Q: My wife does not want to have sex. We’ve been in a relationship for 9 years and got married 6 months ago. We’re both virgins. In the beginning, my wife as afraid of having sex. Now she just says she does not want to have sex. What can we do? Also, I masturbate 2-3 times every day. Is that normal?
A: The experience of a married couple not having penile-vaginal intercourse during the first few weeks of their marriage is often referred to, at least in the scientific literature, as an “unconsummated marriage.” However, not all cultures define it this way; for example, it has been noted that in Orthodox Jewish communities, there is not necessarily a specific time frame during which intercourse must occur, but if there is a lack of sex between the married couple and if this bothers the couple, then it may be considered an unconsummated marriage that would benefit from support and/or counseling.
Research related to unconsummated marriage suggests that it is more common among couples from conservative religious backgrounds. Also, there seem to be a variety of factors that make unconsummated marriage more likely. For example, one study of 191 individuals in Egypt found that physical causes (such as premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, or vaginismus) were rarely at the root of unconsummated marriage, and that it was more likely that one or both spouses felt significant performance anxiety. A summary of clinical work with Orthodox Jewish couples, and other research examining couples from various cultures, also emphasizes that a lack of basic information about genitals, sexuality, and how intercourse works can interfere with a newly married couple having intercourse.
It’s The Facts, Ma’am
As examples, I have several sex therapist colleagues who have shared stories of couples who did not know that a penis should be erect prior to vaginal penetration, or that thrusting or at least some level of in-and-out movement was a common part of intercourse. Other couples don’t have a sense of where the vaginal opening is. It’s also the case that some women feel particularly afraid of vaginal penetration to the point where they panic at the thought of it and find any kind of vaginal insertion to be painful if not impossible; these women may be diagnosed with a condition called vaginismus or, more recently, genito-pelvic/pain penetration disorder.
It’s unclear why your wife is not interested in sex. Is it fear? Lack of education or comfort? Lack of desire? Something else? — Yet you seem to want to understand more about her feelings and possibly get to a place in your marriage where you both want to have sex with one another. It might be helpful to make an appointment with a sex therapist. You can find one through the Society for Sex Therapy and Research or the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. If you live outside of the United States, you might start by connecting with your local sexology or sex therapy societies, if such are available to you. Otherwise, a gynecologist or a urologist may be able to be of help.
And That Other Thing …
As for your question about masturbation, no it is not unusual to masturbate every day or almost every day – perhaps especially for men who are relatively young or who are not otherwise having other kinds of sex, such as intercourse or oral sex. (That’s not to say that masturbation is necessarily more common among people who are not having partnered sex, although sometimes it is. Masturbation can also complement an exciting and active partnered sex life). Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior indicate that about 1 in 5 American men between the ages of 18 and 29 masturbate at least 4 times per week. Masturbation is a common behavior for both males and females and is not harmful or unhealthy; in fact, many people find that masturbation (in addition to simply feeling good) helps them to relieve sexual tension, relax, or even fall asleep. Best wishes to you and your wife as you get to know one another better, strengthen your intimate connection, and perhaps connect with a therapist or doctor who can help you communicate about possibilities for your sexual life together.