SEXUAL ADJUSTMENT IN MARRIAGE
Most men and women today seek their sexual fulfillment in marriage. However, not all of them realize that such fulfillment has to be worked for. A permanent sexual relationship requires a great deal of tolerance, patience, and mutual effort. There is nothing automatic about marital bliss.
It is therefore important that people develop a realistic understanding of their own sexual interests and abilities. At the same time, they should accept the fact that they will have to adjust to their partners. Furthermore, every couple needs at least some basic factual knowledge about the physical aspects of married life, such as sexual intercourse in its various forms, pregnancy, childbirth, contraception, and so on.
Even couples who have thus prepared themselves for marriage may experience much anguish and frustration. To begin with, as a result of various political, economic, and technological developments in our culture, the social roles of men and women are now changing very fast. The traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity are increasingly being questioned, and this may become a source of marital conflict (also see "The Social Roles of Men and Women"). The conflict may even manifest itself in the impairment or complete blockage of normal sexual responses. Thus, men who begin to fear for their dominant status or women who begin to resent male dominance may become sexually inadequate. It may then take a lot of mutual education (sometimes with outside professional help) to reestablish a satisfying sexual relationship.
Another possible cause of disappointment is the modern preoccupation with sexual "efficiency" and "performance". Today, married couples (just like everybody else) are exposed to a constant barrage of commercial propaganda which seems to suggest that everybody can be romantic and beautiful all the time, that sex is the way to total ecstasy, and that only such regular ecstasy makes a marriage worthwhile. However, real life is not like that. For instance, unless the partners have been living together before their marriage, they need some time to get used to each other. They may very well make love passionately and frequently, but they may not achieve full mutual satisfaction until several months or even years after the wedding. Husband and wife may also differ in the intensity of their sexual urges. Early in the marriage, it is often the husbands who have the greatest interest in sexual intercourse. Later, when the wives have lost their inhibitions and begin to feel more secure, the situation may well be reversed. Indeed, with the approach of middle age, many men experience a marked decline in their sexual capacities. Such a decline rarely has a biological cause, but is instead usually related to the man's increasing absorption in his work, vague apprehensions about the loss of his physica! strength, lack of imagination, boredom, and routine. A woman, on the other hand, may feel that her menopause finally frees her from all worries about an unwanted conception, and thus she may become sexually more active than ever before.
It is not uncommon for married couples to disagree about the frequency and the techniques of sexual intercourse. Sometimes such disagreements simply spring from a difference in temperament. However, at other times they result from ignorance or prudery, and, in a few instances, they have still other, more complex causes. For example, there are men and women who try to use sex for nonsexual ends. Thus, they may refuse intercourse because they want to punish their spouses, or they may agree to it only in return for some special favor. Needless to say, in the long run, such egoistical behavior is self-defeating.
Some couples also face sexual difficulties because they are afraid to communicate their true wishes and feelings to each other. As a consequence, they settle into a single standard pattern of intercourse, and the sheer monotony of their life together then gradually kills their interest in sex. On the other hand, there are individuals who suddenly seem to acquire highly unusual sexual tastes and preferences which cannot be satisfied within their marriage. Others make repeated and increasingly desperate efforts to bring variety to their lovemaking, only to be rejected or ridiculed by their partners. Still others seek new excitement in extramarital affairs. These and similar developments can put a considerable strain on a marital relationship, and, in some cases, the partners themselves may be unable to find a workable accommodation. Still, if they are seriously concerned for each other, they can often save their marriage by seeking professional help. (Also see "Sexual Maladjustment.")
Marriage partners may also have to make new sexual adjustments when they become parents. For instance, in the later stages of a pregnancy and for some time after the birth of a child, they may have to vary their approach to coitus or even avoid it altogether in favor of other forms of sexual intercourse. (See "Pregnancy", "Birth", and "Heterosexual Intercourse".) The roles of mother and father soon pose new challenges of their own. Children have to be accepted as sexual beings and also need an adequate sex education. Many parents, however, are so uncomfortable with their own sexuality that they cannot discuss sex freely and openly with a child. As the child grows up and the parents begin to age, they may be reminded of old, long-suppressed conflicts and thus experience new sexual anxieties. Many parents therefore have ambiguous feelings about the approaching maturity and growing sexual attractiveness of their offspring. Here again professional counseling can be very useful. (Also see "Sex Education".)
None of the foregoing is meant to suggest that marriage and parenthood are unrewarding. On the contrary, all marital conflicts mentioned here carry the opportunity for personal growth. Indeed, they can become a source of strength and thus contribute to a fuller, more meaningful life. Couples who avoid rigidity and who do not take each other for granted can very well find lasting happiness in marriage. (For a more detailed discussion of marriage, see "Marriage and the Family.")