We pass each other on the street, rush to meet at gatherings and greet each other at lectures. When we look into a sister’s eyes and grab her hand warmly, do we really know what is going on in her most private life? Most likely we do not. Keepers of secrets suffer in silence. Perhaps I am talking about you or perhaps I am talking about someone you have never suspected of having anything to hide. We are not talking about abuse or poverty. We are talking about a woman who is trying to deal with an impotent husband and the suffering of both of them. Life in a sexless marriage – what are the options?
Marriage was designed to accommodate the needs of men and women. One of those needs is obviously an intimate relationship which helps us to forge a close and loving bond with the one we have married. In Islam, this intimate relationship is a sacred and secret act, both socially and with respect to our Islamic code of conduct. The loving family contributes to social cohesion, providing society with healthy, well-rounded children. When this loving relationship doesn’t include intercourse, something is missing and a right is left unfulfilled.
Psychological and physical causes
Erectal Dysfunction (E.D.) is the cause of impotency. It can be caused by a psychological or physical problem. The definition of this dysfunction is when the husband is unable to either have an erection or to maintain an erection in order to achieve penetration and satisfaction. This problem rarely occurs in younger men but it can be brought on by stress or with the passing of a loved one, especially if he is a widower trying to forge a new relationship. For men over 30 who were functioning normally, diabetes, nicotine/smoking, alcohol and obesity may lead to this condition. For smokers, E.D. may be an “early warning signal that cigarettes are already damaging other areas of the body – such as the blood vessels that supply the heart.” 
We have a good idea about our feelings, desires and problems as female sexual partners, but do we know about the suffering of men? According to a survey done by the British Medical Journal, “Erectile dysfunction caused serious distress to all those men who experienced it, with marked effects on their self esteem and their relationships…” 
Sexual performance is important to most men and they feel it reflects on their masculinity. Half of the men in the survey said that either their relationship had been affected or had ended all together. The treatment of the condition caused a significant improvement in the quality of their lives. However, when “treatment did not work, the distress was severe and for many confirmed their lack of self worth.” 
Reluctance of men to seek help
The stigma of the problem leads many men to suffer alone without seeking out health professionals for treatment. The husband will most likely not confide in his wife either and may avoid intimate situations or going to bed at the same time by providing her excuses, such as “I’m not tired” or “I need to work”. Many wives in this situation may begin to feel undesired and neglected. In the end, everyone suffers.
Option 1: Divorce
Women whose husbands suffer from this problem have the right to ask for a divorce and obviously younger women or women who have strong desires may choose to opt for a divorce in order to preserve themselves or in order to have children. However, even if the wife opts for a divorce, there is no guarantee she will find another spouse who is better in other respects and if they have been married for some time with children involved, a marriage deserves extra measures to try to preserve it.
A man who has the E.D. condition before marriage also has the responsibility of relaying that information to a prospective wife. On one occasion, I was told by a woman married to someone close to me that her failing marriage was due to the problem of E.D. Because the information was relayed to me in another language (I wasn’t not sure of what I had heard) and because I was unsure what I could do to help, I set the comment aside. After they were divorced, the former husband began to look for a new wife. The one and only time in my life I have ever been asked point blank if I knew of any reason a person should not marry was for this same man. I was unsure if the information I was told was correct or whether they were comments made by a woman scorned. Caught in a difficult situation I decided not relay the information to the questioner. After inquiring about the matter with a Sheikh, I was informed that I should have passed the number of the previous wife to the woman. He further mentioned that a man who marries knowing he has this condition yet withholds the information would be woefully sinful.
Option 2: Communication
What steps should be taken when a decision has been taken to stay in the marriage? The first and most effective step is to sit down and have a conversation in order to get an understanding of the problem. At some point, the wife should outline her needs. She should also encourage him to seek medical attention in a kind and loving manner, as medications and/or various treatments including psychological help are often effective. If he is smoking, she should encourage him to quit and try to inform him of fatawa which show smoking is haram and medical studies which show the negative effects of smoking, including how it may have caused the problem.
The husband does not want to have his image lowered in the eyes of his wife. He will already be suffering from poor self-esteem, so it is important to be compassionate. If the wife feels it would be better to address him in a letter, then this is also an effective way of getting her feelings and the information across.
Getting him to open up
The wife should try to reach her husband’s heart, looking her best for him, wearing clothes he likes and that special perfume he loves. Showing him kindness, having a cheerful disposition and trying to introduce something new to the daily routine, such as leaving a note in his lunch or taking a day off and going to beach, may also help him to open up and feel better about himself. If these things don’t help to start the conversation, bring happiness or encourage him to get medical care, then bring in a trusted and well-respected mediator.
In the meantime, the wife should try to distract herself by studying her deen and drawing closer to Allah (SWT) by increasing in ‘ibadah and good deeds. All Muslims have two weapons at their disposal during difficult times. Foremost is making du’a and asking Allah (SWT) who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them to send the husband a cure feeling certain Allah (SWT) will indeed help them. Finally, she needs to have patience. Being patient is an important way of dealing with any difficult situation. Allah (SWT) tests us all to see which of us will be patient during trials like this. The Prophet (SAW) advised Ibn ‘Abbas (RA): “Remember that there is much good in bearing with patience that which you dislike, and that victory comes with patience, and that with hardship comes a way out and with difficulty comes ease.” (Ahmad).
For all those who suffer in silence, may Allah (SWT) bring happiness and contentment to your marriage and make your husband a delight to you and bring you closeness in this world and in the Hereafter. Ameen.
 BMJ 2004;328:1037
Ann (Umameer) Stock reverted to Islam 27 years ago and lives back and forth between Cairo and Jeddah with her Egyptian husband.She has dedicated her life to raising the next generation of Muslims, beginning with her own children and grandchildren.