Below The Belt

Why I feel Indian women are cagey about masturbation

Is taming her into sexual austerity just another way to control her?

 |  Below The Belt  |  5-minute read |   18-05-2016
  • ---
    Total Shares

Last weekend, we were having dinner at a friend's place when the obvious topic of our love lives came up. We both giggled and admitted to a "dry spell" in our mid-30s. Thank god for vibrators and online porn, I said. My friend, a digital content editor looked flummoxed at the mention of self-pleasure and leaning closer, added almost apologetically, "I have a confession to make, I can't masturbate. It's something I am wary of... you know I always need a man to have an orgasm. I don't know what it even feels to be exploring your own body with your own hands..."

I studied her anxious face, my own thoughts travelling back to when I was approximately 13, a curious teenager who had just started experiencing physical changes in her body, the rush of sensory pleasure when I saw a sex scene in an English film, for instance, or happened to read about kissing and making out in borrowed Nancy Drew.

It was around the same time that I accidentally discovered a porn novel belonging to my uncle in America whose vast collection of books were housed in our basement library, where I studied. I remember feeling embarrassed at the words sandwiched in between the sentences, how there was a knot at the base of my stomach every time I flipped a page.

Also read: What is it with Indian men's fetish for bhabhis?

Almost instinctively, I started touching myself, shuddering at the way my body reacted and how it dared me to give in, the way I closed my eyes and parted my lips. I sneaked downstairs every afternoon since then - for my private pleasure ritual, imagining the boy I so wanted, in my head.

Things were going well, each day a new arousal of sorts, till one day, my mother caught me red-handed! She was mortified. We grew up in my maternal grandparent's home after my father's demise and there was never any male presence or any show of physical gratification or fondness.

My mother, a Biology teacher, who was soon to teach me the scholarly views on the subject, quickly composed herself, to explain how I must never read that book again, taking it away promptly and asking me if I had a boyfriend. The conversation was cluttered, clumsy and claustrophobic. Masturbation was treated like menstrual cycle that no one really prepares a girl for - dirty, diseased, derelict and something that is banned for our sex. A darkness that is her own.

Also read: Why Indians have sex in bushes and feel dirty about porn

May is the International Masturbation Month. The first National Masturbation Day was observed on May 14, 1995, after sex positive retailer Good Vibrations declared the day in honour of the former surgeon general of the US, Joycelyn Elders, who was fired by president Bill Clinton on December 9, 1994 for recommending masturbation to be included as part of the sex education curriculum for students.

As I write this piece, I recall another conversation with a friend who had confided in me how her father had walked in on her one night as she lay sprawled on the cold bathroom floor, writhing in pleasure. She had been hit and screamed at and called a cheap slut, her mother being promptly summoned and told that there was something wrong in the way she was bringing up her kids, that she should accompany her everywhere and monitor all calls. How television was banned for months. My friend made to sleep with her mother for the next few years, the bathroom light always on. Since that time, my friend, now 40 has hated the sight of her own body and says masturbation scares her, a feeling of dread always consuming her. She also has faked most of her orgasms.

Also read: Why Indian men don't wear condoms

A year-and-a-half ago, while researching for my book, Sita's Curse, a feminist erotica that commences with the protagonist Mrs Meera Patel touching herself, I had mailed a questionnaire asking 30 women I knew a bunch of personal questions related to sex, one of which was if they masturbated. Most women, either left the question blank or replied saying it was something men did more than us, a few comparing it to watching porn, stereotyping sexual behaviour into a tight gender bracket. A couple of married women admitted their husbands asked them to masturbate, so as to turn them on and nursed an innate sense of shame and embarrassment.

Why are we so coy about self-pleasure? And even if one talks about masturbation, why is it commonly and largely relegated to corny jokes, very stealthily with your best friend, or horror? Our closeted cultural conservatism makes it difficult for a mother to explain touch to her growing daughter, schools never quite include masturbation in their sex education classes, which are still relegated to instilling a sense of fear among women about getting pregnant, thereby turning sex into an act of puritanical self-preservation.

Masturbation is always treated with an air of deep-seated misogyny in which a woman who dares to touch and stroke herself is viewed and labelled as indulging in an immoral act camouflaged under a thick cover of stealth and misinformation.

There is always extreme embarrassment attributed to something as natural as sexual fulfilment, which for an Indian woman, is never really her own preserve, but more a wifely, social obligation that necessarily leads to procreation. Children are seen as a validation of a sexual relationship, translating therefore into consent.

The taboo with which masturbation is treated is especially ironical since unlike Islam and Christianity, self-pleasure is not regarded as a condemnable sin in Hinduism, where seeking kama is one of the four objectives of human life. Apart from a person who has taken the vow of brahmacharya, Hinduism grants complete freedom regarding sexuality.

The Kama Sutra (4th to 6th centuries AD) does not condemn masturbation and rather explains in detail the best procedure to masturbate. Why the purdah on self-pleasure then? Is taming a woman into sexual austerity just another way to control her?

Writer

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu Sreemoyee Piu Kundu @sreemoyeekundu

The writer is an ex-lifestyle editor and PR vice president, and now a full-time novelist. She's the author of Faraway Music, the best-selling female erotica, Sita's Curse, You've Got The Wrong Girl! and Cut. Last year, she wrote the internationally acclaimed work of non-fiction on single women in India, Status Single. A leading columnist on sexuality and gender, Sreemoyee is also the recipient of NDTV L'oreal Women of Worth Award in the 'Literature' category.

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.