Sexual Problems and modern-day couples
Sex, the way it is viewed, enjoyed, addressed and sought – have all gone through a sea change in the last two decades, yet, it is fraught with problems – too little, too much, no time, no feelings, and so on. Mallik Thatipalli examines the problems that haunt the generations today and possible resolutions
Whether one is single, in a relationship, married or casually dating, sex plays a large part in one’s life. Traumatic incidents like rape; mental conditioning, physical comfort with one’s body and so on affect how we treat our own selves. Most of the relationships need a lot of work, and sexual incompatibility can only increase the divide between couples.
Why do sexual problems occur?
The most common complaints reported by young couples range from, stress, fear of pain during sex, neglect or postponing it for a long time, lack of emotional connect between the couples, communication problems, performance anxiety in men, not wanting to start a family sooner owing to increased focus on careers, not spending enough time together, and sometimes avoiding intimacy of any kind or sex altogether!
According to Dr Sharmila Majumdar, the Chief Sexologist and Psychoanalyst at the Sexual and Mental Health Clinic, Avis Hospital, Hyderabad, and India’s first female sexologist, different work schedules sometimes don’t let the couple spend quality time with each other. “The most prevalent cause of sexual problems is fatigue due to poor quality sleep, sleep deprivation and poor nutrition. Lack of privacy plays a role,” she shares.
Past Sexual Traumas
Past sexual trauma, can be the baggage that affects the relationship of today. Problems ranging from to mismatched libidos and other psychological issues can also affect a couple according to Shivanya Yogamayaa, a Soft Skills Trainer and Wellness Coach. (Her real name is Latika Kalantri but this was the name given to her after her initiation by a mystic for her work as a relationship coach.)
She has been a wellness coach for over seven years, and is a relationship and intimacy coach for the past four years and travels regularly for her work to Bengaluru, Goa and Rishikesh. In her opinion, “One of the partners may be suffering from some psychological issue or unaddressed trauma. Certain past experiences have substantial effect and influence our current thoughts and perspective. One such instance is a traumatising sexual experience or an abusive relationship. They could also be judgmental about their own bodies; and for men, it may be about the performance anxiety and the fear of not being able to satisfy their partner. Sometimes it could be the religious impact of shame and guilt. For a lot of men, the loss of sexual desire may be due to an underlying physical problem such as erectile dysfunction or pain during intercourse (for women). If this continues unaddressed, sexual frustration will flare up tearing the relationship apart.”
Crazy work hours and social media it would seem are bigger culprits than we thought. Dr Majumdar opines, “Working long hours, people barely get to see their spouses awake, leave alone having a meaningful conversation and bonding emotionally which helps physical intimacy. Many couples are apprehensive about what their partner’s reaction will be if they were to express their sexual likes and dislikes hence refrain from communicating about one of the most important aspects of their marital life.”
With fewer sleeping hours, active social lives and high-stress careers, sex takes a back seat. Dr Majumdar adds, “Youngsters are creating a sleep debt which reduces the sex drive, and causes fatigue, irritability and at times lack of appetite. Introducing junk food into the system also causes bloating, disinterest, an unreal sense of fullness, which robs them of interest in physical intimacy and gives rise to lethargy.
Also, when the couple’s stay away from each other, they get used to that pattern and do not give sex the priority it deserves. Stress is very detrimental to sexual life and this can eventually strain your relationship too.”
Impact of social media on sex life and fertility
This is more frequent than we think and people may not realise, but at times, social media can become an obsession, almost, says Shivanya, “Our dependency on smartphones has increased so drastically, that it is affecting, and in certain cases, replacing real relationships. There was a case where a couple split up because, during every conversation, one of the partners was interrupted constantly by the notifications or calls. This ignited a subtle sense of rejection in the other partner which accumulated to the point of no return. It could have been dealt with differently, if the partner would have turned off his/her phone or notifications during the conversations and then dealt with them collectively at a later time.”
Another case she cites is one where the husband was addicted to gaming. “The marriage ended because a certain young man was addicted to gaming. He spent most of his evenings and his weekends playing the game. His wife recalls being intimate with him only three times in six months that they stayed married. After trying all sorts of tactics, she walked out of the marriage and her partner never even contacted her demanding an explanation.”
