They live under the same roof, but they’re sexually incomplete. Despite the desire to have sex, the event that typically launches a couple’s sex life looms as its potential grand finale. Unable to consummate their union, lovers are left feeling frustrated, alone and abnormal in their inability to have intercourse.

An “unconsummated marriage” is one in which intercourse has not taken place between partners in an intimate relationship. It’s an unimaginable and baffling situation for many.

Not having sexual intercourse is typically seen as admirable for those who haven’t made a major commitment to one another. But the second sweethearts are nesting or exchanging their “I do’s,” expectations change radically. Lovers are expected to go from sexually abstinent to sexually active literally overnight.

Situations where that isn’t the scenario can throw anyone for a loop. Ashamed, the “failure to execute” becomes the couple’s dirty little secret. It’s mainly for this reason that the number of such relationships is unknown.

It appears, however, to be more common in traditional societies, with a number of factors contributing to lovers’ inability to lock loins. According to a 2009 article in Sexual and Relationship Therapy, reasons include:

— Lack of information;

— Inadequate sex education, including premarital education;

— Cultural and religious influences dictating sexual behavior;

— Past negative sexual experiences causing anxiety (including a fear of replicating such);

— Sexual disorders, including a lack of interest or the inability to have intercourse;

— Relationship problems, like a lack of trust or commitment;

— Feelings toward one’s partner, such as anger or resentment.

The level of distress such situations cause individuals varies, and for different reasons. Some lovers are stressed out that they’re not having sex, while others may be nervous over the prospect of sex outside of marriage. The degree to which lovers engage in other types of sexual activities can also impact how they perceive or handle the situation.

While couples may not be going “all the way,” some do enjoy a variety of sexual activities, like oral sex. Others express a great deal of physical affection, whether or not this results in sexual arousal.

Since circumstances and perceptions of such are so individual, couples vary drastically in their willingness and ability to endure the situation. Some get help early on, especially if they long to start a family or want to honor religious beliefs around consummating a marriage.

Yet, according to urophysiotherapist Talli Rosenbaum, one of the few researchers in this area, some couples have been known to wait more than 20 years before dealing with this matter. Some insist on treatment, using it as an ultimatum for getting past issues “or else.”

Unless couples are perfectly fine with a sex life without intercourse, they should seek professional help. Failure to do so can greatly impact an already strained relationship for the worse. By working with a sex therapist, the issue will be examined from all angles:

— While the unconsummated relationship is a social phenomenon and not a specific sexual disorder, lovers will be evaluated for potential dysfunctions requiring treatment. Medications potentially influencing the situation will be assessed as well.

— Basic anatomical and physiological information and suggestions will be given.

— The relationship will be assessed, with special attention given to how the lack of intercourse is being perceived by each. Who is being blamed? What is the significance of having no intercourse? To what degree is the sexual problem being made the scapegoat in light of other relationship issues?

— The couple’s power dynamics will be observed, particularly in situations where physical symptoms, like pain, may be one way the body expresses anguish over such. The role of intercourse being used as commodity, something to be given in exchange for good behavior, will be explored as well.

A therapist should also work with lovers individually and together to explore early influences on their sexuality. To what extent are issues due to the way each was socialized as a sexual being? How have such influences impacted one’s sense of self and role sexually speaking?

In moving forward, couples need to be reminded that they don’t have to have intercourse to please anybody at any point. Contrary to societal expectations, intercourse doesn’t have to take place just because you’ve moved in together or exchanged wedding vows. It can be different for every couple.

Lovers, too, need to avoid making sexual intercourse a mission. Terms like “achieve,” “failure,” and “success” should be deemed “bad” words so that sex doesn’t become goal-oriented. Couples must be mindful not to get consumed in the outcome, rather focus on the moment.

Finally, lovers need to express what their needs are for intercourse to be appealing. For some, it may be as simple as having their partner initiate sex. For others, it may be as complicated as rebuilding a relationship so that they feel safe and emotionally secure.

Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."

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