What is an unconsummated marriage or relationship?
An unconsummated marriage or relationship is one in which the couple has been unable to perform successful sexual intercourse.
What is the cause of an unconsummated marriage or relationship?
The most common cause of an unconsummated relationship is vaginismus. There can be other causes like erectile dysfunction or psychological distress and fear or past trauma.
What happens if you don’t consummate a marriage or relationship?
In some cultures, not being able to consummate the marriage may still be a reason to annul the marriage. Even if the marriage or relationship survives, non-consummation can lead to loss of connection and closeness.
Why is consummating a marriage or relationship so important?
Being able to consummate a relationship and have healthy, satisfying sex is vital to the health of an intimate relationship for most people. Sex serves to foster wellbeing and connection as well as to procreate.
What are the long-term consequences of not consummating your relationship?
Unconsummated relationships can be very painful emotionally and it can be very destructive to the relationship and to your own sense of self-worth. It can lead to resentment and emotional distance and can damage the fibre of the relationship.
What can you do if you are in an unconsummated relationship?
Unconsummated relationships are often consummated if you just give it a bit more time, but seeking professional help can be very valuable. It can save you so much stress and heartache if you just get the right help sooner rather than later. At My Sexual Health, we have a whole team of specialist people who can help you! The sooner you seek professional help, the better. The worst thing you can do is pretend there is no problem and try to ignore it.
How long does it take to resolve an unconsummated marriage/relationship problem?
This depends on you and your partner. The sooner you seek help the easier it is to help you, because there is less emotional damage done. With the right help, it is often a rich journey towards healing that can be faster than you think.
Dreams and reality
Almost everyone has a fantasy at some stage of their lives about having a beautiful wedding. A wonderful celebration with everyone there just to honour their happiness and joy. A day in which they marry the person of their dreams and start a lifetime of endless happiness and love. This is such a beautiful fairy tale story filled with childhood hopefulness and optimism.
Then the big day arrives and the whole marriage begins to unfold very differently from the fantasy. This can be extremely heart-wrenching and can create bitter disappointment. It’s not that weddings aren’t wonderful or that marriage isn’t fulfilling, it’s when we have unrealistic expectations that we often set ourselves up for terrible disappointment and sadness. Weddings are real and so is marriage and that means they have good parts and not so good parts. They have thorns as well as rose petals.
One of the most disappointing parts of a wedding can be the first night, especially if you are a virgin bride or groom and have waited for that perfect night to consummate your love and your relationship. This hope can be dashed horribly to the ground if one or other partner, or even both partners have put too much pressure on this moment being incredible, in their minds. Sometimes women’s and men’s bodies just won’t co-operate with the plan. The hope, the vision and the pressure can make the autonomic nervous system get ready for fight, flight and freeze. In this state, the sexual organs cannot respond appropriately.
You can easily understand this if you understand that the brain’s job is to keep you alive. If the brain, and therefore the body, is prepared for an emergency, then it cannot allow you to be having sex, which requires your focus and absolute relaxation, because then you would be unable to protect and defend yourself from whatever emergency is about to occur. You need to be able to relax to have sex and you need to feel safe to allow consummation to occur.
What ends up happening, sadly too often, is that the first sexual encounter is disappointing. Maybe even worse: consummation does not happen. Either the man cannot get an erection, because he is putting too much pressure on himself to perform and is afraid he may not get it quite right, and his penis responds by going flaccid. Or, the woman finds that her pelvic floor muscles tighten and her vaginal opening becomes like a wall instead of an open entry point. She may experience pain and find that it is simply too painful to allow her husband to penetrate her, or she may feel pain and then retreat and shut down and start to dread sex instead of awakening to the wonder of it.
Sex is hard to talk about. Often, we feel ashamed or embarrassed when we need to talk about it and so we sweep it under the carpet and build a wall around the subject. Sometimes in addition to avoiding talking about it, we avoid thinking about it as well, driving it underground and placing it in the darkest place within ourselves. While this is human nature and so easy to understand, it is what I call ‘fear avoidance behaviour.’
Avoiding what we fear usually makes us get far more of what we fear, rather than helping us get less of it, in the long run. We avoid talking about our disappointing sexual experiences, because we feel afraid of feeling ashamed and embarrassed and in the end the shame and embarrassment get bigger and bigger. When we sweep things like problems with sex under the carpet, we land up being unable to walk over the carpet because there is so much under it. Or if you prefer, there is a big elephant in the room and you can’t move, because it is taking up all the space.
