“There is so little conversation about a woman’s desire for sex that a lot of people simply assume it doesn’t exist.”

Patriarchy and Misogyny can’t survive without controlling female sexuality.

If the society stops punishing non-patriarchal expression of female sexuality, then nobody would care that chastity is romanticised and rewarded with    ‘approval’. Then rapes will be seen as crimes against people (not as crimes against honor, patriarchy or loss of virginity etc). Meaning, women will then be treated as people, and hurting them will be a crime.

We will see other changes too.

It will all begin with acknowledging that female sexuality exists.

Please read:

When women ask for it: Veena VenugopalKafila.org

“When did desire become a male privilege? There is so little conversation about a woman’s desire for sex that a lot of people simply assume it doesn’t exist…..

Truth is, female desire is as much a brute force as male desire….

Some of us take risks to indulge our desire. Some of us fight it, telling ourselves why this particular one is not good for us…

We probably don’t talk about what we desire enough. But we certainly think about it. So this will probably come as a surprise to you. When you proposition us, on the road, in the bus, or at a movie theatre, and we say no, we are not saying that we don’t feel any desire. We are simply saying that it’s not you who we desire.”

Related posts:

“Here’s why I think the society should not obsess over a woman’s virginity.”

Romanticizing innocence, chastity and related taboos for women.

“why not marry them first and then have sex ? What prevents you from doing it ? Deep within YOU WANT JUST SEX and nothing more”

Why exactly do we disapprove of Live-in relationships and Premarital sex?

She doesn’t feel any attraction or liking or even friendliness for the guy. No ‘Connection’

The coroner concluded that she was ‘sexually active’.

An email: Also this is a genuine question and not a pornographic mail.

13 things Indian Misogynists believe about men’s mothers and sisters.

“A clandestine, and irresponsible, affair may prove dangerous. A city girl learnt it the hard way,”

Live in Relationships: The man gets a temporary disposable wife?

Delhi Belly: Indecent, immoral, abusive language. Permitted everywhere except on screen.

Practical Paro Artless Chandramukhi (Dev D)

73 thoughts on ““There is so little conversation about a woman’s desire for sex that a lot of people simply assume it doesn’t exist.”

  1. As I got this in my in my inbox I am reading BHARTIYA SAHITYA MAIN MAHILAOON PAR ABHADR KAHAVATEIN ( indecent proverbs/sayings about women in Indian literature) a book by some Hindi publisher in Delhi.

    Often even language makes desire so manly that women are only viewed as recipients of attention,love,words full of vanity ( many a times unsolicited and forceful or even derogatory).for instance in our popular culture only men touch,see and hold,women just respond.

  2. “Rapes will be seen as crimes against people (not as crimes against honor, patriarchy or loss of virginity etc). Meaning, women will then be treated as people, and hurting them will be a crime.”

    You have totally nailed it. Rapes ARE a crime against people. They have nothing to do with honour and morality.

  3. I really enjoyed that article. And having gone through some of the posts you linked to above, am kinda shocked to realise that sexual desire and sexuality is still held to be the province of men.

    I have this habit of ignoring things I find silly….sometimes it leaves me utterly clueless about the society around me. :)

    What i am wondering about now is what percentage of Indian men [and for the sake of favourably skewed data, let's make it educated urban men] are comfortable with women who delight in their own sensuality. And how many of them actually actively enjoy having partners who are more than receptacles of their desires.

    • The men suffer from the same problem: they’re also told that women aren’t sexual beings, so they may also think there’s something “wrong” with a woman who openly takes initiative for sex.

      Other than this misinformation, having a partner who is an active and enthusiastic participant – and not just a receptacle, is of course a tremendous improvement for the sex-life of both men and women, so I’d imagine most men would find that to be the preferred thing – I certainly do.

      • Yes, I figured it might be something like that. Strange, innit, that a mode of communication that is about as personal and private as it gets has so many societal misconceptions floating around about it?

    • I’d say an infinitesimal percentage of men would delight in their partner’s display of unbridled sexual desire or confidence in their own sensuality.

      Indian men are conditioned to think of women as passive recipients of male desire who really don’t enjoy sex. The problematic association of female sexual interest with moral turpitude complicates it further.

      Any woman who displays a natural and healthy interest in sex is thought of as slutty and “characterless” that oh-so-Indian word applied to unconventional women.

