Seventy two percent married Indian women interviewed for a survey by a medical portal in 2015 confessed that they were dissatisfied with their sex lives. Let that figure sink in: 72% of the women the portal surveyed.
In comparison, 98% of the men interviewed by the portal said they were quite happy with their sex lives.
Considering women in India are conditioned to believe that sexual gratification is not an important aspect of their lives, the figures are probably not deeply shocking. Therapists HuffPost India spoke to revealed that most women struggling with sexless marriages don’t even consider the lack of sex may be a root of their troubles.
“Never wash your dirty linen in public”, we’ve heard women from older generations tell us, and we have internalised it to the extent that women don’t even talk about it to doctors at times.
“The lack of sexual compatibility is the root cause of isolation for a woman in a marriage. This manifests in depression or ‘crying cycles’. During therapy, we try to dig deeper and unravel the genesis of the constant fights and discontentment. In most cases it stems from sexless marriages,” says Priyanka Shah, counseling psychologist from Mumbai.
So what forces Indian women, some of whom are economically independent, to stay in sexually incompatible relationships?
1. Sexual gratification is not important in a marriage
There is hardly any discussion around the need for sexual satisfaction of married women in India. This taboo leads to a lack of awareness for both the wife and the husband. Since discussing it is considered vulgar, women often feel sexual gratification is not important in a marriage.
“Is he abusive?” “Is he financially unstable?” “Does he have an extramarital affair”? If the answers to these questions are a “NO”, then the woman starts believing that sex is not the most important factor for a healthy and happy union. “She doesn’t even realise that she could be deprived of her basic rights. And this is mostly due to social conditioning, where a sexless marriage is not considered the worst kind of marriage to be in,” says Shah.
The prospect of finding another partner, who could tick all the right boxes, also seems impossible to a married woman in India. The fear of the unknown works like a trap, and she prefers to stay in her current sexless marriage.
2. Sex was never good, so there is nothing to miss
Often, women choose to stay off sex than be disappointed by it. This could happen due to a number of reasons, says Anindita Chowdhury, Clinical Psychologist and Reproductive Health Consultant from Kolkata. If a woman’s sexperience has not been satisfactory right from the beginning, she gradually tends to lose interest in the act.
“Instances, where the couple plan sex but cannot really see it through, make the experience frustrating for the woman. Her partner’s premature ejaculation or losing erection while insertion, or lack of foreplay, could leave her dissatisfied and dry,” says Chowdhury.
This makes sex less enjoyable or inviting for the woman, and she chooses to voluntarily stay off it. With less sex comes low self esteem, which stops her from discussing her needs with her husband. More often than not, the wife internalises it and even shifts the blame on to herself.
3. A convenient, parallel sex life outside marriage
It is a myth that Indian women do not crave for sex as much as the men do. Another convenient misbelief is that women want fewer sexual partners. If sex within marriage is not satisfactory, they are more than willing to look outside. Indian women are, in fact, open to leading parallel sex lives.
“Dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge are as popular with married women in India, as they are with single ladies. I have had clients tell me they use escort services. And they do not feel guilty about it,” says Chowdhury.
For a married woman, a parallel sex life would mean having one or more partner than the husband. These are mostly men she considers attractive and good enough to bed, but not be in a relationship with.
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4. The belief that compatibility and sex are the same
This may come as a shock to most, but experts say emotional compatibility has nothing to do with sexual satisfaction. You could be best friends with your husband. You both could even be deeply in love. But even that may not guarantee a fulfilling sexual relationship.
“What we do not realise is that sex and compatibility are two separate issues. Most Indian couples feel it is more important to live harmoniously. We, as a society, just don’t talk about the need for sexual gratification in marriages,” says Shah.
According to Shah, women she has met often stay in sexually-deprived marriages because they are emotionally attached to their husbands. Living with someone for months or years can turn into a fond habit that one cannot get rid of easily.
5. Feeling responsible for the lack of sex in marriage
More often than not married women feel responsible for their husbands’ actions. They blame themselves for their sexual incompatibility and can even feel guilty of their own bodily needs. The fear of being judged silences them into leading sexless marriages.
Most Indian families do not view sexual incompatibility as a reason for separation. Often, the woman’s upbringing does not allow her the space to discuss marital problems with anyone, including her own partner. As a result, she continues to live in a sexless marriage.
6. Balancing work and family kills the woman’s sexual urge
Caught between work and family, Indian women lose their appetite for sex. According to Chowdhury, married women often complain that the burden of taking care of the home, children and extended family is on them. So, unlike men, who can unwind after office hours, it becomes impossible for them to relax. Naturally, a woman’s body shuts down when in bed and she suppresses her desire for sex.
“She feels overworked and the bed looks more inviting for a peaceful night of sleep than sex. So even if the husband is willing, the woman may postpone sex for weekends and holidays. This leads to frustration for both her and her husband,” says Chowdhury.
7. The fear of financial insecurity and raising kids alone
Despite sexual incompatibility, Indian women try their best to salvage their marriage. A big reason for this is the need for financial stability. This is true for both working women and homemakers.
And, when you add children to this equation, the woman’s personal satisfaction takes a backseat, says Chowdhury. The need to ensure education and a safe future for their children takes precedence.
“Indian mothers stay in sexless and loveless marriages as long as they know their kids are safe. This need to protect and maintain the ‘complete family’ image often comes with a price,” says Shah.
The fear of living alone and running the show solo are such big hurdles, that Indian married women choose to stay in sexless marriages. Often all their lives.