Till Death Do Us Part, Forced Celibacy in Religious Marriage.

Traditional wedding vows contain these ominous words, they also promise to be faithful. What the vows don't address is "what happens when one partner doesn't want sex any more?" 20 years ago the wife of a very religious friend of mine told him, I am finished with sex. They had four children and she had lost all interest in sex. She went on to tell him that, if she ever caught him having an affair, she would divorce him. Needless to say this was a shock, but not unexpected, given their history of poor sexual relations.

Of course, it wasn't always like that. When they were still in high school and early college, but before they got married, they were always sneaking off somewhere to have sex. Three or four times a day wasn't uncommon. It was only after marriage that their sexual relationship rapidly changed. What was fun and adventurous soon became sinful and immature to her. Even suggesting that they do something like they used to would shut her down. He quickly learned that if he wanted sex, it would be totally on her terms and more and more rare. When her ultimatum came, he was stuck. He did not believe in divorce, but he never dreamed he would be trapped in a sexless marriage by one of the sexiest women he had ever known.

This is really a common story. Nothing unusual here. And don't get the idea it is always the woman. I have noticed that this seems to happen with Catholic men a lot. Something about the Catholic version of sexual guilt can really impact men.

There are any number of reasons why people lose interest in sex, but religion often plays a critical role. Religiously induced shame and guilt prevents open and honest talk about sex, and religious wedding vows prevent divorce. The result is one or both partners eventually feel profoundly trapped in the marriage. But the resulting frustration and sexual energy will go somewhere. It may go into self loathing or hatred and nagging of the spouse. It may go into secret affairs. Even attempts to relieve sexual tension through masturbation often backfire as the non-sexual spouse may see this as a betrayal as well. Indeed, the person doing the masturbation often feels religious guilt about doing it.

Half of all marriages end in divorce and religious people divorce at slightly higher rates than non-religious people. Among the religious who do stay married, a huge portion stay in sexually dead marriages. The actual number of happy and sexually satisfying marriages after 20 years, is very low. That doesn't mean they don't exist, but what is touted as the norm, is anything but, especially among the most religious.

The moral of the story is, religious teaching and indoctrination ultimately leads to sexually dead marriages in the vast majority of religious people. If you are in a sexually dead or dying marriage, look first to your religious ideas about relationships and sex. You may find the root of the problem there.

For a more in depth examination of this enormous problem, read Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality.

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Tags: celibacy, marriage, masturbation, religious marriage

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Comment by Grinning Cat on November 23, 2012 at 1:34am

I've heard it said that some people like polyamory because they get to have more sex; some people like polyamory because they get to have less sex.

Unfortunately, many religions insist on strict (possibly serial) monogamy as the only valid "lovestyle", whether or not it suits the couple's inclinations and orientations. (Not all religions -- I know of a Wiccan couple who added a third partner to their committed relationship with a religious ceremony.)

Comment by Sentient Biped on September 23, 2012 at 10:25pm

What should you friend do?  Get a divorce?  Marriage counseling?  Give in to a sexless life?  Sex outside marriage?

Do atheists also become trapped in sexless marriages, or is it just the religious?

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