      • A blessing, then, to find a partner who is as clueless about societal norms as one is oneself. For then it goes back to two people enjoying each other and themselves.

  4. You’re right. Horny women is the one thing conservatives are the most scared of. Mostly, we don’t talk about it at all. And if we do, we frequently romanticise it, to the point where it’s not clear what we mean at all. Boys are horny. Girls just “want to be loved”.

    So we tell boys that they’re “animals”. We equate innocence with “purity” which also strongly implies that if you’re not all that innocent, then you’re “dirty”, and should be ashamed of yourself. If you’re a woman, you may even be told that you’re ruined, that nobody could possibly love you or desire you now that you’re spoiled goods – now that you “gave away” the one thing that give you value: the possession of a vagina where no penis ever entered.

    This is insulting nonsense. A persons worth is not attached to the genitals. And the only thing that’ll really change if you have sex with someone you desire, is that you may walk around with a really silly smile on your face for several hours, in extreme cases even days. (also, you may or may not, end up feeling closer to the person you make love to)

      • Several reasons. Many of them don’t fully consider women as *subjects* in their own right, instead women are considered objects. Their existence and purpose is defined by what they can do for others. They are “owned”, and don’t really belong to themselves. Occasionally you hear this uttered explicitly: your virginity belongs to your future husband, thus if you “give it away” before you marry, you’re in effect stealing from him. Daughters are even in wedding-ceremonies “given away” by their fathers – to the waiting husband. One man gives the woman to another man. In contrast, nobody gives away the man, because he belongs to himself. (and have you ever heard anyone tell a man that his virginity “belongs to his future wife” ?)

        A woman who seduces a man is a subject. She’s *doing* something, as opposed to being a passive object that things are done to.

        Some conservatives also subscribe to a duality of mind and body, they see the two as distinct, and generally see the mind as good and the body as bad. This leads to puritan ideas like requiring that priests (in some religions) are celibate. Because while *mental* love is the highest good, *physical* love is dirty and sinful, at best it can be tolerated if combined with mental love. The worst thing a woman could do, according to these people, is to sleep with someone she doesn’t love in a romantic sense, say someone who’s just a friend, or even a stranger.

        As for why, if you feel you “own” the women in your family, then it’s an insult to you, and a loss of property, if the women suddenly claim to no longer be your property, but instead their own. If their sexuality is no longer something that’s intended to raise their “value” as a bride, but instead something that they themselves control.

        • So, basically, it threatens their system, their sense of control and most certainly their control over women. Reckon one can instead get them to focus on the sheer challenge, nearly addictive, of physical and mental self-control? Then lead them gently down the road called ‘respecting the other’ ? They’d probably have less time to worry about women who ‘need’ their guidance…..

        • I don’t have much hope that they can be changed. Change in these matters mostly happens in that old conservative people die off, and the young who grow up to replace them, sees things differently. I guess a -few- may be capable of change, but it’s not the norm.

  5. I loved the article from Kafila. I have always found it funny how movies show the wife saying, “Kya kar rahe ho ji?” and pushing the husband away when he tries to hug or kiss her as if it is only men who have desires, and women just restrain them or ‘submit’ out of a sense of duty. Gaaawd!

    • The movies certainly bring out the worst in us. Now we have all these so called ‘modern girls’ dressed in leather giving come hither looks – then all they do is go and dance and entertain drooling men. They don’t show them making a single important decision in the movie, Why can’t they have more women characters who take charge (like Kahaani)? They seem to have this clear distinction – black leather mini = bad girl, meant to titillate. Woman in saree/salwar/hundred bangles – good girl, no desires.

  6. I think Bollywood does represent the female gaze- but these are too few to count and are buried under the avalanche of male-desire portrayals.Also they often ‘cheat’- they show that the female character is having sex (any yuppy urban rom-com), but do not show her desire!

    I have mixed feeling about the movie Aiyya, but I liked how it dealt with female desire in a witty and yet explicit way. Rani did a good job of falling for a man on the basis of pure physical attraction and even the other female character(Myna) is extremely forthright about her lusting after John Abraham.
    I liked Paro and Chanda in Dev-D as well, but the portrayal of their was probably a little too edgy to be realistic.

