This may get a little … vulgar? uncomfortable? immodest? etc. And very long. But here’s the idea: 1) there’s a popular myth going around that male sexuality is uncontrollable, and that’s why they get to do the things they wanna do (i.e., “nature” is exploited just to validate male irresponsibility), 2) this myth has powerful and destructive consequences for women and society at large, 3) this myth is linked to the way we study science, humans, nature, etc., and – and this is very important – 4) if a woman doesn’t wanna have sex with you, it’s most likely because you’re not doing it right (because discomfort doesn’t just come out of nowhere) – but, yes, yes it might also be because she isn’t ready to or interested in having sex with anyone right now. Or ever.
The popular myth that men have a stronger sex drive than women exists solely to excuse away male promiscuity. It doesn’t take into account the profound history of the suppression of female sexuality – of slut shaming, of the reasons we have multiple synonyms for “bitch” but no such thing as a “male whore”; never mind that we even have terms for women who like “a lot” of sex *because that’s not supposed to be normal*. It leads to oppressive, dangerous standards and behaviors like rape and victim blaming. It gives men a free pass to not take women’s sexual needs seriously. It even leads to the acceptance of marital rape (“marriage is complicated”; “consent is complicated”; “what’s a man supposed to do when his wife keeps saying no?” “A man has needs”). It justifies polygyny – men’s right to multiple sex partners (historically also including sex slaves) – but forbids polyandry *despite the fact that contexts exist in which there are more men than women, so so much for the whole “polygyny is good in some contexts because there are more women than men”.
This myth is also the reason I’m told I’m being immodest every time I talk about men’s voice as something attractive, as distracting, when they recite the Quran. I’m shamed and spiritually blackmailed for recognizing male beauty, while a man pointing out that I have a beautiful voice or face gets to eject me from any spaces he wants to dominate. When I’m attracted to a man, I’m the problem; when a man is attracted to me, I’m the problem. You see? I, a woman, don’t get to comment on the potential seductiveness of men, but all of history, men’s misperceptions of women as seductresses, our voice as awrah, became laws and contributed to mainstream understandings of religion. I’m supposed to be “modest” and silent when I see an attractive man, when I hear an attractive recitation – but you’ve shut off women from attending mosques, from giving sermons, from leading prayers, from being in the public precisely because you gave yourself a free pass to think that your desires, your opinions can be a source of religion. That’s not my religion; that’s your religion – don’t insult my faith or my Creator by pretending we have the same faith. We don’t even have the same Creator – my Creator, my Sustainer doesn’t validate your sexist whims; neither is my Creator male.
Perhaps the reason women have you believing we don’t have a strong sex drive is that we can only wonder what more you’d to us, how much farther you’d push us away, if you began to recognize the truth.
When there’s a long history of shutting women’s sexuality down, and shaming women for so much as showing their cleavage, it makes sense that when it comes to “scientific research,” our assumptions and social expectations will merely be reaffirmed. When your standards of modesty are gendered, it makes sense that you’d think men’s need for sex is much higher.
The best part is that this idea about female sexuality is so different across the world AND inconsistent. Some Islamic (and other religious and philosophical) sources want women hidden *because* of their sexual prowess. There’s even an idea that desire comes in 10 parts and women have 9 of those parts – and men only one. However, that’s why women are “naturally” more prone to modesty, shame, and patience: women are naturally bestowed with the need to be modest, etc. in order to deal with their natural sexual desires that are stronger than men’s–nine times stronger than men’s. Women’s desire for sex is “neutralized,” the logic goes, by our “natural” tendency to be shy, etc.! You see what happened there? You see how female sexuality is dealt with? Because I’m supposedly naturally shy and such-as, I’m supposed to be able to handle my extremely strong sex drive. A man doesn’t have that natural shyness to him, and so he is incapable of controlling his sexual urges. (This ten parts of desire deal is a popular hadith attributed to ‘Ali, r.)
In other words, women are the problem when men have a high sex drive, and women are the problem when men have a low sex drive. See a pattern yet?
My friend The Fatal Feminist informed that there was a time in the U.S. when science had it that women had a stronger sex drive than men – and that’s why they needed to be contained. The idea was reversed later – but, na, men don’t need to be contained (you see what’s going on? Do you see the pattern yet?). Women are always the ones to be controlled whatever the conclusion is about our sexuality.
