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Monday, June 13, 2011

Is sex the only happy factor in marriage?

AFTER more than a decade of marriage, 40-something Susan* and her husband are still hot in between the sheets. However, all the action in bed is cooling off her feelings for her husband.
“I am tired all the time but he is just insatiable,” she confides.
Outside the bedroom, the two management-level professionals hardly communicate, unless there are problems with their children, or huge bills to settle.
Worse, she says, both are addicted to their smartphones.
“When we are together, our attention is on our phone reading updates and e-mail or just trying out new Apps.”
Although divorce is not on their minds, Susan admits that the romance is missing from their relationship.
Paul Jambunathan, a consultant clinical psychologist at Sunway Medical Centre, says lack of communication between husband and wife is the main cause of extra-marital affairs and divorces.
“The problem starts when the husband and wife start living on different planets and stop sharing their emotions or stop talking about something other than their children, bills and other domestic problems,” says Jambunathan, who is also a senior lecturer at Monash University Malaysia.
In a relationship, there are many variables because it involves two personalities or personas, he says.
“The two personas interact verbally and non-verbally. One of the most important issues in interaction is intimacy. Unfortunately, we have been relating intimacy to sex and equating sex only to sexual intercourse. What I am trying to say is that while sex is integral to a happy marriage, we need to define what sex is. Is it only intercourse?”
As he explains, sex is the sexuality expressed between two people and there is a wide spectrum of sexual behaviour.
“If you have feelings for someone, even touching and holding hands will already make you sexually excited. When you later get married and build on that love you have intercourse, sleep together, talk and spend more time together a different kind of sexual intimacy is built.”
Hence, Jambunathan, who has more than 25 years' experience as a consultant, is vexed by the comments made by the Obedient Wives Club (OWC), which suggested that to keep a man from straying from his marriage, the wife needs to please him in bed like a “first-class prostitute”.
“When couples in trouble seek my advice, they tell me that intercourse and sleeping in the same room do not necessarily help (mend their relationship). Sometimes it even creates complications.”
He stresses that it should not be about intercourse but making love.
“Love is not intercourse as people often equate it to; intercourse is a personal, committed and intricate intimacy but it does not last very long. Usually one hour after the act, the feeling is gone.”
Health research consultant Siti Norazah Zulkifli agrees, saying that sex will not sustain a marriage if there are other major problems.
“Sex, no matter how good, is not the only thing that keeps a marriage happy. Couples choose to marry for various reasons love, attraction (physical and mental), companionship, economics, social expectations, offspring ... Sex is only one reason.
“In tribal cultures, for example, land ownership or the number of cows he or she owns may be a factor. Actually, economics may well be a consideration in modern marriages too, and how important one factor is over another depends on the individual.”
Once married, and especially over time, she says, other factors will contribute towards maintaining happiness in marriage.
This includes whether they meet each other's expectations, how they cope with stressful events and their level of commitment to their marriage, compromises each has to make for the other, whether they “grow apart” as individuals and their marital values.
“Not everyone subscribes to monogamy, for example,” she says.
Siti Norazah nonetheless concedes that in the literature on what makes happy marriages, sex does predominate as a topic of discussion.
“It may seem that most marriages break up because of some sexual issue (notably, sexually unsatisfied husbands). We should be aware, however, that sometimes what is expressed as a sexual problem has its roots in something else, such as failed expectations. For example, if a person feels resentment towards his or her spouse, it will affect his or her sexual desire to that spouse.”
Some people, perhaps men more so, associate sex with love, she points out.
“Some men feel that his wife doesn't love him if she rejects his sexual advances. Equally, a wife would feel the same way if her husband doesn't want to make love to her. In sum, an individual's sexual development is complex, beginning from a young age, and becomes intrinsic to his or her personality.”
Siti Norazah makes an interesting point, highlighting that most of the studies on marriage and sexual attitudes are based on Western ideals.
“We should recognise that people have different sexual attitudes and sex drives. How they were brought up, sexual norms in their society and culture, exposure to external social influences (for example living abroad or the media), their personality, their sex hormone levels (testosterone, notably) and other factors influence how important sex is to them and how they express their sexual needs.”
Still, she feels that in conservative and chauvinistic cultures, men may not want their wife to be sexually aggressive or “act like a prostitute”.
She opines that the OWC prostitute statement will create a gender bias one that will compound the attitude that there are two types of women the ones they will marry and the ones with whom they will have fun (have sex with) but never marry.
“Conversely, girls may be brought up to repress their sexual desire so the message that their husband's happiness depends on her sexual performance puts the blame on her should there be any marital problem.
“For a married couple, it is not sex per se but sexual incompatibility that could breed resentment or dissatisfaction and cause marital problems such as adultery and divorce.”
According to consultant psychologist Valerie Jaques, a study she conducted a number of years ago showed that one of the most significant factors for high marital satisfaction is when there is a greater awareness and accurate perception of the needs of a marriage partner.
“So when the husband is aware of the wife and perceives her needs accurately by effective communication and vice-versa then there is high marital satisfaction.”
She highlights that it is not just intercourse that reflects how good a marriage is, but rather the intimate and mutual sex in the relationship.
“Very often, if one party is upset or hurt with the other and there is a strain in the relationship, there is lack of sexual intimacy in the marriage. This is different from just having sex to fulfil a need,” she shares.
More importantly, stresses Jaques, although sex is one of the many important elements that make up a marriage, it definitely does not mean that marriage is a legal means for a man to rape his wife. Neither should the wife allow the husband to take advantage of her for his needs.
“Many women are made to believe that they do not have rights in their marriage and that only the husband's rights are to be met,” she says.
Jambunathan agrees that a man does not have the right to demand for sex without consideration of the woman's needs and wants.
“He cannot say I want it now, so give it to me. The woman is an equal partner in the relationship and she has a right to decide the level of intimacy and the platform of the relationship.”
He also disputes the belief that men's biological make-up makes them sexual at all ages and that they have high sexual needs until they die.
“As you get older, your body gets older and your biology will not allow you to have intercourse,” he says, highlighting that half of heart patients are men, and that “many cannot get it up because of their medication”.
However, attitude may come into play and corrupt emotions where the emotions are twisted “will make you think you must have intercourse at any age 60, 70, 80 regardless of your partner's wants”, he says.

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