      • And although not specifically about the female gaze (heavens, Manoj Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, were no Hrithik!), who can forget Zeenat Aman expressing her desire in “Hai, hai, yeh majboori?” Or the less glamorous Rakhee singing “Mujhe apni bahon mein soney do” and Jaya Bhaduri in “Bahon mein chale ao”. Hmmm….given that all this was circulating in the 1970s, maybe Indian society and culture became more prudish as time went on, rather than the other way around?

        • Or Nutan’s “Mora hora ang lailo, mohe shyam rang dai do, chup jaaongi raat hi main, mohe pi (piya) ka sang dai do….”

          Or the concept of Gandharva vivah in Puranas literature or concepts like pranay nivedan ( a request to make love)….

          And levels of prudishness in public morality are cyclical phenomenon, aren’t they? The Victorians did a lot of damage. And I guess a part of what we see today – the extremely vocal redefinition of ‘good but modern girl’, fr’ex- is a backlash to the changes that have happened since the independence.

        • I really think so. It’s not a sexual thing but even if you taking something as “motherly” and “womanly” as breastfeeding, I think the older generation was way more open about showing a little skin or boob while nursing their baby. Today, it’s quite impolite, maybe even bordering on obscene. if you don’t suffocate your child under a pallu/duaptta/blanket!

        • Wow… someone please tell me these ladies got a happy ending in these movies. Bahon mein chale ao- How could he refuse her?

      • I loved that scene! I think this is one of the few Bollywood romances I liked. Jodha is so proud and capable – and Akbar is no less – what a pair! Hrithik and Ash sizzled in their roles.

        • But she somehow doesn’t want to sleep with him for like a year after they marry, even though she ‘eyes’ him. When they do finally sleep with each other, they have to sing a looooong boring un-passionate song first. Another unrealistic bollywood depiction of lack of desire.

    • When we watched Aiyya in the theatre, the audience, mostly female, burst into laughter when the Dreamum Wakeupum song began.
      We could SO identify with Rani, barely able to control herself when HE was around.

      The hair, the biceps, the brawn – yummy! :)

    • That’s one possibility. Another possibility is: “I’d like that, but I fear that I’ll be considered a slut, or ‘spoiled’ or worse if I have sex, so I’m saying no anyway.”

      Of course, when a person (no matter the gender) says no, you must always assume that they simply don’t want to have sex. (atleast not with you, or at this time) But a sad side-effect of the shaming of horny females is that even if you are one, you’re unlikely to admit it. Because society won’t accept you otherwise.

      • Its just so convoluted. The repression of female desire exists along with tremendous social pressure on women to look sexually attractive and to please husbands in bed.

        It’s so contradictory. Women have to be sexually attractive, please men in bed BUT have no desire themselves.

  7. @Nisha:

    Couldn’t find the reply button, so a separate comment. Off the cuff, what comes to mind are the following:

    Susan Elizabeth Phillips – light hearted, laugh-out-loud funny romance novels.
    Tanya Huff, if you read fantasy and science fiction.
    Some of Kate Elliot’s books
    Some of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poetry – Madhushala is good. Not because of the female gaze but because some of his poems are gender neutral and oh so sensual.
    If I recall right, Christine Feehan’s ‘Dark’ series were both steamy and an equal distribution of male and female gaze.
    Janny Wurts – though most of her books are more politics than sex, her ‘Light and Shadow’ series do have one or two memorable scenes written from the female perspective.

    • Thank you Ritu. I am in a science fiction, alternate universe, fantasy phase right now. Romance has lost the sparkle, but I am sure that phase will be back. Tanya Huff seems the most interesting right now, but I will keep your other recommendations in mind too.

  8. Three of my prospective boyfriends simply ran away after getting to know my likes and interests towards certain things. One of them going to the extent of saying that he couldn’t have a slut for a girlfriend! All this when we hadn’t even talked about anything related to sexual intercourse. Even today some highly educated males take for granted and expect that their girlfriend/wife is innocent and ignorant to words like erotica, lust, porn, etc. It is expected that the male has to introduce certain things to their gfs/wives and which would be avoided by those ‘virtuous’ females who finally submit to the male desires.

    • I’ve also never understood how many men expect women to perform fellatio on demand but are horrified when you request reciprocal attention for your lady parts.