Nothing will convince me that women can naturally control their sexuality or sexual desires better and men can’t. It’s only that women suffer all consequences when they don’t, so we have no choice. Men, however, don’t suffer any consequences, and society is on their side. Men have the luxury to be as sexual as they want, and their desires have political, religious/divine legitimacy; they can be as promiscuous as they want because it doesn’t end there: people actually excuse it at the expense of women’s safety and women’s freedom/mobility. (E.g.: My access to the mosque (in Muslim contexts) and to public spaces (in ALL contexts) is directly related to your perceived and excused inability to control your sexual instincts.)
I once read this article — or a thread on some online forum — where women were talking about female orgasm. One woman’s story stood out to me because she said that she was in her 60s and has only recently experienced orgasms. She said she was previously married and hated sex, always made excuses for sex when her (ex)husband would want it. She said she didn’t realize why until her current marriage where she’s constantly initiating it becuz she actually enjoys it with this husband, that he actually cares about her needs and she looks forward to it instead of dreading it. She learned she didn’t like it with her first husband and that’s why didn’t like sex generally. If she had participated in some study on sex during her first marriage, she’d have contributed to the idea that women don’t like sex. If she participated in some research on sex during her second marriage, she’d be complicating that idea. You see what’s going on here?
I have female friends who tell me they don’t like sex with the men they’re with, and that breaks my heart because the guys are clearly doing it wrong. It’s not that women don’t like sex or want it badly “like men” – it’s that you’re doing it all wrong and so there’s nothing to look forward to. (This is all nuance aside. There are women and men who don’t like sex, there are people who are asexual, there are people with different preferences. It’s the gendering of these desires and the hypocrisies along with it that I’m discussing here. And while I’m clarifying: I’m not saying the women you know who don’t like sex are lying when they say they don’t like sex or have a low sex drive. I’m saying *the women who* have a low sex drive are responding to something more significant. Details below.)
Of course women and men have significant natural, biological, physiological differences. Who has ever denied that? But why is it that our differences are always invoked only in the context of sexuality and female mobility? Why is it that our sexual differences are used only to harm women but benefit men? (E.g., “because” men and women are physiologically different, women shouldn’t be allowed to lead prayers or give sermons!)) All sexes and genders are different. As we all are individually as well. But whether who wants sex more or less is among those differences, I’m not so convinced, given the many other factors that influence something like desire and attraction. Given the fact that we’re often told and taught what to desire rather than inherently knowing what to desire. How we even test something like this is another issue. Our biological differences explain only so much, and our sexual instinct isn’t among them.
This myth of stronger, uncontrollable male sexuality is constantly reinforced in the media (think Friends) – sex is a reward for a husband, women don’t like sex and they just wanna “get it over with” but at the same time, if you’re not having sex or if you’re still a virgin by 30, somethings wrong with you. And you’re desperate if you initiate it or express your interest in a guy before he comes forward. And only men watch and enjoy porn – but never mind the intended audience of porn in the first place!
There exist articles in the Internetz where someone out there is willing to pay a bunch of money (from prestigious institutions like UPenn and Yale) just to figure out why female orgasms exist. Look up “useless body parts,” and the clit is among them! The male idea is this: Procreation is the most important thing; it’s the only thing everything can be tied back to. So male orgasm obviously makes sense. But why do women orgasm? I literally read this question recently in an article that claimed scientists finally figured out why female orgasm exists: “Why would evolution work so hard to get to this point of female orgasm?” Why?! Scholars are legit trying to answer this question! Some theories even link female orgasm to male sexual desire (!! I know. I can’t even!). Something that couldn’t be farther from relating to men in anyway still ends up being about the penis. They don’t see that their entire premise is problematic to begin with – the claim that everything is about procreation. And then they tell us science is objective. Objective my “useless” lady part. When only men have historically controlled knowledge, the production of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, it makes perfect sense that we’ll think male orgasm makes sense but female orgasm doesn’t, or that the clit serves no purpose “except” pleasure. Never mind what women who’ve orgasmed clitorally have to say about this.
So the next time you are tempted to believe that women’s sex drive either is low or lower than men’s or, worse, nonexistent, stop yourself and think about all the factors that contribute to that assumption AND think about the impact of such a seemingly harmless concept. It’s not a competition; it shouldn’t matter whose drive is higher. But when it has an impact as powerful and destructive as this, then we need to be more careful about what we accept as “natural.”
Connect the dots, people! Stop letting patriarchy fool you! Question everything, every assumption, every expectation because these aren’t harmless, insignificant ideas. They stem from bigger issues and lead to even bigger ones.
