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In popular imagination, masturbation as an act of self-pleasure is associated solely with men. Public discourses are replete with myths surrounding women’s masturbation.

“Women don’t masturbate.”

“Women can’t orgasm.”

“Women can get pregnant if they masturbate.”

“Women can lose their virginity through masturbation.”

Most people believe these ideas, including women themselves. However, these are simply false!

Why is women’s self-pleasure and sexuality so misunderstood? Well, in our society sex is generally a big taboo. Open conversations about sex are frowned upon and sex-education is a rarity in Indian households and schools. However, women’s sexuality is an even bigger taboo. Controlling their sexuality has long been used to justify increased surveillance on their movements and who they interact with. Women’s bodies in India hold not only their own, but also the honour of the family and larger community. Encouraging sexual expression for women is viewed as a gateway to the most dreadful possibility of premarital sex!

Women’s sexual urges have been repressed and regarded as ‘abnormal’ throughout history.

In the 19th century, women with ‘excessive’ sexual urges were diagnosed with ‘female hysteria’ (by male doctors), a psychological disorder that was thought to be caused by insufficient sexual satisfaction of excessively passionate women. Institutions across the US and the UK, such as the ‘London Surgical Home for the Reception of Gentlewomen and Females of Respectability Suffering from Curable Surgical Diseases’, set up in 1858, routinely offered clitoridectomy as a ‘cure’ for conditions ranging from hysteria to mania, idiocy, insanity, and urinary incontinence.

In England, such operations performed on women who had sought divorce under the new 1857 Divorce Act, a behaviour that was interpreted as an obvious symptom of mental illness, and who after the operation conceded to return to their husbands. 

Genital mutilation was used as an instrument for the disciplining of non-normative femininity. The only legitimate female sexuality was that which was in response to male desire. Anything outside of it was pathologized and seen as an abnormality.


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