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When Women Dare Not Speak Of Desire

Posted: April 15, 2013

Why are Indian women hesitant to talk about – or even admit to – female sexual desire?

For a culture that gave us Khajuraho and the Kamasutra, we are a relatively squeamish bunch when it comes to sexuality; women more so than men. We refuse to acknowledge that we are living, breathing, sexual creatures. But the truth that every woman knows, whether she acknowledges it or not, is that female sexual desire exists and is a strong, powerful force, equal to and perhaps even surpassing male desire, if not reined in constantly. 

To men, brought up on the myth that the Indian woman is an asexual creature, submitting to intercourse primarily as a duty to her spouse and for the purpose of procreation, female sexual desire is an unknown concept. A report titled ‘Women in AIDS‘, compiled by the All-India Women’s Conference (AIWC), in collaboration with NORAD, a Norwegian development agency, spoke with 750 middle-class women between the ages of 18 and 60 across India.

According to Dr. Manorama Bawa, from the research team, “Once we started talking candidly, their inhibitions simply vanished. Then they wouldn’t stop talking about their unrequited sexuality. The male myth about women not wanting to talk sex was shattered. Our women are crying out to know so many things. ‘Humko nasha kyon nahi hota?’ (Why don’t we have orgasms?), was a common query.

According to Anjali Gopal, executive director of Naaz Foundation, an HIV/AIDs and sexual health agency “At least 60 per cent of the women I have met in the course of field studies say they don’t enjoy sex at all. That is because they have probably never experienced an orgasm.

The silence around female sexual desire

This lack of knowing what an orgasm feels like is probably the most telling statement of what is wrong with how the Indian woman experiences sex. She is rarely empowered enough to demand that her partner pleasures her in a manner that leads to her reaching an orgasm. For most Indian women, sex is primarily about satiating the male desire, towards achievement of the male orgasm. The female orgasm is a mythical concept much like the unicorn. Few men take the effort to pleasure their partners to orgasm – few women dare tell their partners what pleasures them enough to help them climax.

For most Indian women, sex is primarily about satiating the male desire, towards achievement of the male orgasm.

We don’t have the vocabulary to articulate desire, because we are taught never to speak of it, both men and women. When men talk of desire, it is with the self consciousness of speaking of something connected to a construct of machismo and masculinity and not a natural biological urge. When women speak of female sexual desire, it is with embarrassment, guilt and often concern that they are transgressing social boundaries. Add to this, the all pervading deification or vilification of women in two absolute extremes –the devi or the whore, leads to a fear of expressing one’s sexual needs.

Why are Indian women hesitant to express their desires?

The ideal woman is shy and submissive, content to let the man take the lead in matters sexual. The sexual woman is a threat to the masculine fabric of our society. The good Indian woman doesn’t demand orgasms. She doesn’t acknowledge that her levels of desire might be stronger than that of her partner’s. She shies back from initiating intercourse for fear of being perceived as either a nymphomaniac, or immoral, both damning indictments in our cultural context.

Is this because of the lack of a woman’s right over her body, which is viewed as the repository of male honour and bound by unwritten codes of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour? Is this because of the entrenched atavistic concept that a woman’s acknowledgement of sexual needs must come from a lack of morality?

To quote Dr. Sarojini Sahoo who has written extensively about how female sexuality is perceived as a threat to traditional patriarchal societies, “Women are denied the right to express themselves as sexual beings. They are discouraged from taking an active role or even allowing themselves to experience the act as pleasurable…. If a female admits to feeling sexual pleasure, her own husband may misunderstand her and regard her as a bad woman, believing she has engaged in premarital sex.

According to feminist author Rita Banerji, women in India have never had a sexual revolution, in the same manner that the feminist movement in the West has had. Consequently, Indian women do not have the same kind of rights and choices over their body and sexuality.

Learning to embrace female sexual desire

Things are changing though, slowly and surely. Indian women are dropping the social constructs of the ideal woman and opening up to experimentation, sexual aids, fantasizing and more. Women are slowly and surely, accepting that being sexy is not a vilification and that acknowledging female sexual desire is not an indictment.