      One even told me he found the idea offensive and disgusting. Excuse me? That’s the part of the female anatomy that you came out of! Jeez.

  9. Sometimes I cannot comprehend how have we reached this stage of social/sexual prejudices… we live in the same place where kamasutra was written… however the taboo to talk about this subject and so many misconceptions have come about its seriously worrying… !

    • to some extent, we’re still under a colonial hangover and still subscribe to Victorian values while those who gave those to us have clearly moved on.
      more importantly, I now wonder if the kamasutra was only for courtesans and the good women had not heard of it!

      • Girls from good families were trained in those arts…64 of them, including political analysis, dance, music, chess, poetry etc…all the better to retain their husband’s interests.

    • Yes, we are the land of the Kamasutra. Kunti and Draupadi had 5 husbands. In Valmiki’s Ramayana, Sita chose to walk away in the face of mistrust and insecurity. In later versions (Tulsidas, etc.), her character was tweaked to become more and more docile. And look at the temple sculptures – women are proud of their bodies and desires. And the men in these sculptures desire these women. Go to any Shiva temple to see how brazenly the union of man and woman is celebrated. What about Radha – an older woman in love with Lord Krishna? Think of Kail’s ferocity and Saraswati’s wisdom. Where are these images now? Patriarchy and misogyny were not as entrenched in ancient India – they are modern constructs.

      • draupadi may have had 5 husbands but it was not her choice. she was forced into it by her… who was that? oh yes, her mother in law!
        in fact, she didn’t want any of them. she truly loved Karna and he her. I loved the book “palace of illusions” – Mahabharata narrated from draupadi ‘s point of view.

        • Exactly. I don’t think the Ramayana/ Mahabharata has any dearth of misogyny. To me, it reads like a rule book of misogyny. Draupadi had no choice in having 5 husbands, she was put on stake in a ‘satta’, Sita was put through agni pariksha (no agni pariksha for Rama) and then abandoned, pregnant with twins. She still apparently ‘worshipped’ Rama.

          I think we kid ourselves if we blame our culture largely on the victorians or the mughals. Read the manusmriti to see how women are ‘supposed’ to be treated in our culture. Oh and the Kamasutra might be open about sex but it’s not so open about choices. There are rules about men of which caste women and men can sleep with (more restrictive for women ofcourse) and many suggest that female desire is treated with contempt in the Kamasutra too. It is questionable whether the kamasutra teaches women how to seek pleasure or how to provide pleasure, but it would seem that it’s the latter. http://tehelka.com/the-misogynists-toolkit/

          We have very much inherited this culture of misogyny, ofcourse with contributions from victorians and mughals etc, but it is very much ‘ours’. If we identify that, we can trace it’s sources and actively disagree with them (in literature and around us).

      • See, Mimamsa was always a stream of Hinduism that was completely focused on heterodoxy. Unsurprisingly, that is what gained most traction when the colonial rule started, perhaps because it was the easiest for the British to identify with.

        But there always was a tug of war between those valued freedom and those who preferred control. So you had texts like Manusmriti too. The point of balance shifted from region to region, time to time.

        E.g. Draupadi never wanted 5 husbands ( really, who would?) but she was treated as an object and her wishes never taken into consideration because Ma had spoken. Kunti, otoh, was free to summon devas whether husband wanted sons but never felt free to acknowledge the first child she had borne. They were both working within the confines of patriarchal control. In Mahabharata, Subhadra, Ganga and Uloopi were perhaps the only three women who were actually empowered.

        • To me, it feels like Kunti had a fling with 5 different guys without committing to any one of them. Many of these stories may have been interpreted differently as we became more conservative over time? We’ll never know. Some people have compared the Ramayana to Greek tragedy – with (a more human) Rama being more of an Othello and Sita actually being attracted to a handsome Raavan. None of this is recorded history, so I guess we’ll never know if we were misogynist to begin with, or became that way over time.

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  11. The truth is, there is so little conversation from women itself that one will be forgiven to assume that they don’t have any desire at all. It’s such a taboo that even if a man wants to talk openly with his partner about intimacy he feels nervous. Contrary to that men are projected so much sex obsessed that it’s commonly accepted that men think only about sex. Talk about law of averages lol.

