The sad reality of the idea of a sexless marriage is that most think it doesn’t happen in viable marriages and in no way can happen to them. The topic hovers superficially in a casual talk in pubs after work or kitty parties on how one’s wife has lost interest in sex or that someone’s husband doesn’t give her time anymore.
But the problem of Dead Bedrooms in marriages is real, the causes of which vary from low libido to communication breakdown and even to infidelity. Sexless marriages, or Dead Bedrooms as they are often referred to, are more common than one thinks and find mention in art, literature and cinema.
We take a look at five couples from literature who have endured sexless marriages:
Mr and Mrs. Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Married as a result of physical attraction without considering their vast gap in intellectual disposition, Mister and Missus Bennet, parents of the novel’s protagonist Elizabeth, symbolise everything that might go wrong if marriage is done in haste. Mr Bennet and his wife are polar opposites. While he is reserved, educated and often sarcastic, she is a person of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper.
After years of marriage, Mrs Bennet does nothing but bicker at her misfortune as Mr Bennet sarcastically mocks her.
Jane Austen, at a point, writes, “[Mr. Bennet], captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.”
Every iota of communication is broken down and though they have five daughters, it is safe to assume that the marriage which was once guided by attraction, ended up in a dead bedroom.
Constance Reid and Sir Clifford Chatterley from D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover
D.H. Lawrence’s highly controversial novel features Constance Reid or Lady Chatterley, married to the handsome Sir Clifford Chatterley who is unhappy with her domestic life when her husband is paralysed from the waist down due to a Great War injury.
In addition to physical incapability, Clifford’s emotional neglect of Constance forces their relationship to the edge and thus distances the couple. Seeking physical intimacy, she goes to a gamekeeper Oliver Mellors, with whom she has an affair.
Lady Chatterley’s lover was widely criticised because of its obscenity and explicit descriptions of sex. However, the book is much more than that. It is about Constance’s realisation that she cannot live with her mind alone, and also needs physical satisfaction to be truly alive, which she wasn’t, in any way, getting from her now paralysed husband Clifford.
Related reading: 11 confessions by married people on why they stopped having sex
Bertha Mason and Edward Rochester from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
Bertha Mason and Rochester’s relationship can be more described as abuse than a dead bedroom, with Rochester locking up his wife in the attic in the later years of their marriage. Rochester married Bertha Mason for her wealth and beauty, but was soon doubtful about her mental stability and made no delay in locking her up in the attic of his mansion.
Rochester recounts his marriage to Bertha: “I thought I loved her. . . . Her relatives encouraged me; competitors piqued me; she allured me: a marriage was achieved almost before I knew where I was. Oh, I have no respect for myself when I think of that act!.. I never loved, I never esteemed, I did not even know her.”
In Rochester’s view, the marriage was dead even before they had married. He even courts Jane Eyre, the heroine of the novel, even though he has the madwoman in the attic.
Rosie and Marco from RK Narayan’s The Guide
RK Narayan explores the often hushed theme of sexless marriage through the portrayal of the artistically inclined Rosie and her husband Marco. Rosie’s marital life with Marco is woefully incompatible. Though she is very passionate about her dancing, her husband doesn’t allow her to dance and even insults her about it.
Rosie is, in many ways, the typical Indian wife who treats Marco like a God while he is steeped into his career in academics and archaeology, completely ignoring her.
Rosie finally escapes from her marriage and finds comfort in Raju, a tour guide who embraces her dancing talent.
Nitin-Alka and Jiten-Dolly from Mahesh Dattani’s Bravely Fought the Queen
Sahitya Akademi Award-winning playwright Mahesh Dattani’s Bravely Fought the Queen enters this list for its portrayal of the middle-class household where all the protagonists are victims of sexless marriages. Brothers Nitin and Jiten are married to sisters Dolly and Alka respectively, with both couples suffering from sexual and emotional frustration.
Jiten and Dolly’s marriage has fallen apart because of Dolly’s pregnancy before marriage which forced them into marriage. Things become worse when Dolly gives birth to a specially-abled child, resulting in Jiten seeking random sexual encounters to cope with his frustration.
The other couple, Nitin and Alka, suffer from a Dead Bedroom too for other reasons. Nitin is homosexual and was tricked into a marriage of convenience by Alka’s brother Protul without Alka knowing that he was gay. The relationship naturally has no physical intimacy, though Nitin is sympathetic to Alka.
Dattani masterfully exposes the theme of loneliness and sexless marriages in modern urban Indian households through his portrayal of the pair of couples.