An illustration of the repressive influence of religious orthodoxy upon the potential effectiveness of sexual functioning can be provided by relating the history of one of the five couples with both husband and wife products of different religious orthodoxies.
Impotence and Religion
Mr. and Mrs. D were married in their early twenties. He was the product of a fundamentalist Protestant background, she of equally strict Roman Catholic orientation. The man had the additional disadvantage of being an only child, while the wife was one of three siblings. The marriage was established over the firm and often expressed objections of both families.
Impotence and Sex Information
Prior to marriage the wife had no previous heterosexual, masturbatory, or homosexual history, and knew nothing of male or female sexual expression. She had been taught that the only reason for sexual functioning was for conceptive purposes.
Similarly, the husband had no exposure to sex information other than the vague directions of the peer group.
He had never seen a woman undressed either in fact or in pictures.
Dressing and toilet privacy had been the ironclad rule of the home. He also had been taught that sexual functioning could be condoned only if conception was desired.
His sexual history consisted of masturbation during his teenage years with only occasional frequency, and two prostitute exposures. He was totally unsuccessful in each exposure because he was presumed a sexually experienced man by both women.
Sex with Prostitute
During the first episode the prostitute took the unsuspecting virginal male to a vacant field and suggested they have intercourse while she leaned against a stone fence. Since he had no concept of female anatomy, of where to insert the penis, he failed miserably in this sexually demanding opportunity.
His graphic memory of the incident is of running away from a laughing woman.
The second prostitute provided a condom and demanded its use. He had no concept of how to use the condom. While the prostitute was demonstrating the technique, he ejaculated. He dressed and again fled the scene in confusion.
These two sexual episodes provided only anxiety-filled examples of sexual failure. Since he had no background from which to develop objectivity when considering his “sexual disasters,” inevitably the cultural misconception of lack of masculinity was the unfortunate residual of his experiences.
There was failure to consummate the marriage on the wedding night and for nine months thereafter. After consummation sexual function continued on a sporadic basis with no continuity. The wife refused contraception until after advent of the third child.
Sexual success was never of quality or quantity sufficient to relieve the husband of his fears of performance or to free the wife from the belief that either there was something wrong with her physically or that she was totally inadequate as a woman in attracting any man.
They rarely discussed their sexual difficulties, as both husband and wife were afraid of hurting one another, and each was certain that their unsatisfactory pattern of sexual dysfunction was all that could be expected from indulgence in sexual expression at times when conception was not the prime motivation.
With no appreciation of the naturalness of sexual functioning and with no concept of an honorable role for sexual response, the psychosocial pressures engendered from their negatively oriented sexual value systems left them with no positive means of mutual communication.
The failure of this marriage started with the wedding ceremony. There was no means of communication available for these two young people. Trained by theological demand to uninformed immaturity in matters of sexual connotation, both marital partners had no concept of how to cope when their sexual dysfunction was manifest. Their first approach to professional support was to agree to seek pastoral counseling.
Here their individual counselors were as handicapped by orthodoxy as were their supplicants. There were no suggestions made that possibly could have alleviated the sexual dysfunction. When sexual matters were raised, either no discussion was allowed, or every effort was made to belittle the importance of the sexual problem.
Without professional support, the marital partners were again released to their own devices. Each partner was intimidated, frustrated, and embarrassed for lack of sexual knowledge. The sexual dysfunction dominated the entire marriage.
The husband was never as effective professionally as he might have been otherwise. He withdrew from social functioning as much as possible. The wife was in a constant state of emotional turmoil, which had the usual rebound effect upon the children. By the time this husband and wife arrived at the Foundation, she was well on the way to earning the title of “shrew.”
The couple was first seen after a decade of marriage. As expected from individuals so handicapped in communication, each partner had established an extramarital coital connection while individually searching for some security of personal identity and effectiveness of sexual performance.
The wife had been successful in establishing her own security of psycho-sexual performance; the husband, as would be anticipated in this instance, had not. After ten years of traumatic marriage, both individuals gravely questioned their religious beliefs. Although no longer channel visioned, the wife continued church attendance, the husband rejected all church affiliations.
There can be no feeling for naturalness of sexual expression when there is no background of sexual comprehension. There can be no appreciation that sexual functioning is indeed a natural physical phenomenon, when material of sexual content is considered overwhelmingly embarrassing, personally degrading, and often is theologically prohibited.
In essence, when an individual’s sexual value system has no positive connotation, how little the chance for truly effective sexual expression.
The fact that most men and woman survive the handicap of strict religious’ orthodoxy to function with some semblance of sexual effectiveness does not mean that these men and women are truly equipped to enjoy the uninhibited freedom of sexual exchange.
Their physical response patterns, developing in spite of their orthodox religious negation of an honorable role for sexual function, are immature, constrained, and, at times, even furtive.
Sexual function is stylized, unimaginative, depersonalized, and indeed productive only of biological reproduction. A derogatory affect upon the total personality is the tragic residual of conditioned inability to accept or handle objectively meaningful material of sexual content.