February 21, 2020
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The Katha Of The Big O, Retold

Shedding the shroud of prudery, Indian women are increasingly seeking professional advice for sexual satisfaction

The Katha Of The Big O, Retold
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Bistari ki aakhri manzil nahin pahunch saki (I could never reach the final point of lovemaking)." As destinations go, a strange one, this. But notwithstanding her coyness, the woman consulting sex guru Dr Prakash Kothari was set on attaining her genteel euphemism for orgasm.

Increasingly, Dr Kothari, head of the sexual medicine department at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial hospital - the only such department catering to a billion Indians - faces such unfazed female drive not to be derailed en route to what the Oxford dictionary chastely (and inadequately) defines as the "most intense moment of sexual excitement". When the department was started a quarter century ago, it was, for quite a few years, virtuously avoided by women who’d turned amnesic about belonging to the land that worshipped Kama, the progenitor of the voluminous Sutra. But today, they peep out of their mental purdah, finally conceding that sex is not a four-letter word.

There also appears to be a clear departure from the earlier solicitude over male gratification alone that pretended to discount altogether the female’s in-built ability to be multi-orgasmic. Dr Kothari, who had organised the world’s first conference on orgasm in 1991, observes, "I find that 10 to 15 per cent of my patients (apart from private ones, about 150 visit his opd every week) are women, of whom 45 per cent are concerned about orgasmic disorders - either early (hitherto unreported), delayed, impaired or absent orgasms." Another significant trend: earlier, women’s sexual disorders were ranked thus - dyspareunia (painful intercourse), orgasmic disorders and vaginismus (vaginal contraction preventing penetration). But with the ‘90s, climax has peaked to the top of the pile.

The following are a few case studies from Dr Kothari’s clinic which show women, from across all class, geographical and linguistic groups, are no longer content at supinely being "used as mere sleeping pills" by their men. The oldest that Dr Kothari treated was a 68-year-old.

  • A woman from Mumbai’s slums turns lucid about her discontent. "Hamare aadmi jaldi khatam ho jate hain. Aur hum nashe mein nahin aate (My man finishes fast but I never reach the high)."
  • A Marwari housewife and mother of three children, who discovered orgiastic thrills through a chance extra-marital encounter, wants to know why her husband could not inflame her likewise.
  • Another middle-class woman complains of her marriage remaining unconsummated because her husband, not having outgrown adolescent groping and ignorance, with unthoughtful infantilism strode her like he would a motorcycle - his legs outside hers!
  • Conversely, another woman, driven to frenzy by her partner, resorts to mind-numbing techniques like counting in reverse order or recalling distressing situations to retard climax so both could hit the summit together.

    The media, it seems, has contributed enormously in dusting off a woman’s latent latex concerns. Says sex therapist and educator Dr Mahindra C. Watsa, also chief consultant with Medikon Sexual Sciences Institute: "In America, this female concern with orgasm started about 10 years ago. In India, it has been noticed for the past two or three years. Earlier, I would say 95 per cent of those who consulted me were men. The remaining 5 per cent were women who accompanied them, brought along by the men to discuss primarily their problems. Today, 5 per cent of women come alone to discuss dissatisfaction, particularly absent orgasm." He traces this frank desire for rapture to the upsurge in women’s aspirations. "This is more than just a problem, it is actually aspirational. Women today tend to be aware of this sexual episode - orgasm - and don’t want to be denied any part of it."

    Men may work off their performance anxieties through chauvinistic wisecracks. Why burden their anxieties further by pointing out that if sex sells, it is because women have deemed it so. Women-centric magazines are not skittish about sex. Between propagating docile domesticity - recipes, make-up tips and shopping expeditions - they preach prurience. On not just how to make strawberry jam, but how better to utilise it towards satiating other appetites. And how the one who has been a sex object for long may, finally, learn to have a say in the sex act. The fantasies that women’s magazines fan could frighten into flaccidity any fumbling male. For, between their covers they conspire to rewrite lib as libidinous.

    Women are reaching out, starting at the bookshelves - graduating from our mothers’ handbook - Gottlieb’s What A Girl Should Know About Sex to the contemporary, more stirring Miriam Stoppard’s Magic of Sex. The Net, too, brooks no blushes. A casual surfer, using just one search engine, is likely to be overwrought by a carnal carnival - apart from the odd ones that digress about a sow’s sexuality or the love-life of a black widow spider, there are over 23,000 sites devoted just to female orgasm. Fertility expert Dr Anirudh Malpani believes that unlike in the past when people were simply too embarrassed or ignorant to talk about sex (a legacy we inherited from our colonial rule, since sex was not a taboo topic in ancient India), as women earn more, travel more, interact and learn more, many are finding out that sex can be fun. "Whereas in the past, they didn’t know whom to go to, they are assertively seeking help."

    Dr Avdesh Sharma, a Delhi-based psychiatrist who hosts a show on Doordarshan on urban stress and associated problems and also runs a column on mental health in a leading daily, agrees that women are indeed getting more and more comfortable talking about their sexual lives. "Almost 50 per cent of the women who come to me - and mind you, they are all very, very middle-class - are quite open about their problems. As more women are becoming aware of their sexual physiology, they are becoming more participative and therefore sharing responsibility for a healthy sex life with their partners." Sharma points to this trend growing not only in urban areas but small towns around Delhi such as Ghaziabad, Meerut or Gurgaon, where the communities are generally made up of farmers and traders.

