Expert Speak

Marriage and sexual compatibility

Sexual compatibility is becoming an increasingly important part of today's marriages, says counselling psychologist Salony Priya in an interview
Sad Couple in Bed

Changes in society mean that couples are no longer willing to compromise in one aspect of their marriage if they get along well in others. One such area is sexual compatibility. There is much more demand for partners to be compatible in this side of their relationship as well, since intimacy is no longer viewed as being just for procreation, but also for meeting either partner’s sexual needs and desires.

Related reading: Are Indians ignorant about their bodies and intimacy?

Is sexual compatibility affecting marriages in the present times?

I have seen couples at marital counselling who have celebrated their 45­th anniversary – with married children and grandchildren – saying, “Sexual compatibility was never there. We have lived with each other all these years, but there was no satisfaction.”

With the younger ones, sexual incompatibility issues are very high. The expectation of sex in the younger generation has become much fancier, much more exploratory. It is seen as a right to have pleasure, which is a new thing, as 20 years ago women never saw it as a right.

Among couples who are in their late 20s, married for a couple of years and with a kid who is going to pre-school, there is a very aggressive side to a lot of women, they feel they have a right to their sexual urges and they have to be fulfilled. And there is nothing wrong in this.

Women who are in their 30s and have a child who is around 10 are gradually getting used to the fact that sexuality is a part of life and it is okay, but they are looking more at gender equality – their rights, their identities, their careers. “The children are grown up and I am talented, so I must take up some kind of work – maybe part-time, but I want to work.” For them the issue is of gender identity, which to them is sexual identity.

– Salony Priya, counselling psychologist

And for women who are in late 40s, there is a huge vacuum, that their sexual urges were never fulfilled. In some very closely followed cases what I have found is that they feel they just accepted whatever they got, when they married at the ages of 19 or 20. “I didn’t know much, no one ever talks about these things.”

How are they aware now, after 20 years of marriage?

They are aware because of so much awareness in the society now, right from movies to the media. Earlier their mothers were like – your children have grown up so now all this is passé. Then sexual intimacy was seen only as a part of procreation. Beyond that it was not needed. Women are now realising that procreation was only a part of it; there is so much beyond that. In companionship, a certain amount of sensitivity catering to your emotions and sexual intimacy are wanted.

Do you think Indian men have the skill to be good lovers?

A majority of men married for 18-20 years realise that they need to derive pleasure and they need to do it their way. I have had people who are very open to talking about it and they have gone back admitting they were wrong.

Sexual insensitivity is also part of the man not being sensitive to the woman’s needs – she feels that he doesn’t care for her feelings: “Things have to always happen his way and I have seen enough of his way and I am sick and tired of it.” Their marriages have not broken in front of the society, but deep inside they are broken – they have been living in separate bedrooms for several years. They maintain social conformity because their children are yet to get married or their children are married and they don’t want to create problems for them. Those are the people who seek a lot of counselling help.

I had one case of a man in his late 40s and with a lot of sexual urges. He got married when he was only 19 and the wife was not even 16. He is a man who likes to dress up, very well known in social circles, likes to do a lot of social service, and he feels that his wife must be with him in all these areas. She is not.

Related reading: No sex, please, we’re married

The wife is very discontented with the husband. She finds him insensitive: “I don’t matter to him, what he wants is a show piece.” And the man says, “When it comes to sexual intimacy, my wife is a dead dog. She suspects me of having other relationships because she may be feeling guilty that she is not fulfilling my needs. I am constantly telling her these are my needs and that we are husband and wife. She doesn’t respond.”

When you talk to the wife, she says, “I just cannot take it anymore. I am just staying because my daughter is of marriageable age. If I walk out of this relationship, how will my daughter get married? So I have to stay with this man.”

experts advice

We tried to have therapy sessions with both, but the husband did not carry on with the sessions; he went away, because he is convinced that the problem lies with his wife. He doesn’t look at it as a problem of incompatibility and his insensitivity.

Where do you see marriage heading in another 20-30 years?

People these days are, however, looking at marriage as something coercive. I feel that marriage as an institution is under threat, if we are not going to do anything to increase gender sensitivity, if we are not going to accept the transition of gender roles – that a father does not have to go to office and a mother does not have to cook. We have a long way to go in this. A lot of couples who have this sensitivity and who understand this, have good relationships and are bringing up really well balanced kids. There is a great need for us to advocate, to talk and project the positives.

Salony Priya is a counselling psychologist with 18 years of experience in training and counselling across educational institutions, social organisations, NGOs and corporates. She is the Director of UMMEED, a multispeciality positive psychology institution.

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