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If I’m A Woman Who Openly Likes Sex And Handcuffs, It Doesn’t Mean I’m Mentally Ill

Posted: June 13, 2021

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Whenever a woman displays autonomy and agency in a way that makes men uncomfortable, whether through sexual freedom or calling them out on their abusive behaviour, men call us insane.

It was two months before graduation and I was sitting in front of the college counsellor I had been mandated to see if I wanted to graduate. I had excellent grades, several job offers and a vast array of extra-curricular activities, but that wasn’t enough. Because I also had tattoos, piercings all over my face, blue hair and a penchant for organising protests.

“There has to be a root cause,” the counsellor said to me, “Some underlying issue that is making you act out this way.”

When my ‘wildness’ set off alarm bells at college

Like many institutions in India, my college also engaged in the moral and physical policing of women and any rebellion against established dress-codes or accepted social behaviour was cause for alarm. In my case the alarm was sounded almost as soon as I started attending the institution and it continued to be sounded until the day I left.

“I don’t understand what you mean,” I told the counsellor, “I don’t see what the issue really is here.”

“This behaviour of yours..” she said gesturing towards my face and hair, “…it is not normal, there has to be something causing it. I have seen many girls like you, you didn’t get enough attention at home and maybe you think acting wild will make up for that. It’s a mental health issue.”

There it was. The oft-touted yet rarely discussed belief that when a woman acts ‘wild’ she is mentally ill.

Why was I considered a ‘wild woman’?

Personally, I don’t quite understand the concept of a “wild woman” but I have been called one often enough to have parsed together an explanation of the term.

A wild woman is one who deviates from the norm in terms of appearance, whether that is by shaving her head or piercing her tongue or colouring her hair or wearing a lot of black leather, it doesn’t matter.

A wild woman is one who insists on living alone, going out whenever she wants, dating openly and frequently without necessarily falling in sanskaari love each time.

A wild woman is one who makes the first move with men, has sex, and even more so one who has freaky, taboo sex (or because this is India, just plain vanilla pre-marital sex will qualify).

A wild woman is one who is fearless, makes her own decisions and challenges authority without being afraid of it.

If this description of a wild woman just sounds like the definition of an empowered woman, congratulations you have a brain!

In my college, the authority entrusted to aid the mental health of students had decided that women like me were mentally ill because we stuck metal through our eyebrows and wrote “priests shouldn’t be allowed to rape” on placards.

When my mother discovered my interest in bondage…

It was not the first time I had encountered something like that. The first time was when I was 18-years old.

I had just graduated from school and I was on a trip to Japan before starting college. Back home, my mother found some rope, handcuffs and a journal in the drawer in my room. Panicked, and with a tone so dire you’d think someone had died, she called me. She told me what she had found and screamed at me for being so disgusting.

“It’s okay, you’re sick,” she said as if explaining it to herself, “If you want to go to college, you have to see a psychiatrist as soon as you come back, this behaviour of yours it’s a sickness, and we can cure it.”

Sorry mom, the sickness is still uncured, but I do have much better handcuffs now.

… I was made to see a psychiatrist

Call it luck or extreme common sense but I never associated mental illness with what I have been told is deviant sexual behaviour. I just liked what I liked, and when my mother displayed a panic so extreme in response to a little bondage, I did not quite believe that I had a disease.

When I returned home I was made to see a psychiatrist. When I explained that I practised an ethical and safe promiscuity clubbed with these sexual practices, the doctor diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. She said that my general rebellious attitude (because, you know, it’s rebellion to call the patriarchy by its name), risk-taking behaviour (aka not studying science and having casual sex), desire to move far away from home and deviant sexual behaviour (the handcuffs) meant that something was wrong with my brain. She suggested medication that was unnecessary, tight control by family and God — The preferred prescription of Indian psychiatrists.

For a minute, I considered taking the medication and embracing my diagnosis, but my ‘wildness’ reminded me that I was eighteen, already enrolled in college and could move out without any legal consequences. I chucked the medication, and moved out.

But that didn’t stop expectations of ‘good’ behaviour

While living alone I noticed a lot of resistance towards me by figures of authority. Teachers, landlords, neighbourhood aunties, that one motherly friend everyone has, they were all constantly ‘concerned’ about me.

