Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for February 2023 is Love In Post Modern India. We invite submissions on this theme throughout the month. If you would like to contribute, kindly refer to our submission guidelines and email your articles to email@example.com
In any given society, especially within those that we are familiar with in the Indian subcontinent, sex and pleasure are complicated conversations to broach within different social contexts. Sex and pleasure are still regarded as taboo topics across the board today, though prevalent attitudes have changed from the times of our predecessors under colonial rule due to the influence of increased awareness and the feminist revolution.
But despite the taboo being all-encompassing across people and generations, it has disproportionately harmed women more in a number of ways, hence the need for a feminist revolution to bring about a change in altering people’s perceptions surrounding sexuality.
Girls have been regarded as the property of their fathers during adolescence to groom into women fit for marriage by providing them with an acceptable level of education and a suitable dowry, including jewellery and clothing. These women, and effectively their bodies, thus become the property of their husbands who demand brides that are “pure” or virginal to fulfil their ideal of a wife who is to cater only to their sexual needs without any scope for competition or comparison from past or future sexual partners.
Ultimately, sexual intercourse is viewed only within the confines of marriage as a means to satiate the sexual desires of the husband and bring pleasure to him only, and to provide him with children, and while the sexual revolution has trickled down from America to India, bit by bit, there is still a long way to go before sex is no longer considered such a taboo. Even today, most people’s first experience with sexual intercourse and pleasure is within a conjugal relationship, but even within the demographic of adult singles, only 2% of women have reported having sex as compared to 11% of men in the 15-24 age range.
Power equals pleasure
Our understanding of sexual intercourse is based on long-standing norms that have come to power with the focus of sex being skewed towards the gratification of the male partner. In fact, when Durex conducted its Global Sex Survey in 2017, it discovered that around 70% of Indian women do not orgasm during sex, while 80% of Indian men do. With such an imbalance in the established pattern, women are denied autonomy within intimate relationships. This attached shame and stigma to women who expressed or desired sexual fulfilment during intercourse as well, as it was believed that women were not sexual beings in their own right, that they were passive objects upon which sex was to be enacted rather than active participants in the act.
This line of thinking further encourages the culture in which sexual violence towards women occurs and is safeguarded to maintain order. Men view sex with their female partners as something they are entitled to, in addition to single-mindedly relegating it to be in favour of their own sexual gratification with no consideration for whom he engages in it with.
Given the phallocentrism of heterosexual intercourse, homosexuality is placed under the scrutiny of men, especially in regards to sexual intercourse between two women, and discounted or deemed unfeasible if not outright condemned. Female homosexuality is regarded as a “threat” to the family unit as it creates a space where both parties enter into sexual intercourse on equal footing. Regardless of whether she has sex with a man or a woman, a woman will always be treated with disdain for showing signs of promiscuity while a man will be lauded for his feats or sexual prowess.
“Slut shaming” is now a term that has amassed a great deal of traction, both online as well as offline, as women struggle to reconcile the derogatory phrases and treatment that they are subjected to for the simple crime of acting on their own desires, with the rise of feminism in the mainstream.
Though feminists have strived to remedy it in the modern age, the media that men and women are exposed to from a young age drives home the message that, once again, men are entitled to women as they cannot control their innate sexual urges, whereas women serve the sole purpose of being vessels for their desire in every facet. Even today, advertisers cannot sell so much as a car without the adoption of female sensuality as a marketing trick. With all these factors at play that aim to rob women of their own autonomy, how are women expected to reclaim their right to experience pleasure in their own bodies?
An everyday girl’s guide
Most feminists live by the principle that “the personal is political” and what could be simultaneously more political yet more personal than one’s sex life?
While it is relatively less complicated to apply one’s politics to our exterior lives in regards to how we present and conduct ourselves, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, especially romantic and sexual ones, matters become more nuanced and thus difficult to broach.
It can be questioned if romantic and sexual relations with men can ever truly be “empowering” for a woman under the patriarchy, but it would be more productive to question how women can still seek out healthy relationships and fulfil their desires within the paradigm the patriarchy presents them with.
Within the realm of sexual intercourse, men need to make an active effort to start treating their female partners as active participants by facilitating direct and honest communication to ensure that both parties are able to fully enjoy an intimate moment with each other by discovering their compatible interests. Additionally, they should start opening up to flipping the standardised script that intercourse follows to allow room for both parties to explore and test the boundaries of the sex they would like to engage in.
With these steps in mind, perhaps the greatest priority is, in the act of bringing a feminist rewrite to the bedroom, simply making sex education more accessible to the masses and helping women actually understand their bodies and how they function better. This can be done on an individual level by deep diving into the various easy-to-read books available to get a better idea of the female anatomy, and on a larger scale by simply sharing this awareness within the public sphere through day-to-day interactions and social media.
This particular sex education should also be accessible to men, not only if they are interested in being better partners to women, but also from an awareness standpoint to be better allies to women by making the effort to understand them and their bodies.
We live in a brave new world and women need to be bolder in asking for what they truly want rather than being repulsed by their own desires as they have often been conditioned to. Every woman is different and what works for one woman may not work for the other, prioritising one’s pleasure is simply about honesty with oneself and, furthermore, one’s sexual partner.