There is no doubt that sexual satisfaction is one of the core reasons behind a happy marriage. Being able to communicate your needs, wants, and even sexual fantasies to your partner while putting aside the inhibitions that can come from social norms is a critical element in fulfilling relationships.
However, in some cases things might not go smoothly in close relationships, and sexual dissatisfaction can lead to separation.
There have been calls recently to include sex education in the Egyptian school curriculum, and many have argued that sexual ignorance, wrong information, and a lack of knowledge about sexuality, as well as understanding of the opposite sex, can all vitiate happy relationships. Excessive shyness, often the result of thinking of sex as a stigma, can also stand in the way of sexual satisfaction.
Studies have indicated that unsatisfying sexual relationships can put marriages at risk by up to 60 per cent. This also indicates a need for greater sex education, especially in societies where openness about talking about sex may be stigmatised and there may be little emphasis on it in education. Sexual ignorance may be part of the problem.
Egyptian writer Sherif Arafa, author of the book “Why the man wants and the woman doesn’t,” says that being educated about the dynamics of sexual life is necessary for everyone. Each person has his or her own sexual preferences, and it is crucial to understand that men’s sexual preferences may be different from those of women, he adds. This is why being aware of the psychology of the opposite sex is necessary to understand the different needs of your partner.
Sources of sex information should come from recognised specialists or therapists or from reliable books, Arafa says. In the Middle East region, where there is an expectation that sexual relationships do not take place before marriage, there is a greater need for sex education prior to marriage and for more accredited sex therapists to help people overcome any stigmas and inhibitions they may have, he adds.
“We are talking about educational sources for intimate relationships and about the dangers of pornography,” Arafa says. “The latter can negatively affect intimate relationships, and for single people it can negatively affect perceptions about sex.”
“The people who produce pornography know pretty well that their target audience consists of men, which is why they target men’s sexual fantasies. Nothing real is shown about female sexuality, and it gives a totally wrong picture of it. For this reason, pornography can widen the gap between partners, giving wrong expectations to men about female sexuality and creating tensions.”
Openness to talking about sexual preferences is a must, as in many cases shyness can constitute a barrier to both partners. Unfortunately, some social norms can be a barrier to openness.
“A good exercise for each partner to help to combat shyness is to write down on a piece of paper what he or she likes in an intimate relationship and what he or she wishes for. After writing this down, the two partners can exchange papers and read each other’s wishes as a way of opening a conversation that in itself can lead to easing any problems in the relationship,” Arafa says.
Men and women have distinct sexual dynamics, and the sexual desire of women is not as spontaneous as that of men, whose desire can be more urgent. A woman needs to be emotionally aroused prior to the actual physical relationship, and she cannot be rushed as what arouses her is distinct from what arouses a man.
Arafa also says that a woman’s desire is affected by factors such as hormones, levels of stress, and mood. For this reason, after having children a woman’s desire may change while her spouse may remain just as insistent. She may start to avoid intimate relations, and the man may start to doubt the love and dedication of his partner as a result.
He may start to think that the reason why his partner refuses intimacy is because she no longer loves him, and she may start to think that all her partner wants is sex. This is where a fatal misunderstanding can start. For Arafa, the main issue is not sexual, but has more to do with each partner wanting to feel that his or her partner is understanding and ready to give. He wants to feel that his needs are taken into consideration, and she wants to feel that her emotions are taken into consideration as well.
“This is why it is advisable to keep physical touching as part of the daily routine, including holding hands, hugging, and kissing,” Arafa says. “I am not exaggerating when I say that physical touching is important to keep both the male and the female secure and enjoying a healthy psychological state. It is vital to be intimate even if routine physical touching doesn’t lead to intimate relations.”
“A good piece of advice for men in order to close the gap between the sexual desire of men and women is for them to try not to ‘sexualise’ their relationship with their partner overmuch. She is there to share many things in life, one of them being sex. One of the things that women can try to keep their desire present is cognitive stimulus, reading romantic content, for example, and understanding that intimacy with a partner is not a ‘task’ but instead is the deepest way to express their femininity.”
“Finally, both partners need to know that an intimate relationship is a two-way street: neither the man nor the woman should solely concentrate on satisfying his or her needs while not paying attention to the other.”
In a long-term relationship like marriage, initiating sexual relations may also become more difficult. It is not always easy to become intimate owing to life commitments, being too busy with work, or being around the children. Intimacy is unlikely to happen in the way it did in the early days of the marriage, and a couple can feel frustrated at the need to set specific times to get together – not very romantic when compared to media representations that suggest that desire and intimacy can happen smoothly and at any time.
“My advice is to try to have realistic expectations in long-term relationships. Both men and women can experience periods when they may feel that intimate relations are becoming a task that they need to fit in with others,” Arafa says.
“This is quite normal, and it is not an indication that the relationship is at risk. However, I would say that couples need to prioritise intimacy. It is important to try to set this as a priority in marriage.”
Both men and women undergo physiological and psychological changes as they age, and sexual needs change over time as well. For this and other reasons, it is crucial to be able to communicate your needs properly to your partner and also try to be educated about the main changes that the sexual needs of men and women may go through as they age.
Both men and women need to be better sexually educated in order to understand that changes can happen to their relationship over the years and that these are normal. Information is a tool that can be depended on when questioning what is happening in a sexual relationship, Arafa comments.
Having a satisfying sexual relationship with a partner is an ultimate goal, and in reaching this goal knowledge is key. It is important for both men and women to be open with each other and to welcome greater knowledge, as this can be a plus and not a stigma.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.