When religion affects intimacy: The church girl who considered sex dirty, even in marriage

A sad couple.

Photo credit: File| Nation

It was a busy morning at the Sexology Clinic. We had just come back from a two-week December break.

The queue was long. It appears that most people discover that they have sex problems during the holiday season and take the earliest opportunity to get treatment once the holidays are over. 

It was only 10 am and I was seeing the eighth patient.

Then the next patient walked into the consultation room, and her story caught my attention. Her name was Jane. She declared that her life was in a mess.

“I need jump-starting or this mess will destroy my marriage,” she said, gazing all around suspiciously. She asked me to confirm if I was a sexologist.

Many clients who come to the Sexology Clinic always want to confirm the identity of the person they are talking to before opening up, given the private nature of sex problems.

“So, just to confirm, you are a medical doctor, or exactly what is your training?” she interrogated me further as I nodded in affirmation.

Few people understand the specialisation of Sexual Medicine and Sexology. So,  such questions are commonplace. In fact, in Africa, people generally take it that sex problems do not require medical consultation and so they do not expect a doctor to specialise in that line.

“So, what exactly do you mean when you say your life is in a mess and you need jump-starting?” I asked, trying to bring Jane back to focus on the problem for which she was visiting the clinic.

“I have lost my network," she said and burst out laughing, “my body does not want sex.”

In brief, Jane had no desire for sex. Sexual thoughts and fantasies did not cross her mind, and romantic advances from her husband failed to stimulate her. She was 34 years old and had been in marriage for eight years.

She had two children. She was a teacher married to a businessman. All had been well in the marriage until she suddenly lost sexual desire and feelings. It was the seventh month, and the couple had not had sex.

Things got worse during the holiday season when they spent a lot of time together but could not have sex.

“There is a lot of tension between me and my husband now,” she explained, staring into space. “I suspect he may be considering having an affair.”

I took a detailed medical history and did a thorough examination. Lack of sexual desire in women is a complex problem with many causes, and so, investigating the cause requires special thoroughness. Diseases of the genital system, any major illness in other body organs; and hormone problems, including premature menopause, can cause loss of sex desire.

Further, fatigue; psychological stresses such as anxiety and depression; and relationship problems could be the causes. There are also instances when the medicines one is using for other diseases become the cause of the problem.

“I’m scared. You sound like a loss of sex desire is a symptom of a serious disease!” Jane said, frowning. “I have lost many relatives who just collapsed and died, and this scares me stiff.” 
Incidentally, Jane had lost two relatives to heart attacks.

However, my medical evaluation of Jane yielded no suggestive findings of a physical disease.

All pointers were towards a relationship problem in the family. Under such circumstances, it is normally necessary to have separate counselling sessions with the couple to unearth the psychological cause of the problem.

I had two counselling meetings with Jane and three meetings with her husband before I arrived at a final diagnosis of the problem. Jane had strict values on sex from her upbringing. 

She considered sex sacred and intertwined with godliness and destiny. She got married as a virgin, had never masturbated, and her husband was her only sex partner.

James, Jane’s husband, was the complete opposite of his wife. He was liberal and explorative on matters of sex. He tried many sexual adventures with Jane, which she mostly declined.

Before marriage, he had had sex with three women. He continued to have sex with another woman as he dated Jane since Jane refused to have sex before their wedding.

James continued having affairs after the wedding. Jane discovered two of his affairs in the fifth and sixth year of their marriage.

“I was confused and felt like killing myself!” Jane explained, “I prayed about it, forgave him and moved on.”

But it is this hurtful experience that finally makes Jane sexual. She subconsciously withdrew emotionally from her husband and this robbed her of any sexual feelings.

Jane and James went through sex therapy and sex coaching for three months to get their sex lives back in order. 

It was yet another testimony to how differing values on sex between married people can damage a relationship and even cause divorce.

Prof Osur is a reproductive and sexual health expert.