Tips for an unconsummated marriage or relationship:
Here are some tips and ideas on what to do if you haven’t been able to consummate your marriage or relationship, or if you are afraid that this may be a problem for you when you are finally married.
- If you want to be a virgin bride or groom, don’t try to add consummating your marriage to the wedding day to-do-list (unless your religion insists you do, in which case be very gentle and kind and relax if it doesn’t work, there will be a solution). When you are finally married and ‘are allowed to have sex’, then give yourselves time to slowly explore and find your way. Be realistic in your expectations, it is seldom wonderful the first time!
- If you as a woman are unable to insert a tampon into your vagina, then you will definitely struggle to be penetrated by your husband’s erect penis. Don’t ignore this and then hope it will go away on your big night. Rather go to a specialist physiotherapist for help. She may send you to a doctor to make certain there is nothing else wrong, but a specialist physiotherapist is a good place to start. She needs to have special training in the field of sexual health to be able to help you. You can consult me or visit our “about us” page for a qualified physio in your area.
- If you have never used a tampon, you can start with a mirror and feeling your way with your own hands and fingers. You need to know how your body looks and how your genitals feel. Even if it feels strange and difficult for you, this will help you and it is worth the effort. There is nothing shameful about your own body and your genital region is not a shameful place at all. An anatomy book or Google search will also give you a lot of insight into how your genitals look and how it all works.
- Your brain needs to understand where your body is in space and it needs to understand the inner edges of your genitals and pelvic region from a sensory perspective, to be able to work this region of your body properly. If you have closed your legs and avoided ever thinking of your genitals, then it is likely that your brain has been starved of information about this region. When the brain is starved of information about an area of the body, it is unable to protect that region properly and so it may tense it up as a protective measure. It may also raise the sensitivity of the area so that it can get every tiny bit of information about what is going on there. It’s a bit like when you drive on a foggy night, you will lean in and strain your eyes, ears and all your senses to get as much input as you can to help you stay safe. When your brain raises the sensitivity of an area, it lowers the threshold of firing for the nerves of the area. Just like when you have a papercut on your finger, your brain makes your finger so sensitive that even blowing on it hurts, and this prevents you from getting the cut infected or damaging your fingertip skin any further. After a few days your brain resets the fingertip’s nerves threshold of firing and you can forget about your fingertip and carry on with your life. In your pelvic region, the threshold of firing may have been set too low as a protective measure and now, even touching, which should feel wonderful, feels painful. If this is the case, you need to seek help and allow someone to help your brain reset your sensitivity levels. You also need to start connecting with this part of your body in whatever way you can. Self-touch, partner-touch or at least looking and paying attention.
- If you have a lowered threshold of firing in your vulva, you are not going to be able to consummate your marriage! You need someone to help you and you need to unwind this slowly. There is nothing to feel ashamed of, you and your partner can work together to resolve this and the journey of resolving it will bring you closer together and help you to become more intimate and able to share.
- If you are a guy with erectile dysfunction, you also need someone to help you. The more you worry you will not get an erection and feel bad about yourself, the worse the problem will become. Your erection happens in your body, but it starts in your mind. Learning to relax and discover what happens in your body when you think certain thoughts will help you learn to stop analysing and instead focus on your body and what it feels like. This will make all the difference. Fear of not getting an erection is enough to stop an erection. There is no way to ‘try’ to get an erection. The more you try, the less it will work. It’s counterintuitive. The less you try, the more you let go of being successful and getting it right, the more it will happen. Often, we have to be taught to relax! Remember that erectile dysfunction (ED) may also be due to a physiological or medical cause and might be an indication of cardiovascular disease. All men with ED are advised to see a doctor to exclude physical causes and treatable or preventable diseases related to the ED. Visit our page on erectile dysfunction for more info on the treatment of ED.
As a physiotherapist who has specialized in pelvic function, chronic pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction, and as a life and relationship coach, I have a very special interest in helping people who have been unable to consummate their marriage or relationship. I have developed a protocol, by which we work systematically to restore the brain-body awareness of the region, learn to relax the region and learn to relax and effectively contract the pelvic floor muscles; we work to stretch tightened structures in the vagina with dilators and we work with enhancing intimacy and communication about intimacy. If you are struggling because you have been unable to consummate your relationship, there is help available and it is easier than you think to bring healing to this part of your relationship. I wish you wonderful, healthful sex and am available to help you on your journey towards this if you need my help.
Sue Fuller-Good – Physiotherapist with a special interest in the pelvis, sexual health and chronic pain.
011 463 0229/1