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.