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It is also important to understand how men perceive this, and why women asking for sex and orgasms rock the boat of patriarchy. In a typical marriage, sex is important as much as the man wants it.
“I can talk to my patients about sex and having a baby easily but telling my husband to wear a condom was a challenge. It was an arranged marriage, what if he got offended.”- Dr. Anjali (name changed)
“My wife had done her Masters from UK, the way she would casually joke or talk about sexual things became an issue between my friends & family. They found her “too modern” and I started feeling insecure about satisfying her sexually.” – Mayank S. (IT Professional, name changed)
Indians, women included are definitely having a lot of sex if we just go by the number of babies we produce every year and only count procreative sex. But are Indians talking about sex?
Women are largely not talking about this, maybe in hush-hush whispers among female friends, but not in families, and definitely not in public or social media forums.
They are not to be blamed for this silence. Because a few of us who do talk about sex as trainers and researchers in the public domain face a lot of targeted harassment because of it online and a lot of ridicule and resistance in our real lives.
Sexuality implies various things to various individuals. For some, it could mean the sex and sexual practices, for others it could mean sexual identity and expression. Sexuality includes numerous thoughts and has numerous aspects.
Unfortunately for women their sexuality and identity are both still largely defined and erased by patriarchy. As a woman they are expected to always put the pleasure and needs of their partners before their own desire or satisfaction. Saying NO to a man can incur serious consequences in marriage and saying YES can have its own pitfalls too in terms of being labeled promiscuous.
“Sex before marriage has become commonplace and women’s sexual desire is intellectually accepted. But the expression of a woman’s own sexual desire collides with pre-conditioned ideas about sex and putting the man’s pleasure first.” writes Deepa Narayan, author of Chup: Breaking The Silence about India’s Women.
Indian women restrain themselves from initiating physical intimacy because traditionally women are seen and portrayed as passive partners in sex and initiating is equaled with “bad character.”
Many Indian women in this age and time also do not even have a name for their genitals, or even if they know the words would never say them out loud not even to a doctor or a partner. Such is the grip of fear and shame that is associated with the vagina, wombs and breasts. Though modern Indian women are changing their perspective about many topics and getting vocal about it publicly on social media there is a conspicuous silence around sex. Many of them still consider only marital sex as permissible and the sexual activity between a husband and wife as their “conjugal duty” primarily meant to satisfy the man.
Anupama Garg, Sexuality researcher and coach says, “For most women, their sexual needs are unmet largely. The frustrations then start manifesting in their crankiness depression etc. Some women tend to create substitutes to sexual relationships in societal bonding. In the relatively educated segment hush-hush extra marital affairs are rampant. A lot of them try to channelize their passion, like religion, or even some idiotic psychologists suggest. Some very aware women with access to resources use porn, erotica, and toys.”
It is also important to understand how men perceive this, and why women asking for sex and orgasms rock the boat of patriarchy.
Desire, arousal, and orgasm are the three principle stages of the sexual response cycle for any sexual being. Most women are taught culturally to negate or deny their desire, to never validate their attraction or arousal, and to never expect or ask for an orgasm.
Research indicates that though women are sexually active during adolescence, they reach their peak orgasmic frequency in their 30s. Women also have a constant level of sexual capacity up to the age of 55 and yet the only sex that the society “sanctions” for them is marital sex for procreation. No sex before marriage, not outside it and certainly no solo sex. So women never uttered the prohibited word anywhere.
Monika Kumar, Assistant Professor of English, PG Govt. College Chandigarh speaks from both lived experience and observation, “Because the world of men and women deeply affected by men (patriarchy) judge very harshly the women who talk about sex in the public, they do not initiate it. Because the ‘male gaze’ puts it in their mind that women initiating it are quite upstarts. Because they are just meant to respond to it obediently and they remain in sexless or sexually abusive relationship. Because walking out of a marriage because of something related to sex would mean losing all social support and inflicting upon herself a trauma she would not be able to come out of. In a typical marriage, sex is important as much as the man wants it.”
Veteran theatre artist Neel Dogra adds an interesting insight by saying, “(Men have)….the fear that he may think if she can ask me then she can ask anyone.” So, women’s desire is also inhibited because of the toxic masculinity so deeply ingrained in their partners.
Shivangi Shankar, a young doctor says, “Because an interest or even an acceptance of sex at all is often conflated to permanent consent and labelling. In a world where the likelihood of sexual abuse is so high, it becomes almost a survival instinct to want to remain a “good victim”, just in case. It also affects how you are perceived elsewhere and has an impact on opportunity and freedom. Well-meaning people often curtail freedom for protection. Therefore one chooses between speaking out and getting to live life as they know it.”
72% married Indian women interviewed for a survey by a medical portal in 2015 said that they were dissatisfied with their sex lives. Surprisingly in the same survey 98% of men said they were quite happy with their sex lives. This proves that women are not getting the sexual pleasure and satisfaction they need, while on the other hand men are getting it as they might often call the shots.
Lot of urban Indians are now seeking sex outside the purview of marriage even while staying married. Dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge are populated with married women in India who can afford to have a casual fling or a one-night stand. However the primary priority still remains keeping the social capital of the marital status intact.
In a society where sexual abuse is so rampant no discussion about sex can happen without speaking about the abuse that comes in the form of sex. Most children are subjected to some form of it at an early age and is one reason why there is fear, shame and stigma regarding it. Parents and families don’t talk about sex or indulge in any PDA so children grow up believing that sex is dirty and shameful. Many find it hard to even accept that their parents are sexual beings and they were born out of sex!
In India most women fluctuate between the two extremes of living in sexless relationships or living in relationships where sex is violence and violation of their consent and autonomy.
Dr. Jay Philips (name changed on request) who is a sexologist in Kerala says, “I think it is entwined in our culture/modesty. A famous young Malayalam actress told me in my Kochi hospital, that she masturbated every day to porn, since her husband ‘was not interested in sex’. I asked her why she had not filed for divorce. She said society & her millions of fans expected her to be a ‘cultured woman’. So it is basically a backward societal construct that makes women stay in a sexless marriage, never initiate sex in an intimate situation or publicly speak about sex.”
Further reading if interested.
Image source: a still from the film The Great Indian Kitchen
Pooja Priyamvada is an author, columnist, translator, online content & Social Media consultant, and poet. An awarded bi-lingual blogger she is a trained psychological/mental health first aider, mindfulness & grief facilitator, emotional wellness trainer, reflective read more...
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