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.
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