Shivanya, on her blog, journeyintolove.net, also quotes Forbes magazine, for the problem, is evidently, a global one. She writes, “This is what Forbes has to say on smartphone addiction, ‘A brain on a smartphone is the same as the brain on cocaine: we get an instant high every time our screen lights up with a new notification. It’s all thanks to dopamine, the feel-good chemical that gets released every time you do something you enjoy, like eating your favourite meal or getting a hundred likes on your latest Instagram post. Dopamine reinforces (and motivates) behaviour that makes us feel good and, in turn, can create addiction’.”
She reckons that hiding behind a screen also prevents us from the nervousness of a real confrontation. “This ease is creating a comfortable bubble which people are slowly refusing to leave. The problem here is that this bubble is also blocking the real-world interactions with the people who are actually close by. Virtual hugs are replacing the warmth of real hugs and connection.”
Dr Majumdar agrees. “Social media and digitisation are certainly taking a lot of time and energy with not much benefit to the people, much less couples. Despite being next to each other in bed, couples are busy with their gizmos. I advise couples to switch off their devices once they are back from work and indulge in simple pleasures like drinking a cup of tea with each other, going for a stroll, playing a sport, doing yoga, or meditating.”
Shivanya reiterates that sometimes, one of the partners hates sex due to unaddressed sexual trauma from the past. She says, “Surprisingly it could be that one of the partners is a victim of incest and the issue has never been resolved. The hatred for sex can be the natural consequence, if they were mistreated or raped, thus leaving them cold and numb to respond to their partners. Many clients who sought counselling for intimacy issues don’t realise how rape had left them sexually wounded. Whether you are young or a mature married individual, we may think we can bury the past and leave it unresolved for fear of being judged or embarrassed. However, scars will scream louder in space of intimate relationships in future.
“Although some of them may have reconciled with a sexless marriage for the short-term, taking each other and physical intimacy for granted can be a costly affair. It is important to understand and realise that relationships need sexual nurturing not only to keep the relationship but also for emotional, physical and spiritual well-being too!”
Not being able to open up and have a nurturing, trusting and emotionally open relationship is causing long term damage. People are afraid to love too deeply, scared of wearing their hearts on their sleeves, and prefer to keep things at a superficial level to avoid getting hurt. According to Dr Majumdar, “This generation is slowly leaning towards being intimacy avoidant. Substance addiction is another factor.”
It can happen that in a marriage, it takes a while for a couple to shed inhibitions, or let down their guard enough to be sexually comfortable with their spouse. Or, the friction that might exist in their non-sexual interaction, spills over into their bedroom. Other social issues, like intrusive in-laws, the pressure to have a child or even role-playing that one of the partners might not be comfortable with, can cause incompatibility. Shivanya reveals, “They range from not using condoms and asking the female partner instead to abort the child repetitively. It could be forced sex despite the partner’s refusal; forcing them to perform certain sexual activities they don’t want to. Even touching the spouse’s private body parts as a joke or randomly during a conversation, without their consent can be a problem.”
She continues to elaborate, “On the psychological front too, body shaming, or talking about their sex life publicly or disrespectfully can lead to one spouse being put off sex with their partner. Depression is also a major cause for the lack of sexual drive. These are just some of the situations when a person is deeply affected and develops negative beliefs about sex; intimate touch and even his/her own sexuality. They’re unable to trust someone anymore and are uncomfortable to undress in front of someone else.”
Causes of male and female infertility
Dr Majumdar has emphasised the detrimental effect of stress in our lives, hence, besides all the associated lifestyle diseases, fertility is bound to be impacted.
With women, diseases like PCOD or endometriosis can cause infertility. In the case of men, diabetes or high blood pressure can lead to erectile dysfunction. Dr Majumdar says, “High levels of stress impact both, male and female fertility. Stress can interfere with conception. That’s because it can affect the functioning of the hypothalamus – the gland in the brain that regulates your appetite and emotions, as well as the hormones that tell your ovaries to release eggs. If you’re stressed out, you may ovulate later in your cycle or not at all. In the case of male fertility, it reduces the quality of the semen and sperms, causing male infertility in 30-40% males.
Erectile dysfunction, ageing and lifestyle diseases
It is said that as one grows older, the drive for sex reduces. Menopause reduces the libido in women, just as fall in testosterone levels in men over 40 does. And, if we were to consider stress as one of the biggest problems, would erectile dysfunction be more prevalent in today’s times, especially, since younger people are getting affected by lifestyle diseases like diabetes?
Dr Majumdar believes that “If an underlying condition, such as diabetes is causing ED, treating it will often reverse ED or even prevent it from worsening. Regarding the diminishing of sex drive, she says, “The fact that sex drive naturally diminishes with age is true for almost all men and women. In men, a natural fall in testosterone levels – especially after the age of 40 – can lead to a decreased desire for sex, an increase in the time needed to achieve an erection and, in some cases, erectile dysfunction too.”