That is what happens when you are the ‘wild’ one. In India we have a cultural expectation that dictates that women who live ‘alone’ (or in hostels or PGs) will conduct themselves on the basis of the principles and controls they were taught at home. Those of us who can move out are allowed to get an education and have jobs but we must display that we are ‘good’ girls and we have learnt the morals that make us good girls. That we won’t drink, stay out late at night, have sex with other women, bring men home, say fascism is bad or cut our hair short. If we do that, society deems that we are mentally ill even when we are employed, educated, tax-paying, yoga-doing members of society. If you wear a lot of black and sit alone at bars, eventually they will conclude that something is wrong with you.

There is nothing wrong with me. I have led a very happy life and I am extremely well-adjusted. I have emotions and I know how to express them constructively. I have a job and I know how to do it well. I have multiple degrees and I worked hard to get all of them. I have happy relationships and I work at them. I don’t have Borderline Personality Disorder but I have been handed that diagnosis more than once because in India we have a lot invested in turning the wild girl into a cautionary tale.

The men who love pornography but judge women who own their sexuality

That’s not the only response though, there is a group of people who love the ‘wild girl’ and that is the men we date. In theory, they absolutely love the idea of an independent woman who’ll get on top and bring a blindfold into the bedroom.

Did I say in theory? I meant, in pornography.

Men in India love the pornographic version of this woman and when they do chance upon it, they love having sex with it. What they do not love is bringing her home, or passing up the opportunity to condemn her for her lack of morals.

Many years ago I went home with a man I had met in a nightclub (and yes, of course, I took a friend, I shared my location, I had a condom), and we slept together. It wasn’t my first time doing that, and it wouldn’t be my last. Later in the night we were sitting on his balcony and he was telling me that he had seen me leaving with a different guy on a different night at the same club. It was plausible, I was very loyal to my clubs.

“Why do you do this?” He asked me, “Don’t you feel like you are degrading yourself?”

It’s sad but it wasn’t surprising that a man who had just had sex with me was questioning my morality.

Of course, he was convinced I was a slut…

“I enjoy it,” I told him, “And sometimes I meet great people.”

“But you can’t really be enjoying it,” he said as if that was obvious, “Something always causes behaviour like this, no one likes behaving like this, some kind of self-loathing…”

It’s the age of armchair-psychologists and I would have had more of an issue with it if actual psychologists didn’t say things like that too.

“If you have an issue with slutty women, why would you take me home?” I asked him standing up and preparing to leave.

He stood up and without missing a beat, he slapped me. A stranger who knew nothing about me, slapped me because he didn’t agree with my life-choices. He apologised immediately and explained that he only did that because I clearly needed help, and I was clearly hiding a lot of pain. I threatened to call the police and left.

Men like that, they have a tendency to think ‘wild women’ need to be cured and it can only be done with their ‘love’; the concept of a woman who makes her own sexual decisions based purely on pleasure with a lack of self-loathing does not compute for them. Whenever a woman displays autonomy and agency in a way that makes men uncomfortable, whether that is through sexual freedom or calling them out on their abuse behaviour, men dub us insane.

We’ve all heard the jokes married men make about how their wives make their lives miserable by expecting them to sweep and change diapers, right? This is an amplified extension of that gaslighting.

But they all think marriage is a ‘cure’ for women’s ‘wildness’

There is an end to it though, and the end is as demeaning as the rest of it. Marriage is apparently the cure for wildness and by default a cure for the ‘mental health issues’ associated with it.

When I got married, suddenly, all the people who thought I had been too wild all my life believed that I had ‘settled down’ into stability. Numerous people who had known me my entire life told me they thought that because of my issues I would never get married, and it was nice to see that I was able to overcome my wildness.

That’s what we expect, we expect loud, bold, promiscuous women to ‘realise the error of their ways’ and settle into normalcy. They expected me to condemn my ‘previous’ life and use my marriage to make amends for it.

Marriage is the cure because we are aware of the type of control we allow men to exert over women in marriage. There is a belief that marriage is the tool to tame the shrew, and the mere act of being in a marriage is admittance of error on the part of the shrew.

I admit no error though

I was never a wild woman.

I am a woman who likes sex and handcuffs; that doesn’t make me sick.

I like casual sex; that doesn’t make me a risk-seeker.

I like other women; that doesn’t make me a slut.

I stand up for my rights; that doesn’t make me difficult.

I openly and honestly date outside my marriage; that doesn’t make me self-destructive.

None of it makes me mentally ill because doing what I want is not a disease, it’s my right, and I’d rather have a scarlet letter tattooed on my face than medicate for being myself.

Image source: a still from the film Manmarziyaan

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Aarushi Ahluwalia is a freelance journalist currently based in J&K who works on

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