Why Is The Patriarchal Structure Working Overtime To Silence Women’s Right To Sexual Pleasure?

Posted on May 13, 2014

By Anju Anna John:

It started in the Genesis, where the good Lord decided that Adam needed a ‘helper’(1), and thus made ‘Eve’. Adam on seeing Eve said, “…she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.” And there we see the first time when a woman was put in ‘her rightful place’. History is replete with instances when women played out the roles of harems, concubines and sex slaves; varying in degree, but all just different forms of subjugation at the end of the day!

Forget the Bible, the harems or even the strip clubs of the present day. Even the very institution of marriage that strives to unite man and woman seem to be promoting male sexual dominance in our patriarchal society. Married women are looked at primarily as an object to satisfy male sexual pleasure. The Justice Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law suggested the removal of the exemption of marital rape which was premised on the notion that marriage was proof of a woman’s irrevocable consent “to have intercourse with her husband at his whim”. However, the government rejected this proposal and justified its move by stating that such an amendment “has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage.” An ideal wife according to our Indian culture is duty-bound to let her husband have intercourse with her. Thus, religion and culture also play a role in the objectification of women in the sexual context.

right to pleasure

It is in this context that I would like to discuss the matter of women’s right to pleasure. Sexual pleasure has been defined as the “physical and/or psychological satisfaction and enjoyment one derives from any erotic interaction”. In the public domain, sexual rights have generally focussed on the negative consequences of indulging in certain sexual practices rather than its relation to recreation and pleasure. However, sexual rights are not just important in terms of reproductive rights but also with regard to gender equality.

It is worth considering that, in many Indian languages, the words used to refer to female genitalia often double up as swear words of the vilest kind (I refer here, to words like MC, BC). I was once at a meeting regarding Women’s Health Issues, where a Frenchman working for the UNICEF lamented about the difficulty in educating women in their local languages about Women’s Health considering the fact that there are no appropriate words to refer to the female genitalia in a pleasant way.

However, this problem is not restricted to India. The closest male-equivalent to a ‘nymphomaniac’ would perhaps, be ‘satyriasis’, but that word is rarely used. Instead, we refer to excessive sexual desire in men with terms like ‘womaniser’ or ‘playboy’ that almost seem to commend such behaviour. Prostitution too is largely an industry that caters to male sexual needs, gigolos are still a rare concept.

The patriarchal structure has worked overtime to silence women’s right to pleasure. In this setting, a male approaches coitus as a ‘conquest’; an act of gaining power. And therefore, it leaves the female playing the role of the ‘object’ of the conquest and thereby, losing power(2). Traditionally, porn has also gone on to further this perspective by placing importance on the male climax, portraying sex as something men do to women, and focusing on the ‘male gaze’ whereby the scenes are shot in a manner that it focuses on the female body and allows for the male viewer to imagine himself with that woman.

However, in recent times, there has been a surge in feminist porn that seeks to portray sex in a feminist fashion. This way, the viewers get to see genuine female sexuality. Producers of these films focus on the actors’ entire body, and encourage these actors to enjoy themselves. This way, the porn footage is not only catering to the average heterosexual male, but to the female audience too.

A discussion on women’s right to pleasure would be incomplete without a discussion on orgasm. The clitoris, located above the vaginal opening is the only organ in the human body that is solely for the purpose of sexual pleasure. However, there are more than 125 million girls and women today, living across 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East who have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) in an attempt to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore, curb her from indulging in ‘illicit’ sexual intercourse . Here again, we see a male-dominated society that looks at women as sex-toys that men use to reach their climax. Once that is attained, they do not really care about the ‘needs’ of the ‘sex-toys’ (or much worse, they think the sex toy should not enjoy the act even remotely).

Further proof of this would be the fact that there are various drugs available in the market to treat male sexual dysfunction (Viagra being the first and more ubiquitous one of the lot!), but not a single one to treat female sexual dysfunction(3). If men and women really are equal in the society, it is high time that they came up with medicines to address the woman’s need for a satisfying sexual life.

However, it is not all bad for women today. More and more women are beginning to talk about sex with their partners and discussing what they want in bed. Men are not the only ones who walk out of one-night stands today, a fair number of women are doing the same. The changes maybe small, but they cannot be ignored. So, for the men out there who care to listen, women like it hot too!


1. Genesis 2:18
2. Jennifer Oriel, ‘Sexual pleasure as a human right: Harmful or helpful to women in the context of HIV/AIDS?’, Women’s Studies International Forum.
3. A Door Opens for Women’s Right to Sexual Pleasure, Let’s Hope the FDA Doesn’t Close It

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