, namely, familiarity, Dr. Azar added that sometimes women become less inclined to have sex because they don't enjoy it. This is especially the case when their husbands cannot give them the pleasure they desire or are not responsive to their sexual needs. "Women are sometimes slower in responding sexually to their husbands during intercourse. Men are usually very quickly and easily aroused. When there are conflicting thresholds of arousal between the man and the woman, it is not uncommon for the man to climax before the woman, so she doesn’t enjoy intercourse. With time, women simply become less interested or lose desire altogether," he said.
Dr. Azar noted that often men suffer from premature ejaculation, which causes their wives to feel completely sexually under-nourished. This, according to Dr. Azar, requires medical intervention. Experts acknowledged that men need to become more receptive to their wives sexual needs through different options like foreplay and finding out what "techniques" give wives more pleasure, stressing that communication between couples has to become deeper and more authentic.



The Missing Link


Advice on how to stay connected, varies widely. Traditionally, marriage counselors have focused on bridging emotional gaps between husbands and wives, with the idea that better sex flows out of better communication. Dr. Salem-Pickartz says, "Couples should basically work on their marriage. Marriage counseling gives tips on how to raise intimacy and communication," she said. Sexuality, according to Dr. Salem-Pickartz, is eventually a mirror of the entire relationship, "Sensuality, after all, is the last link in the chain."


*Name was changed upon the interviewee's request

19 comments:

Batir Wardam said...

Hi Oula it is great to have you in the blogsphere. I enjoy your blog, and please keep posting in both languages. Cheers

Oula said...

Hi Batir,
wow,this is a whole new world that I have just entered... I am extremely happy you liked the post... will keep posting inshAllah!

Qwaider قويدر said...

Wow! that's such an amazing an comprehensive view of the problem!
You should probably throw in Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes as potential reasons. Since people like to Imitate celebrities.

I am so impressed with your candor and bravery in this sensitive issue.

Oula said...

Thank you! I was afraid to put this item in particular... I was very afraid i will get all these crappy remarks about how these issues are 3eib and should not be tackled... But why was this blog called Controversy in the first place... controversy is good, isn't it? Thanks for passing by ;)

Qwaider قويدر said...

Why is it Taboo? Islam has directly, publicly and on many occasions directly tackled this matter. Specifically mentioning that there is no introversion in Religion, and no introversion in Science. A well known rule
People would often go and ask about these very intimate affairs and get the answers they seek. There is no shame in admitting problems, or seeking out remedies.

That's why I'm very impressed with the whole way you proposed it, I'm even impressed that you decided to talk about it. It is such a sensitive matter in general. But luckily, educated people are understanding that the "cultural" taboos are not really religious, substantiated, or justified reason not to discuss anything

Thank you again

Omernos said...

Hi Oula,

First off I would like to salute you for your daring and extremely interesting investigation.

I'm really proud of you seeing you barging in this hush-hush issue.

I think Pornography can seriously be a housewrecker. Men tend to set standards on how their woman or their relations should be like, and so they'll get disappointed by their inexperienced wives. It's a shame that a man expects his wife to be sexually experienced.

Also, porn stars can get to the man, and as they, Be7o6ha braso, and the man would probably fantasize, disregarding his partner.

Although I'm a man,
but I have to say I blame them! hehehe.

omar

Nas said...

oula, welcome to blogosphere.

it was an interesting read. but i think a great deal of the problem involves our approach to the subject of sex. if we read for instance islamic literature we find of all the religion it's the one that approaches sex stripped of all taboo that our culture attaches to it. it does so in order to promote a healthy family environment which is key to a successful islamic life and community. yet sadly this has been brushed aside (amongst other things) to allow culture to dominate. it's sort of a sad irony.

what i'm saying here is that it goes back to education and our eternal fear that if our children are taught anything about sex then they will become corrupt. ironically the opposite has proven to be much worse. a sexless marriage is one outcome but so is a marriage of male dominance where the wife becomes practically a playtoy.

if we incorporate a sense of education for the people we might have a better outcome, or at least one better than this. and while most conservatives will resist this I think we can use religion here as a tool to get to these people, as it allows for some protection from their criticism. they cannot deny it's an essential aspect of it.