  12. I love this train of comments….one thing that me and my college friends would always wonder is why this desire was potrayed as so one sided….the moment women had access to the “stuff” internet access between the girls and boys hostels was cut. While the porn viewing continued in the male hostels. I was BOILING after the movie Cocktail because it potrayed these 2 characters that the society has stereotyped women into. I wonder how much is going to change when i hear about my generation wives being forced into bed without really being ready and so many indian men refusing to use protection because their pleasure is diminished!!!!!! And several of these are highly educated men, well traveled and living abroad. What good is all this education and exposure if u cannot have an independent and objective mind?

    • Amazing to hear that about the boy’s hostel, I guess they though ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘deserve/ need’ porn?

      My husband was just as disgusted as me with Cocktail. In fact, he couldn’t stand to watch all of it. There is some small change somewhere I think. I am heartened that my male friends agree with me and participate in my rants about the misogyny in our culture. :)

  13. Actually, it’s not just sexual desire. Isn’t that just an extension of all the other ‘controls’ imposed on women. Society chooses for them, what they should wear, how they must behave, who they must marry. Women are rarely given the voice, the chance to have their own desires; to want something for themselves. Unless ofcourse, their wants and desires conform with the patriarchal framework.

    • True. But it’s weird how many of these controls ultimately comes down to sex. Restrictions on clothing ? Sex ! Restrictions on interactions with the opposite gender ? Sex ! Marriage ? Sex ! A *lot* of the restrictions comes down to a fear that some behaviour may lead to sex.

      • The Manusmriti posits that women are more sexually excitable than men are. They are said to be inherently lascivious and easily aroused.

        Hence the Manusmriti advises men to control the sexual apetites of “their women” ie, mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.

        Somehow, the Manusmriti’s view of women has become the dominant view of women in our culture. I believe that’s where the paranoia about women’s desires stems from

  14. Hear Hear why are we women so scared of our own desire or to express it??? Well I am a woman and I am not ashamed to say I love to express my desires and have my likes and clear needs of what I want in bed. This shocks most men around me that it is ridiculous.

    Friend 1 – This guy is a macho man. A body builder who claims to have bedded a lot of women and can please a woman according to him (not that I have the desire to test this). So his wife does not sleep with him anymore as she is not very sexually inclined and Mr macho has started looking somewhere else. One day we were discussing Sex and he mentioned how he misses it especially because he is so good at it and cannot live without it. I was in a similar situation with my partner and I mentioned I miss it a lot too. He responds but you don’t know how much I want it. I am a MAN and I need it and you are a woman so you don’t want it as badly as I do. So clearly in Mr. Machos eyes a woman cannot have desire or cannot match his desire. Obviously I told him what I thought of him and where to stuff it.

    Friend 2 – Now this man claimed to have a wild streak and wanted to have an affair with me because he thinks I am a woman who can fulfill his desires. BUT when it comes to getting what I want and desire he feels I should not be so vocal about what I want as it is a big turn off for him. So clearly in his mind it is ok for him to have specific needs but I cannot have the same. Double standards much ;)

    These r just a few examples of how men view a woman who knows her body and knows what she wants from a partner in bed ;)

    • Bella, I completely understand. Indian men are terrified of women who are vocal about their sexual needs.

      They’d prefer a woman to be demure and eternally obliging. Blow jobs? My pleasure, oh lord and master. Sex on demand? What else am I here for? Your wish is my command! Of course, its my job to make you feel like a man even though you’re a bad lover! ;)

  15. @IHM :

    Polygamy was the norm then and what Subhadra grew up with. Her father had two wives, one of her brothers had multiple wives, her nephews had multiple wives….a man being married was no sign of ineligibility. :) And because of strong support from her birth family, she escaped all the troubles her husband would have dragged her into. She signed up for a marriage to a man she found appealing and that is all she had to deal with – no diktats from Ma-in-law, no insanities like exile due to political reasons, no public attempts to invade her physical/bodily privacy. No idea whether the empowerment was internalised by her but she certainly was empowered at the societal and familial level.

    Uloopi, of course, was only looking for a few pleasant days with a man she desired. And so that is what she claimed and went on with her life quite happily. Her last encounter with Arjun, when she saves his life, speaks volumes about the extent of her detachment. Basic good will for a man she had spent some lovely moments with and who never caused her any harm but nothing more than that.

    Also, @ Shail and @ Nisha: You are both quite welcome. :)

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