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It's a marital problem that is far too common, and needs to be pondered over. An excerpt from The Reluctant Mother: A Story No One Wants To Tell by Zehra Naqvi.
Books. Soul whisperers and dream-sketchers. They have kept me company when I have been the loneliest. Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk is a book that has attached itself to my heart like a blob of congealed blood. As I move through the pages I read of Helen dealing with her father’s death and, for the first time in two decades and a half, it feels like someone, one person at least, feels the same as I do. But I also read, mesmerised, about Helen’s hawk Mabel, about the author T.H. White and his hawks, and how perfectly all of these seemingly unrelated elements come together.
Then I chance upon a line, a perfectly innocuous, irrelevant line inside the pages of this Samuel Johnson Prize-winning book, and suddenly it is like a door unlocked inside me, whooshing open and letting in the answer to a question bubbling for so long in the cauldron of my mind, popping up fizz-like, every now and then.
Helen’s memoir also chronicles the life of T.H. White, author of the famous Arthurian Novels, and at one place, Helen explains why White’s parents’ marriage went haywire. Constance Aston, Terence White’s mother, married Garrick White, British District Commissioner of Police in Bombay, not out of love but to escape her own mother’s jibes about how difficult it was getting, financially, to keep her with them. And then, writes Helen:
‘The newly-weds travelled to India, and as soon as Terence was born, Constance refused to sleep with her husband any more. He took to drink and the marriage toppled into violence.’
Constance refused to sleep with her husband.
I have heard it so many times now that I’d probably have believed it, if not for the little fact that I could never identify with it.
‘Women want it less.’ No, make that ‘Married Women want it less’. Because the only jokes you ever hear are about wives who never want to have sex.
Why do women want it less? For the life of me, I cannot fathom why, because it certainly does not apply to me. I remember quite distinctly when I was being wheeled out of the labour room after giving birth to my son, my first thought was concern over how I would be able to ‘do it’, now that my case-relevant body parts were significantly mauled. And heavens be praised, I am not an exception. A vast number of women I know—close friends, acquaintances, neighbours, and such—complain of the unfair categorisation of women’s libido. In fact, so miffed was I with this gross stereotyping of the married woman’s libido, that I turned to Google to search for cases where wives wanted more not less, a reversal of the stereotype, and was astonished by the number of cases I found.
So, where are the wives that like to avoid getting busy in bed? In plenty of places, it would seem—a part of the answer I discovered while skimming through the internet chat groups. A man engaged in one of those discussions rather proudly declared that married life isn’t all about sex, that bringing up children is the most important part of marriage, and his wife was ‘cured’ of her ‘abnormally high’ libido once she had children—after which she was okay with having sex just twice or thrice a month.
How wonderful, Mr Pathetic.
I wanted to box that jerk’s ears. Buddy, did you ever give thought to the fact that child-rearing is becoming too taxing for your wife, so much so that exhaustion and frustration are killing her libido? Did you ever consider that you might help her in bringing up your children so she could relax a bit and get her desire back? Oh, I am sorry I forgot—you thought it was ‘bad’ and ‘abnormal’ in the first place, so you are obviously glad she got rid of it. Congratulations.
Overwork and exhaustion are definitely a part of the reason. They don’t just kill a woman’s libido, they kill a man’s libido as well. But again, as I read that line in H is for Hawk, I realised there is another reason behind it.
As soon as Terence was born.
Constance Aston might or might not have had contraceptive option around her, but I shudder to think of a world where every time you had sex, you were sure of getting pregnant. You would soon develop an increasing aversion to the former for fear of the latter. Even the highest libido would evaporate like morning dew in scorching June daylight.
No wonder then that the wives refused to have sex with their husbands, because I know I would surely be very, very sparing in partaking of the pleasures of a man, if every single portion of pleasure would mean nine months of horrendous vomiting, killing backache, thigh-aches, and splitting headaches, maybe even high blood pressure and high blood sugar, fainting spells, and a super-horrid culmination into the unspeakable torture of ripping a human being out of my body.
No. Thank. You.
And that, obviously, is why men are high on the ‘stuff ’: they never have to worry about any of the above-mentioned consequences. Do it, forget it. Leave the woman to deal with it. True, most men have to pay for the child’s upbringing. But not everyone does that either. And then again, a super- wealthy man could bring up, oh say, 6 kids just fine. The super-wealthy woman would still have to rip them out of her body, one at a time.
I think I just need to glorify the universe for birth control right here, for we can now indulge in the pleasures of our partner without constantly worrying about increasing the family size.
But I am forgetting one very crucial aspect here—women who are actually eager for motherhood but ironically are not rooting so much for intimacy. The kind of women who don’t fear pregnancy but fear the act itself. Because traditionally, women had little access to information about physical intimacy, and men weren’t really taught to be considerate in bed, the entire experience could not have been anything except one-sided and unpleasant. And you wouldn’t be fool enough to keep wanting something that brought either pain or vacant numbness with it, rather than mind-boggling ecstasy. The whole thing about having a high libido is that you enjoy the act, not go through the motions just for duty’s sake.
Carl Jung’s analytical psychology explains how mental concepts—fear, mother, God, and such—are passed on to future generations much like inherited skin colour or hereditary disease, through the collective unconscious.
So, we have entire female generations inheriting the fear of sex, which is only countered if they live in an environment where women’s sexuality isn’t frowned upon. For the most part, that kind of environment is extremely hard to come by. Good girls don’t have naughty thoughts—that is what you are always taught.
The more you deny your sexuality, the better you are at being the proverbial ‘good girl’. But I wouldn’t want to be a good girl in my nuptial bed. That is my place to let the naughty go wild. Married women like me, we want more. A lot more. Which is a horrible cross to bear when you are a continent away from the man you married, the one man that you desire.
This excerpt has been published with permission from the publishers, Hay House.
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Image source: a still from the film anthology Bombay Talkies, and book cover from Amazon
Zehra Naqvi is the author of 'The Reluctant Mother: A Story No One Wants To Tell' , published by Hay House India.
Zehra is an independent journalist who has been writing for a decade on gender, read more...
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