According to the World Health Organization, sexual health is a human right, and sexual health most certainly includes sexual pleasure. At TEDxMontrealWomen, Dr Laurie Betito - an eminent broadcaster, author, therapist, speaker and a psychologist with a speciality in sexuality in private practice - spoke extensively on the topic of ‘The Pleasure Principle: The Secret to a Better Sex Life’.

In her talk, Dr Betito came down heavily on the taboo on sexual pleasure in women, and how it has remained a clandestine discourse amongst all sections of society, across the world. Throughout her talk, she reiterated how sex education has also conveniently eschewed the topic of female sexual pleasure while focusing on STDs and educating women on ways of not getting pregnant, in a deadpan manner. Such is the indoctrination about the female aspect of sexual pleasure that even parents avoid broaching the subjects before their kids, even when the children are adult.

What is alarming is the fact that a wrong and biased way of thinking continues unabated in our families, our culture, and our religion, even today. Dr Betito points out how the indoctrination actually starts from the early days of childhood, when, if a girl child is found exploring the body, she is immediately told, “Don’t touch yourself”! That’s the beginning of the vicious circle! At teenage, it gets worse for women. The society as a whole gets outrageously scandalised if a girl expresses any sexual interest, and promptly shames her by calling her a ‘slut’! Contrarily, the celebration of male gratification continues to be axiomatic since ages.

At the next stage of adulthood, women are expected to enjoy and love a relationship rejecting all her intuitive responses to it. Results? Confused and anxious women of all ages visiting psychologists and complaining about their ‘problem’ with orgasm during intercourse, even though they attain it every time while self-pleasuring themselves.

Another critical cog in the process of sexuality is desire. This is one area that is still very nebulous to women and also to men. Desire works very differently in men and women. In women, as Dr Betito says, desire fluctuates, sometimes even drastically. And with serious lack of desire, sex often becomes a chore for women, who participate in it only as an obligation to the partner, while constantly worrying about what went wrong in them, or if they have stopped loving their partners. Giving up on sex is an unfortunate idea as it has now been firmly established that regular sex ensures not only a long and better life but also healthier relationships.

Truth is when in long-term relationships, women tend to lose their lustful desire with time, and their sexuality turns more and more responsive. Desire in them gets triggered at the stimulation and touch of the partner. This understanding is very imperative as it whelps reorienting the partners to their sexual behaviours. While women need to make a conscious decision of choosing sexuality, men need to align them to the changed sexual behaviour of their partners.

That said, sexual pleasure is all about knowing the body. Unlike men, women often shy away from knowing their bodies well. Social stigma makes it more difficult. But without proper knowledge of the body, attaining sexual gratification is not feasible. It is a travesty that very few women know that they are owners of a body part, clitoris, which has the sole purpose of pleasure. In fact, orgasm in 75 per cent of women happens through clitoral stimulation and not through intercourse.

The onus is on women to claim ownership of their pleasure. This will happen only when they start shattering the myths of shame and embrace their bodies without inhibition. That said, we too have to play a critical part by changing our mindset and attitude towards our partners. The primary responsibility on us is to accept the fact that women deserve to be pleasured and to be sexually gratified. It is a common understanding that sex is two- way traffic, and dissatisfaction of one partner is bound to diminish the satisfaction level of the other.

It is time we prioritise mutual pleasure; to prioritise collective well-being and better sex life!