Iman said...

An integral part of a successful marriage is good sex. As the article points, it all ultimately boils down to good communication ...respect and understanding are two vital components as well...

"Many couples come to me saying that they no longer have sex because they are not happy with each other. Some of them say they married someone they neither like nor respect and admit that they regretted their choice in spouse selection since day one!"

I cannot begin to fathom why on earth would someone marry another whom they don't like nor respect? How can one expect to have a healthy sexually intimate life with someone they don't like nor respect?! this is not a weekend for temporary pleasure, it's marriage - meant to be a life-time commitment!

couples these days are preoccupied with their children, jobs, and families rendering physical intimacy insignificant. "Life takes these couples away from each other and they become too exhausted to think about or want sex, and this has negative consequences on their marriage

Life is demanding ... but that doesn't mean we shouldn't always make time for things we enjoy ... because things we enjoy tend to be a retreat for us to wind down and get our minds off the hectic and everyday demands at work, in the kitchen and with the kids. I understand if one is tired one night and is not in the mood, but to be tired and not in the mood every single night is just beyond me! there are things that we must prioritize, and if work is taking such a toll on us that it is getting inside my bedroom and deteriorating my marriage as a result, then I am going to take a step back and evalute which is more important!

They’re infuriated that their husbands are neither considerate nor sympathetic and would never even think of playing a more supportive role. They are mad that men take laborious tasks such as grocery shopping, meals, laundry, telephone bills, and kids' school exams for granted and do not trouble their heads with these details.

Then talk about it ... work things out ...allocate tasks ... couples should help each other out, but using 'No sex for you' as a form of punishment is not so wise and would only drive the husband to getting it elsewhere... (as mentioned in the article)

I am embarrassed to admit it, but lack of intimacy was the reason why I left her"

"She was so monotonous, she made no attempt to make herself more desirable to me.”


He has a point ...he addresses his concerns to her, yet she doesn't show interest... as I mentioned earlier, an integral part of a successful marriage is a healthy and intimate sexual relationship...

Odeh is still married to his wife because he has three children. Yet he boldly blames her for his constant infidelity by explaining that he had asked his wife to become more playful during intercourse only to be reprimanded and told that she was not a whore.

First, nothing justifies cheating...

second, a whore? how so? non-sense ... LOL! it's not like she's working the corner every night...this is her husband, ya3ni 7alal 3alaiha! Getting creative, 'innovative' and daring keeps the flame alive and makes life with each other a lot more interesting!

Many are also reluctant to go beyond traditional sex because it is socially unaccepted.

This is rather interesting ...I am not too sure how to interpret it though. I mean, how is it socially unaccepted? What goes on in the bedroom and behind closed door is nobody's business. period. Unless of course it means that if a woman is creative in the bedroom then there is the possibility that her husband might think she has prior experience? (which is bizarre to say the very least)

Many marriages also suffer from the lack of sexual desire at the time of post-delivery, especially when wives go through post-partum depression

Patience, sensitivity and understanding: men shouldn't expect their wives to be available soon after giving birth. It takes sometime... and if the husband is patient sensitive and understanding, there shouldn't be a problem.

Experts acknowledged that men need to become more receptive to their wives sexual needs through different options like foreplay and finding out what "techniques" give wives more pleasure, stressing that communication between couples has to become deeper and more authentic.
===
the idea that better sex flows out of better communication.


And that's true. good communication is strongly needed in every relationship...

- Couples should have a communication level in which they are able to express their concerns/and or any problems and work them out collectively

- Every relationship comes with troubling times ... couples who fight should not go more than one day without resolving the issue - if you're not on good terms with your husband or wife, the last thing you want to do is get intimate with him/her

- Couples should be at a comfortable level with each other, talk about their needs, be receptive and always open to new ways of keeping their marriage exciting and full of love :D

Hamzeh N. said...

Excellent post.

kinzi said...

Well done, Oula!

