If you look at the latest movie and TV offerings, it would seem like everyone is “doing it” and doing it a lot. But according to a Health.com article, 40 million Americans are in a sexless marriage, meaning they have sex less than 10 times a year.
Many Muslim couples go through the same. Sex and intimacy are pretty low on the radar of many couples looking after children, working and doing chores. Add financial woes, stress and technology into the mix and some couples’ sex lives are pretty much non-existent.
This is a huge problem because a healthy sex life is a critical part of a good marriage. For the man, sex creates feelings of security, love and validation. For the woman, sex creates a feeling of connection, fulfillment and security. And let’s not forget that sex is enjoyable and pleasurable for both.
According to John Gottman in his book 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, no sex in a marriage has a much more powerful negative impact on a marriage than good sex has a positive impact.
Nadirah Angail, a family therapist and writer says couples should first root out any deeper issues, particularly if the couple started out having a good sex life. If couples fix their deeper issues, they fix their sex life, she says. “Many times, couples may grow resentful because of unaddressed issues that are festering, like trust issues, or financial issues, or family issues (i.e., “Your mother doesn’t respect me.”). These things bleed over into the bedroom,” Angail writes.
So once a couple rules out any medical, physical and emotional aspects that may have caused the rut, they realize it’s normal for people in long-term relationships to go through periods of less intimacy. In fact, a decline in love and satisfaction after the initial stages of a relationship is well documented in modern psychology.
So how do couples find themselves in this situation?
In the beginning, most couples find themselves wanting and experiencing an intense primal connection together. This is the stage that is driven by lust, chemistry, hormones and newness.
This stage is often referred to as the honeymoon stage. After a while, a couple’s sexual desire becomes driven not only by chemistry but by love as well. Their partner is often placed on a pedestal while they continue to be hot and heavy for each other.
Finally, the relationship evolves into the comfortability stage. Routine sets in. The love does not feel as intense and the feeling no longer triggers a sexual response. Sex becomes less frequent and more of a chore. Couples begin to become sexually awkward towards each other. Initiating sex becomes complex and is fraught with the fear of rejection and anxiety. So instead of going through the disappointment, criticism and self-consciousness, couples rather spend their time doing non-sexual activities like watching TV or playing with the kids. This way there is less chance of feeling rejected and unwanted.
Why communication is key?
So how can married couples rekindle their once passionate sex life and start once again to have a healthy sex life?
Firstly by recognizing that they have allowed their intimate time to take a back seat, either out of fatigue or fear. Angail believes couples need to simply get on the same page before moving on to more creative methods to fix the problem. “Couples have to have a calm and direct conversation about their unmet needs,” she says. It’s not about placing the blame on each other but coming up with a solution that both are comfortable with. Once they have that first vital conversation and open the doors of communication, the sex usually falls into place.
There is also a possibility that one spouse could be bored with the sex life but is afraid to say it. Safiyya Jihad Levine, a writer, counselor and Muslim chaplain in the U.S., says transparency is essential in this case.
You might be surprised what you learn from your partner during the process, but couples should not be afraid to express what their physical needs are from each other. She extols that this is the reality in our communities. Our brothers, as well as our sisters, have these desires.
“Why should our brothers have to go outside of their marriages to have their ‘needs’ met? Why can’t they go to their wives or feel they can’t? Why do wives feel they can’t ask to have these needs met? What holds us back? Muslims are human beings with human feelings, needs, and sexual fantasies,” says Levine. Communicating this honestly and openly to your spouse is vital if we want couples to have a healthy and fulfilling sex life within in the boundaries of sharia.
Once a couple reclaims the space for sex in their minds and verbalizes it, they can move on to more practical strategies to improve their sex life.
Practical ideas to get out of a sexual rut:
1. Do not wait till the mood strikes!
The idea of refusing to go to work until the right mood strikes would be ludicrous to most people since the repercussions for doing so would surely impact us negatively on many levels.
Yet this same limiting tactic is how many married couples approach their sex lives, resulting in severe repercussions to their relationship and their emotional and physical wellbeing. Don’t wait for the mood to come. Whether you are angry, moody, stressed or tired, have sex.
The great thing about sex in marriage is that it excludes all other people, making it the ideal escape while at the same time keeping our bond with our spouse strong.
2. Drop the word plan and schedule
Many experts may say that to get your sex life back on track you need to plan and schedule it. This often generates feelings of resentment and lack of inspiration. Sex is about pleasure and connecting, not a duty to be tolerated. Couples should incorporate words like opportunity and chance into their vocabulary. Couples should instead frame it in their mind as creating sizzling opportunities. “The kids have a play date this afternoon. Want to meet up at home for our own little play date?” Seize every opportunity!
3. Add variety
Adding variety makes things feel new and exciting again. It takes the drudgery out of something old and makes it new. By adding variety to their sex life, couples often find themselves back in the honeymoon phase again. Variety does not always have to mean big changes, but if that is what you want then suggest it to your spouse. Angail says changing things can be as simple as a different spot in a room, a different room in your house or experimenting with new positions.
4. Making your space your sanctuary
The bedroom is where a couple should find sleep, privacy, relaxation and a place to be intimate. So why do so many of us insist on bringing third parties into the bedroom? Laptops, cellphones and the TV are all distractions and do not belong in a couple’s sacred space. How would a spouse know if he and she can initiate sex if the other is tapping at a screen or is glued to a favorite TV show? Make the bedroom a technology-free zone.
5. Touch Touch Touch
According to marriage expert Sheri Stritof, nonsexual touching and other signs of affection strengthen your marriage relationship, create a comforting and calming atmosphere in your home, build trust between the two of you, and deepen your intimacy with one another. Do not let nonsexual touching become a thing of the past in your marriage. This includes hugging, holding hands and cuddling.
6. Pay Attention!
Sometimes all it takes is giving your spouse the attention they deserve. Couples should never stop paying attention to each other. It’s as easy as giving your spouse a compliment or letting them know they are valued. One of the biggest reasons affairs occur in relationships is because couples stop paying attention to one another and then along comes an outsider who does. Couples need to spend time showing each other that they are still turned on and interested.
And perhaps Safiyya Jihad Levine hits the nail on the head when she says the one thing stopping Muslim couples from having a great sex life is themselves. “Qur’an and Sunnah make it clear what the boundaries are: no anal sex, etc. The ‘boundaries’ are few. But the cultural boundaries are many.” And the fact of the matter is, couples that are able to maintain a strong sexual connection are the ones who place a high value to it.
First published: April 2014