Helping Couples with Unconsummated Marriage

By Jancin, Bruce | Clinical Psychiatry News, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Helping Couples with Unconsummated Marriage


Jancin, Bruce, Clinical Psychiatry News


DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA -- Sexual excess, teen pregnancy and divorce tend to grab the headlines, but at the other end of the sexual behavior spectrum are couples who have never had intercourse, Dr. Domeena C. Renshaw said at WONCA 2001, the conference of the World Organization of Family Doctors.

Unconsummated marriage is a real and difficult problem, yet it's not even listed in the International Classification of Diseases. Acceptance of an unconsummated marriage by both parties is rare, Dr. Renshaw explained. The problem is that unconsummated marriage often causes shame, frustration, and despair. Dr. Renshaw reported on 155 such couples who presented to the Loyola University Chicago sexual dysfunction training clinic in Maywood, Ill., during 1972-2000. They comprised 7% of all couples undergoing sex therapy at the clinic, said Dr. Renshaw, director of the clinic and professor of psychiatry at the university.

The causes of a sexless marriage are legion. People of all socioeconomic groups and education levels are affected. Dr. Renshaw has even treated American physicians for the condition--most of them are originally from other countries where arranged marriages are common and there is no formal sex education.

The first question that couples typically ask a physician when they decide to seek help is: Is it treatable?

The answer depends on the underlying diagnosis and the motivation of both partners. At the Loyola sex therapy clinic, a course of treatment is 7 weeks long, with 5 hours of therapy per week. The success rate--defined as achievement of penile / vaginal intercourse--was 49% among the 155 couples. Another 40% reported symptomatic improvement, while 11% reported no change.

The waiting list at the Loyola clinic is lengthy. "There aren't many sex clinics left," she said. "It's because there's no big money in it. It's very time-intensive work. …

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