"It’s like I’m his sister.”
“He’s all, ‘Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am’.”
“I feel like we are roommates. Work, eat, sleep together. That’s it.”
“Both of us want it thrice. She, in a year. I, in a week.”
These are some things that couples who decide to come to us have said.
They are a minority who decide to acknowledge the problem, talk about it, get help. Just the tip of the iceberg. The majority suffers in silence, denies the existence of any problem. It’s like sexual life is some alien concept. Or something that can’t be named, much less discussed.
In the land of the Kamasutra, where sex was discussed, experimented with and even revered, the Middle Ages enveloped it in darkness, making it a taboo subject. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Instincts were repressed, thoughts suppressed and references deleted.
The man and woman are expected to carry out the deed, but not talk about it, leading to communication gaps and all sorts of mismatches between desires, ideas and impulses.
Every person is unique, they have their own ideas, knowledge (or lack of) and needs. Then hormones happen. There’s an interplay of societal expectations and sanctions. Peer pressure builds up. Logistical difficulties crop up. Time becomes scarce. With joint families and kids, privacy is nonexistent. He wants it at night but she’s tired. She wants emotional fulfilment, he doesn’t understand the connection. She wants to find release, he can’t sustain the long foreplay. He wants to try new stuff, she wants to talk about her fantasies. He’s thinking about his upcoming promotion, she’s thinking about impending deadlines.
“Oral sex, dear?” “Ew..”
“Pillow talk?” “Gotta get up early... Office meeting”
“Let’s cuddle?” “What?”
The situations are endless and solutions, nowhere in sight. Where to go? Who to approach? What to talk about? The guilt of not being good enough, the shame of not being enough. The fear of opening up to strangers. Washing dirty linen in public. But the situation is changing. People are opening up.
Society has started accepting, although reluctantly, that there is a sexual side to relationships and all may not be hunky dory.
When they come to professionals, it’s the start of a very fragile bond, that requires very careful, sensitive and sometimes difficult handling. Slowly, under the guise of jokes and tears, anger and blame, doubt and guilt and shame, with broken words or a torrent, the story emerges. They speak, we listen. They pause, we wait. They break down, we support. They become candid, we encourage. They relax. The bond becomes stronger.
Then come the questions. We are happy. Not because we know all the answers, we don’t. But because now we can start looking for them, together. We go to the basics, anatomy (what is it), physiology (how it works), the physical and psychological chemistry. And somewhere in the discussion, the answers start coming. Realisations hit us. Patterns emerge. Muddled emotions become clear. They start to understand themselves and endeavour to understand their partner. And they are ready for action.
Sexual therapy takes a lot of time, patience and perseverance. There are no miraculous results. There’s a lot of work involved. Exercises, techniques, homework, trials, errors, failures. Some success in the end. We teach them, they teach us. Then more work, encouragement, motivation, some setbacks, more progress. Though not visible from outside, a lot changes within the relationship.
Then it’s time to say goodbye. But with renewed confidence and a strong bond between the sexologist and her clients, an even stronger bond is formed between the couple. Sometimes the therapy may continue, exploring new avenues. But most of it is time bound and limited. Most endings are happy.
Occasionally they come back. Seven years ago, S came to me for non-consummation of sexual relationship, two years into the marriage. Pressure built up, with no one to talk to. The therapy lasted 4 months, with positive results. The couple came back last year, with a kid. They were en route to Australia. While leaving, the husband thanked me. Not for the kid, mind you. But because they looked forward to meeting each other at the end of the day. The frustration in the relationship was gone.
Society is changing slowly. There is still a lot of sweeping under the carpet but now we lift up the carpet occasionally to see what we can do about it. And there’s lots to be done.