In a patriarchal society, the control of women’s sexuality has become the prerogative of men. Women loose agency of their body as they are passed down from father to husband. As a daughter, she is not allowed to consent to sex and, as a wife, not allowed to deny it. 

Excuse me, world. Can I have sex, please?

Mihika Rungta is an Economics and Journalism undergraduate at Ashoka University. She is a freelance writer who is keen to explore the various aspects in which gender and sexuality shape social norms.

“The myths about the hymen have lived on for centuries for their cultural significance. They have been used as a powerful tool in the effort to control women’s sexuality in about every culture, religion, and historical decade,” explain Nina Dølvik Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl in their Ted Talk, “The Virginity Fraud.” The agency of a woman’s sexuality is handed down from father to husband in a setup where abstinence from sexual activity before marriage is a measure of a woman’s morality and “goodness.” 

 

A girl’s virginity status is often an evaluator of family honour, guarded by the father until he gives her away to her husband. This patriarchal attitude is often masked as harm reduction. Protecting young women from predatory men who want nothing but to use them towards their pleasure, reinforcing their identity as mere “sex objects.” Chastity Belts in Gothic European culture is a locking item worn by women to prevent sexual temptation, intercourse and masturbation, making a women’s chastity primary, above her health and comfort. 

 

Sexual autonomy is the prerogative of men in society. Female sexual expression threatens the moral order of patriarchy. It is subdued with regulations on clothing, rules against relationships before marriage, and threats regarding bleak prospects in the future if women don’t maintain their “purity.”

 

Women are lead to believe that exploring and expressing their sexuality is dangerous for their wellbeing. These constraints have long-lasting implications in the life of women as they form negative ideas about their identity, their body, and sexual pleasure. The message that being sexual is being a slut is repeatedly reinforced by parental figures and peers alike. This makes women lose respect for their sexuality and their bodies. This results in them repressing their sexuality, neglecting sexual health, and making compromises in choosing partners; as a result, risking both their physical and mental wellness. 

 

Does marriage change this? Does sexual expression become more acceptable? Not really. Women passed down from father to husband are expected to serve the desires of the husband and the expectations of his family. “Women are encultured to be uncomfortable most of the time and to ignore their discomfort.” Women are known to frequently fake orgasms in sexual encounters, even though this is hardly conducive to her pleasure, perhaps only sometimes serves as a relief from pain. A study among adult Americans by Kinsey Institute revealed that heterosexual females claimed to orgasm only 65% times compared to 86% among homosexual women. The effect of sexual orientation on male orgasm is not as significant, with 95% for heterosexual men versus 89% among gay men. It is also noteworthy that the orgasm rate among heterosexuals is higher for men and lower for women, clearly reinforcing the idea of women serving the pleasure of their male partners without receiving pleasure in return. 

 

Why does this happen so often, and why is it so widely normalised? Women’s perspective of sex has become that of guilt and shame. The idea that sex is a pleasure activity is lost through society’s moral, religious, and cultural policing of female sexuality. Sex is considered a reproductive function in the lives of women while serving the pleasure of men. Repeated conditioning of this fact leads women to trade sex that is not pleasurable to them for social positions that are. This reproductive function makes it the duty of the women to engage in sex to continue the lineage, authorising the man to indulge without due consent. Once married, the perpetual consent to engage in sexual activity is presumed. This patriarchal attitude extends to the county’s law as the Indian Penal Code does not consider marital rape to be a crime unless the girl is under 15 years of age. 

 

Transitioning from one stage of life to another, a woman further loses her identity as a sexual being. From being “allowed” to engage in intercourse in transitioning from a daughter to wife, a woman yet again gives up a part of this as she attempts to be a competent mother. A women’s sexual agency now transfers to those questioning eyes that have already formed a picture of a “good” mother. From her dressing to her lifestyle, everything is expected to transform to fit the expectations of this new role. “Society feeds into this notion, indicating to women that now that they are a mother, it’s no longer appropriate to be sexual. Being free is deemed irresponsible, and being spontaneous is shunned as immature.” 

 

Is it like this for all women? Hasn’t the world become a more liberal place? Isn’t patriarchy a struggle of the past as gender equality slowly becoming a reality? These are essential questions to ask and even more important to acknowledge. It’s not all bad out there, but it is worse for women than it is for men, and that is not equality. In a liberalised world, men have acquired a patriarchal entitlement to have sex with any women they desire. This is made evident through unsolicited dick pictures, being labelled a prude when a girl says no and being called loose or slut when they say yes. Men often believe so strongly in the agency of men on a woman’s sexuality that saying “I have a boyfriend/husband” is much more likely to help steer clear from unwanted sexual attention than saying “No.” 

 

As aptly put by Estela Welldon, women are often boxed into categories of “Mother, Madonna, [or] Whore.” These labels strip a woman of her diverse identity, her true self, and make her cautious each time she wants to be herself. In the modern world, it is important to give women back their agency over their own body, their desire, and sexuality. There are certain risks involved with having sex, but there are higher risks in having sex under pressure, threat and without sufficient education. 

 

Research shows that having sex-positive conversations from a young age help women elevate their self-worth, have a healthy approach towards their body and prioritize themselves during their sexual encounters.  Studies show that children are attaining sexual maturity at an earlier age with media exposure from a young age, leading to increased engagement in sexual activity by teenagers. However, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, the age of consent for both boys as well as girls at 18.  What needs to be observed is that by criminalising consensual sexual activity, teenagers are unable to access protective measures and safe medical procedures. Many activists suggest implementing  Romeo and Juliet statuses enacted by various US states to give young women a chance to explore their sexuality, without being taken advantage of by older men. 


Instead of policing a girl, it is crucial to make her aware that no one is allowed to do anything without her genuine consent. This will prevent her from allowing future partners from exploiting her vulnerability. Consent can never be assumed whether it is a marriage, long term relationship or a casual date. It is important that consent is not taken through coercion.  It is reversible and can be given for specific to sexual acts. It is her body, and she should craft the rules that apply to it.

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