    An interesting twist to this trend is that fewer women blame their partners for orgiastic failure, willing instead to accept responsibility for their own sexual gratification, observes Dr Sailesh Kapadia, a Mumbai-based psychoanalyst. In fact, anxiety and desperation about the pleasure gradient actually contribute in bringing it down. "Getting worked up about it, worrying that ‘I won’t get it’ actually blocks orgasm. They need to get less combative about it," he suggests, providing yet another perspective to this female preoccupation.

    Dr Kothari is constantly challenged into unwrapping orgasm from euphemistic veils. An orgasm by another name? Gujarati women may shroud it with an indirect "Tumne sukh malecha (Are you deriving happiness?)". Domesticated Maharashtrian women enquire, "Tumala samadhan hotaika (Are you settled?)". Other linguistic masks that orgasm wears: nirvrithi (complete gratification) in Malayalam; north Indians equate it with happiness or santosh; Bohri Muslims see eternity in it - paramsukh or perpetual happiness; Sindhis see nirvana since it provides shanti (the less reverent ones sense majo or pleasure in it); for Punjabis, it provides kushi; for Tamils, satisfaction or trupti; while Telegus go one step beyond to report santrupti (total satisfaction), just as the Urdu-speaking populace experience immense joy or sukoon.

    An orgasm, explains Dr Kothari, is like a sneeze. "If a woman has had one, she knows about it. Otherwise, any attempt to explain it is, to be politically incorrect, like explaining a rainbow to a blind man." The Greeks reached definitive acme with "orgaos" (which spawned the current orgasm), meaning "to swell with lust". Its scientific definition could retire a couple into yawning: "an explosive cerebrally-encoded neuromuscular response at the peak of sexual arousal of psychobiological stimuli, the pleasure sensations of which are experienced in association with dispensable pelvic physiological concomitants." This linguistic contortion, baffling though it is, nevertheless dispels the misconception that women must experience vaginal contractions to reach the zenith of pleasure, a common myth that is doing the bedroom rounds. Thus, the definition finally permits pleasure to step right back on the bed from which prudence and sexual illiteracy had dislodged it.

    The more practical Vatsayana, even before the textbook wisdom of the West prised open bedroom secrets, wrote of orgasmic disorders and the multi-orgasmic superiority of the female: "In case of slow rise of passion in woman or ultimately no effect, the man may resort to an artificial apadravya (contemporary dildo)." Also, "After culmination of union, the man’s performance ceases but the woman’s does not." He even more pragmatically saw female lubrication as analogous to male erection. Therein lies the fount of female frustration.

    All therapists observe that a male, particularly a sexual illiterate, clawing wildly towards climax with a single-minded fixation to make it, will readily dispense with foreplay. Leaving the female, as it were, hanging over the precipice. In fact, says Dr Kothari, women have multiple erogenous zones, any of which may be stimulated to reach orgasm. Between the G-spot and the P-spot lies a vast erogenous zone providing sexologists with enough research material for voluminous theses. Men, it seems, must learn of these as well.

    Then one could truly nail the performance-taxing myths that bedevil women. For instance, working-class women, notes Dr Kapadia, can be highly moralistic, believing that a display of pleasure during sex could be interpreted as wanton behavior by their husbands; some naively presume lubrication to be orgasm, others even the "feel-good" factor that rides foreplay. More enervating is the misconception that orgasmic capacity after hysterectomy in women is impaired.

    Among clinical orgasmic complaints, delayed orgasm comes right at the top, followed by impaired, early or absent orgasms, says Dr Kothari. While early orgasmic disorder is akin to premature ejaculation in men, impaired orgasmic disorder is caused by myopathy (a muscle disorder), drug addiction (especially to brown sugar), stress, dissatisfaction with the partner or reduced hormone levels. Delayed orgasmic disorder is caused by performance anxiety, dislike of the partner (for instance, if he has body odour), dyspareunia, lax vagina, hormone imbalance or depression. Anaemia, surprisingly, is a common cause. Absent orgasmic disorder is caused by diabetes and neuropathy (a disorder of the nerves).

    Once again, ancient Indian systems in the form of yogasanas were the forerunners to the western prescription of pubococcygeus exercises as ways out. The Vajroli and Ashwini mudras, done over six to eight weeks, effectively offer ecstasy as relief. Other paths to the same goal, says Dr Kothari, are sensate focus exercises (shorn of verbalese, this means sensual interaction that helps locate erogenous zones), sexual positions like with the female on top (giving her control), woman legs-crossed posture (tackles lax vagina for which surgery may be the last resort) or the bed-bucking doggie position.

    Conversely, therefore, even as more and more Indian women discard inhibitions before they do their clothes to discuss orgasm, there may be less cases like the Aligarh woman who, in chaste Urdu, delicately rued: "Woh to nahake chal diye/lehren tadapti rah gayee (He bathed and left, and the waves were left pining)."

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