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The pleasure of pleasure

1st September 2021

Written by Syeda Samara Mortada, SheDecides Regional Movement Supporter - Asia, Coordinator of Bonhishikha and a core member of the RageAgainstRape Movement in Bangladesh.

“Don’t sit with your legs like that”. “Don’t talk so loud”. These are few of the things that our mothers tell us and teach us, and us girls parrot this behaviour without understanding why. As we grow-older, the list of things that we can’t do mountains up, and the ones that we can do shrinks in comparison. As women, we often neglect our wellness, our bodies and our wishes and desires. Our bodies belong to our parents first, and soon enough to our partners and even children; but they are never really ours.

Image credit: Agathe Sorlet

Isn't it then odd to think that many women shy away from sex, or don’t enjoy it as much, when they start having it? Isn't it surprising, that sex for many women becomes a biological act, that one MUST perform only to have children? Isn't it also obvious that when finally, some women come out and start talking about their bodily needs and desires, that they are termed as vulgar, corrupt, and “asking for it”?

Here is an interesting fact: while 75 percent of men always reach orgasm  during sex, only 29 percent of women report the same. But when we talk about women feeling pleasure, the underlying notion remains one of shame - something one ought not to talk about.

Women’s bodies are still contested ground; they're controlled to not just limit their mobility and independence but also to take away her decision-making power through patriarchal systems and values. When women remain quiet about their wants and desires, be it at work, or in the bedroom, they are more than often giving way to power. But what does that say about women’s pleasure?

While our society continues to applaud men’s sexual prowess, who want and crave sex 24/7, women are looked at as providers, submitting to the man’s needs, and that is how the male gaze continues to dictate gender roles. From porn to popular media, the story remains the same; boy chases girl, girl says no, while she actually means yes. Girl gives in. And in this highly problematic narrative, the concept of consent is simply left void. Here’s a wild thought: what if we changed this narrative? What if the girl actually said what she wanted to do (or not do), in the bedroom? Or even better, what if women who ask for what they want sexually, are not portrayed as vamps, but are normalized?

The concept of body politics - of 'ownership' of your own body - is complex. But we know for certain that even today, women and girls don't have the right to decide when they go where they go, when they have sex and who they do it with, and when they have a child, or not, how many and with whom - even in “progressive” nations all around the world. It's acceptable for men to make art and films about women’s bodies, but when she takes ownership of her own body, she becomes scandalous.

The question is, what can we do about it? For starters, as men, you can start with asking your partners the next time you are about to have sex, if they want to or not. And then ask them, what they would like to do, or what they would have YOU do to them. It’s that simple. It’s also amazing to think of the things you can achieve, when you are both on the same page. I will leave it at that. Secondly, the next time you see a woman, who is open and confident about her wants, and about the way she leads her life, don't be judgmental. Give her credit for knowing what she wants and being able to claim what she deserves. Finally, if we are feeling very motivated, let’s try to read up on policies and laws that hold women back, every day and stop them from expressing themselves and living their lives to the fullest.

To women - I have but one request; even if difficult, and even though we have been told otherwise, let’s try to share our wants and desires, one at a time and let’s break those shackles of modesty. After all, if we cannot share them with our partners, what is even the point of it? Think of that one thing you craved to do, and then try it out. Or share them with your girlfriends. It does feel all the better. And most importantly, know your bodies, and yourself. And encourage your girls to do so too. Let’s not let their confidence be affected and let them not be blamed or shamed into remaining in unhappy partnerships because they don't know their rights. Let’s teach our sons to ask for consent, and to respect their partners’ choices. Let’s take back control of our bodies.

I decide what I do with my body, and when. Will you?