If a woman wants sex, she’ll say she wants it

A woman’s freedom to choose—choose when she wants to have sex, with whom, how and how often—is part and parcel of a modern society that India is not

Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Nishtha E Gomes

In a gathering of seemingly intellectual, well-educated, so-called liberal and cosmopolitan busy bodies, when I mentioned I was a divorced single mother of a girl child in a casual conversation, I saw eyebrows being raised. In a country, where women would rather be abused than walk out of their husbands’ homes for the sake of their offsprings, imagine what would happen if a woman spoke openly about her sexual needs, preferences and rights.

When asked to write this piece on women’s sexuality, I was thrilled. I’ve always upheld women’s rights and equality of women, and have been a self-proclaimed feminist (often mistaken as ‘man hater’), without taking away a man’s right to coexist with the likes of me. But then, writing about female sexuality in India is as good as writing about a flood in a desert.

Sexuality in India is a topic one would broach with caution. Even most men maintain secrecy about their sexual activities and preferences. For girls, in our country, it is an ingrained belief that the forbidden word should neither be discussed nor be spoken out loud. The irony is that no one actually sits us down to tell us that. It is to be understood. “It’s for your own good,” they say.

I met several men on Tinder in the last two years. I never met most of them in person. Some became friends on WhatsApp. A few, I met in person. I ended up dating a couple of them, before I met my battered half. A few days ago, I reinstalled Tinder and logged in for exactly 20 minutes. Within hours, I received messages on WhatsApp, asking if I was single again. One of them said he was super excited to see me back on Tinder. I laughed it off.

When asked whether one gets to know if a woman is sexually active, a male friend admitted most men think that an independent, outgoing and outspoken woman would be sexually active and willing to experiment. Then, again, it’s only a perception, he said. “If a woman wants sex, she will say she wants it,” he said.

But do people around us feel the same? After my divorce, I chose to remain socially active and not feel ashamed to meet people out of fear of being judged for my marital status. Unfortunately, that isn’t how people saw it. I had friends visiting me and staying over. Being a working woman and not finding much time to hang out, I prefer chatting until late with friends whenever I can.

And what did I face? I was told this is a place where cultured families live! I asked what made them feel a mother-daughter unit was not a family, and what they meant by ‘cultured’. Perception! A woman without a man is always suspect. Neighbours will remember the men visiting her and the hour of visit. No one remembered when my women friends came over, no one asked them to make an entry in the register.

The most ridiculous statements about women come from the most ‘respected’ people. In a recent television panel discussion, a woman anchor was challenged to show up in undergarments because she wanted to be equal to men. It isn’t surprising how society relates not only a woman’s clothes to morality, but also her profession, her independence, the company she keeps and even the way she communicates.

Sexuality is a choice. It has nothing to do with character or morality. Regrettably, society still believes that a woman’s sexuality is better treated as non-existent. A wife is legally bound to have sex with her husband, and denying him his conjugal right would only validate her status as a disobedient immoral wife.

A free-spirited feminist friend of mine, who posted some pictures of herself on a social networking site, was approached and trolled by random men. The messages were derogatory. She finally filed an FIR. The trolling didn’t stop there. The comments got worse. Her pictures, they said, were suggestive and invited such ‘offers’ and cheap comments. Also, some of these comments were brazen to the point that they suggested that a woman ‘like her’ was taking it from all ends.

How do you guess a woman’s sexual preferences from her clothes or her photographs posted on a social networking site? A woman’s preference, again, is a personal choice, depending on her partner, her mood and the kind of pleasure she wants at the time of the act.

Another of my women friends was called names by her neighbour and often harassed. She never understood why. Later, she gathered that the elderly woman had been ‘keeping an eye’ on her movements while her husband was away. She always had friends over at her place and had never worn sindoor and bangles.

A woman’s marital status does not guarantee immunity from criticism. Her clothes do not guarantee her safety. Her job does not guarantee her equal rights. Her sexuality is always a debatable topic which eventually determines her morality on parameters which vary from person to person.

If a male visitor is to stay the night over at my place, I am undeniably having sex with him. Ain’t it? Here arises the question of sexual orientation. The women friends, I have over for few hours during the day, could very well be my sexual partners. Take that!

I half laugh and half cry watching debates on peacocks and their sacred tears. In a country where videos of women being attacked in every possible way show up on social media feeds every now and then, feminism can’t be dispensed with. Not talking about female sexuality won’t help keep her safe and won’t uplift her in any way. The purpose is to stand up against absurd ideas and mindsets that continue to stand in the way of a woman’s freedom to choose—choose when she wants to have sex, with whom, how and how often.

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