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March 2017
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WHITE MARRIAGES

Definition
The concept of ‘white marriages’ is very old. In the canon law we can find the concept of ‘ratus et non consumatus’ which means that a marriage is considered to be annulled in both legal and religious terms if it is not consummated.
In the practice of clinical sexology, the working definition of a white marriage is slightly more wordy. Firstly, a marriage can be called ‘white’ if a couple (married or not) are not able to conceive for sexual reasons. From another point of view, a relationship is described as ‘white’ if there is no penile penetration. Even more extensively, this expression can be used for any relationship in which there is no sexual eroticism. However, the term ‘white marriage’ has been excluded from modern sexology precisely because it is too vague.

It may seem paradoxical but the estimated number of marriages that have not been consummated with penile penetration of the vagina is surprisingly high.

Causes
There are many reasons why a marriage may not be consummated and they can be put into three categories:

  • female reasons;
  • male reasons;
  • mixed reasons.

Female reasons
The most important reason is vaginismus, that is, the impossibility for a woman to let something enter her vagina causing involuntary contractions and spasms of the muscles surrounding the vaginal entrance (particularly the pubococcygeus muscle and anterior fibers of the Levator ani). Other muscles may also contract, like the adductor muscles of the thighs and the dorsal muscles of the back. This is a sexual dysfunction which also involves an exaggerated phobia. In fact, when the fear of penetration is so extreme that the male cannot even attempt to penetrate the female and she avoids any situations in which penetration could occur, then we are talking about a fear of penetration, which is a more complex situation that is related to phobic neurosis. In reality, a large number of the women with vaginismus do not suffer from serious forms of phobias, and they can come from many different walks of life:  suffers come from all social classes and cultures, all fields of work and it is not uncommon that they are beautiful and seductive women. This explains why, despite the dysfunction, young women are able to establish intimate relationships for long periods of time and even get married.
Clinical observation mainly occurs because the sufferer wants to become a mother or because the couple has problems with sexual tension, however, it must be mentioned that the partners of women with vaginismus are not necessarily sexually inhibited or inexperienced and, in fact, they are usually very sensitive, calm and prone to mediating. These couples actually practise a lot of erotic behaviour for many years but without any penile penetration, thus they experience pleasure in many other ways.

Males reasons
Serious erectile dysfunction or serious premature ejaculation can be causes of impossible penile penetration.

Mixed reasons 
It is not unusual that a white marriage resolves itself or that the two people in the relationship have satisfying sexual relations with other people. In this case, we can talk about a collusive couple in the sense that both individuals involuntarily contribute to this problem. There also cases in which mild vaginismus is associated with male inhibition or sexual anxiety or mild female aversion with a lack of desire on the male’s part. Not all women with vaginismus will have a white marriage though: many depend on the care and ability of the male to gradually work on the female’s defensive reactions right from the beginning. Excessive aggression, an excessively submissive attitude and a lack of determination by the male will also have an effect on stabilising the problem, whereas patient but decisive behaviour will make penile penetration possible after the necessary amount of time.

Prototypes and archetypes

  • The eternal student: it is never the right time to have sex because she needs to focus on her studies. Petting is allowed and is pleasurable but penetration is not attempted. If the male does not understand it is because he does not know how to appreciate her and therefore he does not deserve her. If he insists too much, he is vulgar and rude.
  • The queen bee: sex is the price you have to pay to have children, just like her mother taught her. The less you have the better it is and only have sex in order to get pregnant, therefore after getting married. Pleasure is not needed, in fact it is dangerous. Virginity is an invaluable thing which, unfortunately, women must give up with marriage.
  • The Valkyrie: the relationship between men and women is war and letting yourself be penetrated means losing the battle. It is best to be careful and curb male advances rather than letting yourself go and having men take advantage.

Virginity
Women with vaginismus and the men involved in white marriages have different opinions about virginity. Even for women who do not show any sexual symptoms, the concept of virginity influences their relevant life style choices and determines their sexual behaviour, which changes during their lives, depending on their personal lives, and becomes an important factor in bringing up their children. An over the top or distorted idea about virginity can be seen as not only defensive but also related to the woman’s ‘worth’, in the sense that virginity is considered by many women to be a value that is not to be sacrificed for any advantage that could potentially arise from losing it.

As well as from the classic psychological point of view, (primary symptom of defence or opposing symptom), there is a systematic and relationship point of view that virginity could even act as a mediating factor between a couple, that is, that the female’s virginity plays an extra part in the seduction which is cognitive and in this case, the idea of virginity is a product of social and educational models, however, depending cultural subgroups, virginity can be an added value or a limitation if it goes on for too long. From a philosophical view point, virginity can be considered as follows: "If our culture were to receive within itself the mystery of the other as an unavoidable and insurmountable reality, there would open a new age of thought, with a changed economy of truth and ethics. [...] Sketching this new horizon in philosophy, founded upon an inappropriable truth, involves, as a first gesture, a necessary respect for the virginity of the other. If this were to come about, virginity would not be reduced to a natural reality, would not be ascribed only to the feminine or to the neuter, but would be the other name of fidelity of each gender to itself, with a respect for the other gender. Virginity is, in fact, the necessary condition for the existence of a word which is present here and now between us: woman and man, women and men. Virginity is the other face of an aporia inhabiting a word which heeds sexual difference. The absence of a like disclosure suitable for the two genders, the need for an almost absolute silence between them so that they might begin truly to speak to each other: these things which are impossible to say must be said in order to respect the virginity of each person as a proper identity conscious of its limit" (To Be Two, Luce Irigaray, 2001).
From a religious point of view, it is important for traditionally Catholic countries that virginity becomes a female role model of perfection and sanctity, and the paradox of a virgin-mother becomes a dogma. The anthropological point of view is also very interesting because it suggests that the model of virginity is useful for the development of social structures in many cultures, whilst the sociobiological view point sees an advantageous, adaptive social model in all sexual behaviour for our reproductive health.
From a medical point of view, virginity is linked to the anatomical structure of the hymen, however, there are no convincing explanations about the purpose of the hymen and its vast range of morphological variants. Gynaecologists do have to treat certain anatomical abnormalities of the lower female genital tract which require surgical correction so that penetration is possible, but these situations are rare, whereas functional virginity (vaginismus), which does not require surgery, is not compatible with conception, although, very rarely, this may occur.
Psychiatrics are interested in virginity when it is related to personality disorders: virginity can be a narcissistic personality trait or an expression of a serious form of inhibition.
Last but not least is the mythological tradition: myths and rituals about virginity, such as archetypes of the soul, were rediscovered by Jungian psychology. However, there is also a historical aspect: virginity has been a value in various eras as well as in sexology, in which virginity is considered to be a cause of sexual dysfunctions and sterility too.

Treatment

  • Biological: surgery of the lower genital tract (rare).
  • Intrapsychic: for phobias of penetration and personality disorders. 
  • Relationship: for collusive couples.
    Systematic and family related: rarely undertaken, only when the symptom is the pivot around which the family system revolves.
  • Sociocultural: when ignorance about the problem, prejudices and a lack of experience are at the bottom of the problem.
  • Sexological: deconditioning in vivo of vaginismus and sexual therapy for the male or couple (currently, this approach is considered to provide the best guarantee of healing for vaginismus, which is the most common reason behind white marriages).

WHITE MARRAGIES

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