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In place of cuddling, you and your hubby haggle over how long foreplay should last. Instead of post-sex spooning, there’s only snoozing – and that’s you!

If this sounds familiar, you might be guilty of “pity sex”. It’s when you dole out sex because you feel you have to, or because… well, you feel sorry for your poor, sulky husband.

It’s a scenario that’s common among married women here. According to clinical sexologist Martha Lee, women are usually the ones giving pity sex – partly because our libidos tend to be lower than men’s and may plummet after giving birth.

Sure, not all women expect the same level of passion that they had at the start of their relationships… but is pity sex the only option and does it mean your marriage is in trouble?

“Is it over yet?”

The last time Cheryl*, 36 and her husband, John*, 37, both designers, had mind-blowing sex was six years ago. These days, sex with her hubby of 10 years is “tiring, boring and detached” – just another item to tick off on her to-do list. She gives in only because John tends to mope if she doesn’t. “I’m always exhausted and sex is just more work for me.”

The problems started after the birth of their first child. Cheryl lost her mojo while juggling work and mummy duties. She also resented how John continued to lead a bachelor-like life, meeting his pals for drinks and soccer.

Back then, the couple fought over how they weren’t doing the deed enough. These days, she’s “settled” by giving John sex at least once a month, in return for him coming home early on some days to spend time with the kids.

But this doesn’t change how sex still feels like an obligation. “I’m so tired that I just want to get it over with, so I can sleep,” says Cheryl.

She also feels she’s not alone. “Pity sex is pretty common among my friends, especially those whose husbands work all the time or are really hands-off when it comes to family,” she reveals.

“Honey, let’s not fight”

Yvonne*, 38, a sales representative, gives in to sex with her husband Paul* just to avoid arguments. “Whenever I tell Paul* I’m too tired, he’ll flare up and tell me that I’m not a good wife,” she says.

At his worst, Paul slams doors and gives Yvonne the silent treatment for days. When she tries talking about it, he clams up or changes the topic. “What can I do if he refuses to listen?” she says.

So she puts up with “mechanical, painful” lovemaking about twice a month. During the deed, she distracts herself by thinking of work or her kids until it’s over.

The couple’s sex life took a hit after the arrival of their third child a few years back. To make matters worse, Yvonne currently shares her bed with her youngest child – who is in kindergarten – while Paul sleeps on his own. She doesn’t want to sacrifice bonding time with her children while they’re still young.

She admits that she feels guilty about neglecting Paul’s needs, but she reasons that things will get better when the kids grow up.

Small price to pay?

The jury’s still out as to whether pity sex is necessarily a bad thing. While the women we interviewed admitted to lacklustre sex lives, they believe it does not spell doom for their relationships.

Cheryl and Yvonne insist that they still love their husbands. Pity sex aside, their marriages are going smoothly. “We’ve come this far and are doing fine. There’s no need to get a third party involved,” says Yvonne, when asked if she’d ever see a counsellor with Paul.

There are also benefits to “charity” sex, she says. For instance, Paul will be more aff ectionate towards her and spend more time with the kids. “It’s what I get for putting up with a little discomfort.”

Evelyn*, 30, an entrepreneur, feels that pity sex is her way of showing she cares. She has done it on numerous occasions to comfort her husband George*, 34, when he was feeling down – such as when he got fired from his job.

“It was a really lousy and depressing period for him… I wanted to do whatever I could to help him feel better about himself,” she says, adding that she did the same when he was grieving over his mother’s death.

She stresses that she always offers the sex voluntarily – and that she enjoys genuinely great nookie with George the rest of the time.

“Sure, pity sex isn’t as exciting as ‘normal’ sex, but I’m willing to compromise for his sake,” she says.

When you shouldn’t settle

As with most things in life, moderation is key. One or two sessions of pity sex probably isn’t a cause for alarm. But the expert view is that giving in too often will spell trouble for your marriage. “It shouldn’t be happening consistently over a long period, like six months,” says Martha. “Your husband can tell you’re faking it. Over time, he may assume that you don’t care about him or even that you’re having an affair.”

Having sex against your will can make you feel “used”, leading you to become resentful of your husband and erode your trust in him, says Daniel Koh, psychologist at Insights Mind Centre.

Having less sex – but making the occasions you do count – might be better than doling out the second-rate kind.

*Names have been changed.

Fix the problem!

Talk to your hubby about it. Instead of pushing the blame to him and asking questions like “why can’t you understand me?”, ask for his help – for instance, requesting that he take care of the kids so you have more energy in the bedroom.

Cut down on sex. Surprisingly, less, rather than more, sex should be your solution until you sort your issues out, says Daniel. “Pity sex shows that your relationship lacks basic things – understanding, communication and forgiveness,” he explains. “Solve the reasons that are making you give out pity sex first, and intimacy will follow naturally.”

This story was first published in HerWorld Magazine October 2014.

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