Thanks for this excellent, awesome and honest post. We need to break taboos & we need more of these conversations, as women amongst one another.
❤ Keep hearing this myth and getting so, so tired!!
It’s funny because people used to have the opposite beliefs entirely!
I just read Fatna Sabbah’s “Woman in the Muslim Unconcious” and she uses traditional erotic literature by Muslim authors to show how women were constructed as hyper-sexual beings unable to ever be sexually satiated by male erotic writers! There were male erotic writers saying women can’t be satisfied by hundreds of men, and it was a trope that women would seek out male animals for sex. So for the male in a marriage according to medieval erotic discourse, it’s a desperate struggle of magic rituals, invocations, sexual potions, and foreplay to attempt to satisfy she who can never be satisfied.
Horribly misogynistic, but interesting nonetheless.
She also discusses how the legal world of Islam seems to have the entirely opposite idea, like what you point out, where men are hypersexual beings and women are defined excessively as objects of male sexual desire. I don’t really agree with her that these are inherently the teachings of Islam, but I believe her idea applies to how women are constructed according to extremists.
This is what is written in the Wahabi book “Islamic Fatawa Regarding Women” on women speaking to men.
“Women are a place for fulfillment of desire for men.”
They hold no qualms in literally defining women as sexual objects for male satisfaction. Everything about women’s lives in the patriarchal worldview of fundamentalists is defined by sex and *everything* related to women is inherently sexual. And of course the male is a sexually insatiable human being aroused by the hint of anything female.
According to this book, the entire female body without exception is potentially sexually tantalizing and must be covered in public. “Therefore, she may wear socks over her feet and gloves over her hands so that nothing that could be a temptation may be seen of her.”
The book states women must speak to men behind veils and not use soft, flirtatious tones.
Khaled Abou el Fadl mentioned in one of his lectures how a male Muslim scholar claimed a man can’t sit on a seat a woman sat on recently because her residual body heat may arouse the man. (It’s also in the back of his book.)
According to IslamQA, it’s a “major sin” for a woman to go outside wearing perfume that makes her tantamount to an adulteress because her scent may arouse a man and cause zeena.
A woman also can’t ride a bike in general because the wind might make the shape of her body show and excite a man.
The female body is sexual. The female voice is sexual. Female body heat is sexual. Female scent is sexual. The movement of the female body is sexual. The male is uncontrollably sexual and aroused by the sight of a female hand or the scent of a woman.
A woman’s life and activities is defined by the paradigm that she’s a hypersexual object and the male is uncontrollably sexual. She can’t drive a car, mix with men, speak with men alone, pluck her eyebrows, work with men, ride a bike, and on and on because she might arouse the hypersexual male.
It’s the reversal of the erotic discourse where now the woman is the sex object and the male is the one constantly craving sex.
Yeah, that was kind of ranty, sorry.
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” “Islamic Fatawa Regarding Women”. I have known this book for years and it’s one of the most misogynistic texts I have ever read or heard. And stuff like this deserves a rant!
Yes!!! Love this!
And exactly – there have been times in history when people claimed the female sex drive was too strong and that’s why women had to be controlled and kept hidden from the public view!
And when history believed the female sex drive was weak, that, too only resulted in controlling women. Women are clearly always the problem!
Also, did you know that Fatna Sabah is Fatima Menrissi? 😀
Orbala, a pashtoon name
Yes, and it’s a beautiful name. 🙂
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Orbala means the one who starts the fire
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Or, more commonly, firefly. 😉 And my beloved Orbala certainly starts fires, and rightly so!
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you are the owner of this blog.
Yes, my name is a Pashtun name, and it means Firefly. And, yep, I’m the owner of this blog.
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Da khu dera sha khabara da, orbala
Wonderful post! Thank you again for passionately standing up to patriarchy! ❤
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Indeed. We need a world of women like that! And as always, death to patriarchy. 🙂
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Two thumbs up!! 🙂 🙂
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This is so beautiful. I’m getting myself educated in your blog.❤️
😍 So glad! Thanks for reading, Janana!
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Salams jan, I just read this, I thought it would be of interest to you: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/british-muslim-want-daughters-learn-sexualityis-enjoyed-not/
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I freaking love this! Bravo, well done! I’m actually working on a series of blog posts about the exact same thing. As an American woman, I’m beyond sick of living under the tyranny of male sexuality that exists in our culture, in spite of the fact that most of it is mythological. Thanks so much for this awesome contribution to the world!