It’s past midnight and Rashmi, 29, and Suresh, 32, are slugging it out in their lawyer’s office in Pune, trading allegations. Rashmi wants to walk out of their three-year-long marriage, which she says has not been consummated despite a luxurious honeymoon in Kerala and her repeated overtures. Suresh, she holds, is impotent.
Young, middle class professionals in metros, unable to consummate their marriages for even up to a couple of years, are being increasingly spotted at the clinics of sexologists or infertility specialists. And when all fails, they land up, like Rashmi and Suresh, in the lawyer’s chamber or the court’s door.
Many of them are in their mid-twenties or early thirties. Mumbai urologist and andrologist Dilip Raja says he sees an average of three such cases a month. In most of the cases, the couples have not been married for more than two years.
Doctors say there are reasons why marriages are not being consummated. Stress is a major factor. Stressful jobs can create physical or psychological problems that hamper sexual performances. “Sex is a pleasure-oriented performance,” says Dr Vitthal Prabhu, a senior sexologist in Mumbai. Negative signals from the brain to the autonomous system, which controls the expansion or contraction of blood vessels, can lead to a sexual dysfunction.
But what’s surprised doctors is that often it’s not a physical problem that leads to couples not consummating their marriage. Sometimes, it’s something as basic as lack of knowledge. Plain ignorance about the female genitals, a faulty coital position and manner and site of penetration are some of the problems.
If fimosis or a tight foreskin can pose penetration problems for a man, the same holds true for women who suffer from vaginismus — one of the commonest deterrents that make the vagina impregnable. Dr Narayana Reddy, a Chennai-based sexologist, says three out of his 10 patients suffer from this condition.
Another spoilsport in the bedroom is plain aversion to sex. Shirish, an Information Technology (IT) professional in Pune, had no interest in sex, much to the dismay of his wife, Mala, who is also in the IT sector. She tried everything, and then gave up. They are going in for a divorce, and have settled on a Rs 5-lakh settlement for Mala.
Left to themselves, many couples, doctors say, would continue to ignore their problems. But the pressure to have a child often forces them to seek professional help. Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar, an infertility specialist in Calcutta, says three per cent of his 2,000-plus patients in a year have not been able to consummate their marriage. But they land up at the doctor’s with feeble excuses. “They often do not reveal their inability to have intercourse and would rather say they’ve been unable to conceive a child,” he adds.
For many couples, trouble shows up much earlier — often on the wedding night itself, says Dr Prabhu. But seeking help is not easy on the ego, especially for the men. It is often the wives, or sometimes the parents, who drag non-performing men to the doctor’s. Some of the men refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem, and isolate themselves through work. Dr Reddy says among the most reluctant patients are young, “highly educated” professionals. “The higher the education, the more their inhibitions. They think it is infra dig to consult,” he adds.
A classic case of this is Mahesh Ramchandran, a marketing executive in his late twenties, who refused to accompany his wife to the doctor. Instead, he encouraged her to have an affair.
Dr Reddy recalls the case of a 38-year-old management professional who had not consummated his marriage. When asked how often he had attempted to have intercourse, he told the doctor not to waste his time, stressing that he had decided to impregnate his wife through artificial means.
At the Archdiocese of Bombay’s marriage tribunal, of an annual average of 70 divorce petitions, about four or five would be non-consummated, says Monsignor William Nazareth, one of the tribunal’s four judges. But the actual number of such marriages could be much higher.
The Church hires a gynaecologist for those seeking a div-orce on the grounds of non-consummation, and closely quizzes the partners. “Oral evidence from the couple and other witnesses plays an important role in proving non-consummation,” says Monsignor Nazareth.
Divorce on the grounds of non-consummation is on the rise among other communities, too. A senior lawyer at the Family Court in Mumbai says this is evident among couples of different faiths who secretly marry under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Many of them file for divorce, citing non-consummation as a reason.
These couples also find that terming their marriages non-consummated is an easier and quicker way of getting a divorce. They’re also spared the mandatory period of a year’s separation if they file for divorce by mutual consent.
What is clear is that life is not always a bed of roses for young couples. Sometimes, it is not even a bed for two.
Imaging: M. Iqbal Shaikh