Sex. It seems like such a basic, simple process – how could there be any disagreement about that? But alas, such is not the case, and sex, even among same-culture couples, continously ranks as one of the top most argued about subjects (money, sex, and kids). There are many issues surrounding sex that stem from unconscious beliefs and views that few have taken the time to reflect on.
The purpose of sex may vary due to the culture or religion of an individual. In some cultures (i.e. Western culture), sex is seen as a pleasurable, loving act between a couple, in which mutual enjoyment is key. Yet others might believe that sex is necessary for procreational purposes and little else. Female enjoyment is not necessary or even desireable in some cases. On the extreme end, in some FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints) Mormon circles, sex for pleasure between a married couple constitutes adultery! Even if a person does not espouse the beliefs of their childhood or culture, having grown up in such an environment can have a profound impact on their ability to feel comfortable sexually. Even in the US, women from more conservative backgrounds often have trouble combatting years of sexual repression, and struggle to be able to express themselves sexually in a healthy manner.
When to have sex is a conflict common even among same culture couples, as ‘normal’ frequency depends solely on an individual’s unique needs. Nevertheless, culture plays a role in determining our beliefs regarding how much is enough. Even some religions weigh in on the debate: Islam stipulates that a certain number of months without sex is grounds for divorce, and recommends sex every few days.
Further muddying the waters, once a woman becomes pregnant, many men the world over have difficulty seeing mothers as sexual and may no longer desire their partner. In fact, Western studies show that the ‘best’ time for a man to have an affair is when the female is pregnant or has just given birth! This unconscious belief that pregnant women/mothers aren’t sexual is unfortunate, as pregnant women often experience an increased libido due to the hormone changes (particularly if she’s pregnant with a boy). Yet, it is not just a belief common among men – some women hold this belief as well and may not feel comfortable having sex while pregnant or just after giving birth.
Many religions and cultures deem sex during menstruation as taboo, so that could cause conflict as well if a couple is from differing religions or cultures.
Beliefs regarding birth control also vary greatly. Some religions prohibit birth control altogether (i.e. Catholicism, FLDS, for instance). Even the types of birth control allowed may vary. Some women may not want to take birth control due to the numerous negative side effects, and some men may not want to use condoms due to discomfort or allergy. Clearly, the potential for conflict regarding birth control is great.
Clearly, open communication is essential for navigating the sensitive, yet elemental waters of sex and all that it entails in an intercultural relationship. Many are hesitant and feel uncomfortable discussing sex, yet since it ranks as one of the top three most argued about issues plaguing married couples, it is of utmost necessity to do. If talking to your partner directly about it seems too overwhelming, start first by finding out what your partner’s culture believes about sex, and work your way inward. Then move on to their subculture, religion, community, family, friends, and so on. A person is unlikely to escape from all these spheres of influence unscathed and unaffected.