Women are two to three times more likely to be affected by a decline in sex drive as they age. Reduced sex drive becomes much more common in women starting in their late 40s and 50s, usually post menopause. Definitely, obesity and illness and some medication like hypertensives, diabetic medication, anti-depressants, thyroid medication, cardiovascular medicines etc. also affect the sex drive even if the person is young.”
What won’t help improve your sex-life
What actions will make things worse:
- Forcing the partner into a sexual act
- Manipulating physical intimacy
- Trying porn to stimulate
- Becoming emotionally aggressive
- Ignoring the real root cause
- Blaming each other
What does help is seeking professional help and counselling! So does talking about it one-on-one with a close friend or family member, who is non-judgemental and who will keep the matter confidential. Even masturbation can help, believe it or not. Dr Majumdar says, “Self-stimulation is a natural and safe process of achieving sexual satisfaction in the era of sexually transmitted infections.”
Open marriages/live-in relationships
A recent trend that is becoming prevalent is that of open marriages and live-in relationships. Sometimes it is by mutual consent that couples have affairs on the side, but stay married. At other times, it is on the sly, with one partner being in the know about it, but prefers to accept it.
In her counselling interactions with her clients, Shivanya has encountered many such cases. She says, “An open marriage, as the term suggests, refers to an open relationship in which a person can have more than one sexual partner with the consent of their spouse. It is another name for swinging. It is no more a taboo or ridiculous relationship matter. In today’s fast-paced life, it is becoming very common to have extramarital affairs or an open marriage. There are many factors. Many have chosen to resort to open marriage to avoid divorce. Lack of time and patience to resolve marital or intimacy issues has also encouraged many couples to opt for an open marriage.
In some schools of thought, it is also natural to favour an open marriage as against the traditional version. Some believe that is unnatural to even expect it. We are always evolving and changing with the passage of time and our preferences change too. Our needs or primal desires may be quenched by many more than just our wedded wife or husband.”
As far as live-in relationships go, Shivanya says it is due to the changing dynamics of society. “Some are scared of commitment, others have had their hearts broken, and to protect themselves from more pain, they prefer to be in open relationships. There are people who are comfortable with living in with someone instead of getting married. Young people live together without parental approval and are happier that way in some cases. Sometimes, these live-in equations are also open to multiple partners.”
She, however, does not expect this trend to last very long. “Just like there was a craze for fast food until people realised it was damaging their health; with relationships, people will realise that they have a need for companionship. Nature made us that way. It does leave people lonely sometimes when the couple does not want to take the responsibility of nurturing the intimacy needed for a fulfilling relationship. There is a need to bring about a conscious change in making the right choices. Being transparent and authentic is vital whatever the nature of the equation – married, live-in or open marriage.”
Social compulsions for an open marriage
There can be several reasons why a couple might opt for an open marriage. From a lack of compatibility to health reasons where one partner is not able to sexually satisfy the other, without judging these cases, it can be said that some of them even claim to have a better equation post the multiple affairs.
Many couples opt for an open marriage. When a marriage or relationship is emotionally satisfying but lacks physical intimacy. When, for whatever reason, a couple is unable to divorce, due to societal pressures, family expectations, financial status and therefore, must somehow continue living as a married couple. Or in a marriage between a gay person and a heterosexual person, which is now becoming common in India, too.
Sometimes, the wife of a gay man even bears children from another man to hide the issue. There have been cases when the husband has a bisexual wife, who then opens up for a threesome or an open marriage to seek other partners for a kick too. Sometimes, either partner becomes medically unfit; they allow the partner to seek physical satisfaction elsewhere. And, as we see in the case of working couples when partners work abroad for long years, there is a silent understanding to be in an open relationship or with mutual open desire without making each other guilty.
Not all cases are due to a valid or justifiable reason. At times, it is just to break the monotony or “when both desire sexual exploration as swinging partners or within a polyamorous structure of sexual encounters.”
In conclusion, we list some foods that are known to increase libido and sex drive in a couple. Despite not having sufficient scientific backing, some foods are known to increase a couple’s sex drive like maca root, red chillies, dark chocolate, oysters, asparagus, watermelon, celery, bananas, pomegranate, egg yolk, figs, etc. Having said that, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a high fibre diet; talking about each other’s day and forming a strong emotional bond will automatically lead to fulfilling physical intimacy.