This is such an important topic, and I add my voice in saluting you. I

As you mentioned, communication is key. For a woman, sex is an outward expression of emotional intimacy, and if there isn't that kind of connection, sex just isn't as much fun. Especially if he is expecting a gyrating Haifa wanna-be fantasy girl and for her it would just be acting.

Have you read "Venus and Mars in the Bedroom?" I found it helpful as I counsel women. It talks about women needing to understand what propels a man's need (and it is a need!)and men needing to understand she just can't keep up, especially when there are small children. Especially if he is not cherishing her in a way that makes her want to give herself with full abandon.

The author's solution: treat sex like meals! You can't have mansaf everyday, mish? Mansaf once a week, chicken and rice twice a week, fast food once, then he cooks once. He also talks about scheduling intimacy, so she can be more mentally prepared and knows her nights 'off'.

Oula, you should submit this to VIVA, it is a message that needs to be heard.

kinzi said...

Oula, whoops..red faced I see you write for Living Well! I write for Viva...well, we can be sisters in raising awareness in our different spheres of influence. :)

As I thought about this subject, I think someone someone needs to integrate pre-marital counseling into the local mosques. We spend a year planning the wedding, but no time preparing for the reality of day-to-day relating.

My husband and I had several months of premarital counseling, everything from finances to communication to expectations with in-laws; this was a requirement of our church to marry us.

The week before we were married, we were each given a book about marital sexuality (including technique) and went through it seperately by gender with the older man and woman. For those who have chosen to wait for marriage for all forms of physical intimacy, it is invaluable.

Oula said...

Qwaider, you are absolutely right… Islam has tackled this eloquently and in detail… there is no shame in admitting problems, the shame is ignoring them and looking for other alternatives, like cheating or watching porn…

Omar… thanks for the nice remarks… I wrote a feature for Living Well about watching porn, I will publish it here soon!

Nas… thanks for a great story idea… sex education is important… wait for it soon in Living Well and on Controversy!

Iman… WOW… I feel so good that you dedicated so much time to comment on this article… feels very good… and your comments are absolutely great! I will make sure I talk to you about all my story ideas… discussing ideas with you will make my stories better! Thanks!

Hamzeh… Shukran jazeelan

Kinzi… thanks for the great engaging comment… love the competition! Thanks again… these comments are the best reward to my work… (money is good, too ;) hehe

The Observer said...

Oula, excellent job. I loved this post. I am glad that people start talking about this problem. It is widely spread, and for many different reasons. Not just only life work load, or routine things.

I guess it is normal to expect such problems because of the sexual opression we have.

Abu Sinan said...

Very interesting. I think subjects like these are lacking BIG TIME in Arabic meadia.

I am an American married to a Saudi woman. I blame a lot of these problems on the culture itself.

Often if a women does show some adventurism she is seen as a "whore" by the man, where as if she doesnt she is boring. It seems a real catch-22 in this situation.

I have had Arab men tell me that dont want their wife to be sexual, she would be a threat. These are often the men that get their sexual desires met outside the home and want an unthreatening, unagressive woman at home.

Interesting blog, I will be back again!

Ramadan mubarak!

Anonymous said...

I thought the article was too long and a bit harsh on men. There are many married women in Jordan that do their fair share to ruin things.

Iman said...

Oula,

your article is very comprehensive and discusses a major problem that many don't want to give thought to... I look forward to more of your stories that addresss real social problems in the Arab Society ...

"I will make sure I talk to you about all my story ideas… discussing ideas with you will make my stories better!"

And I look forward to hearing from you!

"I wrote a feature for Living Well about watching porn, I will publish it here soon!"

ahh, you wrote that! Interesting. I read that article in the - I believe - Jan issue of Living Well... I will leave my comments for that post. then!

Anonymous said...

Great look at the problem which, btw, is in no way limited to marriages in the ME.

I've tabbed you and will definitely be coming back for more great citizen journalism! Thanks!

Global Cairene said...

Very well-written article. Good job.

Jennifer said...

I'm very impressed. It's very well written. I look forward to reading more of your blog.