Sexual fulfilment is not viewed as a lucky bonus from intercourse any longer for some women, a small percentage, in the urban and semi-urban space, but demanded as a right. According to the 2012 India Today Sex Survey, “Women from small towns are treating themselves equal to men, in the bed at least. Sixty per cent of them in small towns, compared to 49 per cent in metros, have an equal say in sexual matters.

The sexual woman is a threat to the masculine fabric of our society. The good Indian woman doesn’t demand orgasms.

Women are picking up condoms from supermarket shelves, they’re buying themselves lingerie, they’re enquiring about vaginal tightening gels, buying sex aids like vibrators and using them to reach orgasm and being insistent about their right to experience orgasms. They’re visiting sexuality counsellors and reading up about sexuality.

Financial independence and the availability of contraception are playing their part in giving Indian women the freedom to express their sexuality. They might not be talking openly about female sexual desire yet, but they’re taking baby steps towards acknowledging it exists. Someday, they might just dare to speak about it. And that, perhaps, will be the start towards true equality of the genders in our society.

*Photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

Popular mommy blogger and Author of The Reluctant Detective.

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  1. Kiran,

    Am glad that you did dare to write on this topic. It is indeed very sad to realize how majority of our female fraternity is either unaware of unable to express their desires comfortably to their partners. Offcourse a equal effort is required from the opposite gender to realize that its a activity that both indulge in to attain equal pleasure and if thats lacking then there is something required to be done about it.
    But I agree to the fact that, times are changing and women now are trying to break the barrier and have chosen to speak up.
    Like you, I too hope and pray that we shall soon experience the true gender equality in our society.

    • Yes but it start in city ,city girl and educated girl demanding & express her desire freely with spouse or Lover. so you will se a huge change in society very soon.

  2. While on the subject, I love how the ‘7 Points’ episode of ‘Friends’ ended: 😉

    I was watching some old bits from the series and remembered your piece when I finished this particular video!

  3. I really liked this post and in fact it truly portrays what Indian women face when they start talking about these things. There are bunch of questions standing before your character if you cross your mark and don’t know why the earlier society was so ruthless to women just because they were not the bread earners and it is the price we are paying today for the earlier developed notions which are so hard to erase.

  4. Hi!! I am a student of clinical psychology doing my dissertation on sexual desires and inhibition of unmarried women. If readers or the authors could give me ideas or contents that would be interesting and relevant to the topic I would consider including those and well as acknowledge their names in my research! come on women! lets take a step ahead in getting to understand some ideas deeply embedded in our psyche being a part of a patriarchal society. I need yur support. Here is my email id if yu wanna give suggestions and I really hope yu do: smdhsharma18@gmail.com

  5. hiii…nice to read ur post…even i agree with dis suppressd desire of women..I also feel that women desire is not acceptble..i have an experience to share..i ws been dating with my bf for 2years and once in our 2 yrs love life for d first time i initiated our love making even though he enjoyed it was difficult 4 him to digest my sexual desire which he mentioned to b an outburst..

  6. This is one of the best posts I have ever read! Loved it!

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  8. Sheila Tharyan Desai -

    Great article. Into this land of enlightenment, let our men awake!

  9. B.N.Chattopadhyay -

    Unlike men, Indian women treat sex on an emotional ground. Good woman image of Hindi films totally gets distorted once they are married and do not try to share happiness and enjoyment in sex The real sex communication is utterly lacking. I would be suggesting them ( both boys and girls) to discuss also about sexual interests in both love and arranged marriages. In case, they can’t speak out , then a simple 10 points questionnaire to fill would be another option to resolve the issue.

  10. I’m 52 male from Mumbai & would like to connect with any teenage girl as a mentor purely to discuss intimacy issues n how to tackle n stay stronger than men’s.
    Feel free to contact on sachinde1980@gmail.com or 9930824124

  11. Pingback: When Women Must “Measure Up”: The Ambivalence Of Women Empowerment – PonderingPauses

  12. Pingback: When Women Must “Measure Up”: The Ambivalence Of Women Empowerment – Pondering Pauses

  13. Sanjay Mukherjee -

    This article is indeed an eye opener and value addition in understanding the trend.

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