About Sexual Pleasure .. The Lost Piece of The Puzzle

“Where do I start?” This is the first sentence we heard when we asked Maryam about a “sensitive” subject that is still in the category of forbidden conversations, which is sexual pleasure in women’s lives.

Then she told us about a long history where she, her mother and grandmother were trapped in: “I only have sexual pleasure when I masturbate!”

Before continuing  the story of Maryam and other women, it must be noted that diving and investigating this issue is not an easy task, especially since sexual issues related to women are still largely confused between the “taboo” on the one hand, and the difficulty in convincing women to talk about personal issues related closely to intimacy, on the other hand.

So when it’s about the right of women to enjoy sexual pleasure and reach orgasm?

This is not only forbidden, but an act of social incitement!

We know full well that what we have discussed and what we will present is like “poking the hornets’ nest”, but it is worth all the time and effort we have put into providing scientific and medical knowledge to reduce social ignorance and its impact on the lives of countless women.

In this investigation, we examine the effects of loss of sexual pleasure in many women, while emphasizing that we do not go into generalizations.

But, with the absence of statistics in our “eastern” societies, and in Lebanon in particular, the mere presence of several cases that have gone public, deserves that we stop and think more about this.

We stopped at Maryam’s answer about the sexual history of the women in her family. She told “Sharika Walaken ”: “Like any conservative rural environment, my grandmother got married in the 1960s, without having a choice. Her first nightmare started on her wedding night, when she suffered from severe bleeding due to painful penetration without any preparation. She continued like this for 30 years, during which she gave birth to 7 children, and she remembers nothing but pain from this relationship. She later developed obsessive-compulsive disorder and her sorrow stayed with her until her last days.”

Misconceptions about sex 

We look back on a book we recently read, “Women and Gender” by the researcher whose writings founded the second wave of feminism and the inspiration to many Arab women, Dr. Nawal El Saadawi.

Because of her work as a gynecologist and her examination of many women, she concludes in her book that “there are many men who have lived with women for years and had sex with them without knowing an organ other than the vagina. Considering that its primary function is pregnancy and childbirth, making the clitoris the most overlooked genitalia. Thus depriving women of sexual pleasure. In some cases, the selfishness of men decided that if the man attained pleasure, then so did the woman.”

Wrong sexual culture affected sexual practices, and was reinforced by the theories that prevailed in the thirties of the last century, which is that orgasm is a purely masculine quality and not one of the characteristics of women.

So that the role of women is limited to pregnancy and childbearing, and this is exactly what Maryam and her mother and grandmother suffered from.

We asked Maryam why she did not feel pleasure except during the practice of masturbation, to see if this had an effect on her personal and professional life. She summarized the matter in two words: “guilt and fear.”

This is due to her upbringing which is reflected in her relationships. She feels completely dependent on the man as if she were just a tool, which reinforced a handful of contradictory feelings for her ranging between desire, guilt, her want for love, her sense of her body and her inability to reconcile with it.

But what does her mother have to do with that? Maryam continued telling us about the history of women in her family, adding: “My grandmother repeated her story with her daughter, as did my mother to me too. The only difference is that my grandmother condemned my mother, who was a victim of early marriage, and so she experienced the same suffering as her mother did. 30 years of losing the meaning, and feeling, of sexual pleasure and any sense of her body, today she suffers from breast cancer, panic attacks and OCD.”

Sexual pleasure in women is missing even in Western countries!

In the absence of statistics on sexual pleasure and sexual frustration among women in Lebanon and the Arab region, we cannot but mention some of the striking numbers that we found in Western societies, specifically in the United States of America.

In 2017, the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy published a study conducted in the United States on 1,055 women between the ages of 18 and 95 that showed that 81.6% of women do not reach orgasm from intercourse alone (without additional clitoral stimulation). While only 18.4% of women stated that intercourse alone is sufficient to reach orgasm.

In another study by the same magazine published in 2012 on masturbation in women, it was found that 92.4% of women are able to experience an orgasm through masturbation.

In a related context, the American philosopher Elizabeth Lloyd concluded in her book “The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution” published in 2005, which is considered a reference to several scientific studies, that “5 to 10% of women never experienced orgasms, although many of them experience it later in their lives.”

The Journal of Archives of Sexual Behavior also published a study in 2019 conducted on 1,000 women in the United States, which reported that 59% of the women who participated in the study faked orgasms. 54.1% of those women said that they wanted to communicate with their partner about sex, but changed their minds.

A large percentage of women in the Middle East do not experience orgasms!

In an exclusive interview with “Sharika Walaken”, Dr. Suleiman Jarry, a specialist in endocrinology, hormones, sexual and emotional health, and president of the Lebanese Association for Sexual and Reproductive Health, said that “a large percentage of women in the Middle East do not experience orgasms, and the reasons are varied.”

He added that “a large percentage is still far from healthy sexual practices, despite the fact that sexual pleasure is a natural right for every woman during sexual relations.” When asked about the effect of sexual relations on the body of women, he explained that this has physical, psychological and hormonal effects.

We presented the case of Maryam and her mother and grandmother to Dr. Jarry who noted, “sexual harassment and OCD are important in hypoactive sexual desire disorder. It can be said that obsessive-compulsive disorder is genetic, but it seems clear that it is the cause of sexual frustration among the three women.”

He considered that “ignorance, the conservative environment and the absence of statistics on this subject, all contributed and reinforced the obfuscation of the importance of sexual pleasure. There are men who do not know how to have sexual intercourse and think only of their personal pleasure, as if women were sexual objects. In addition to this, other factors, such as early marriage, which causes sexual and psychological trauma to girls, are the same for forced marriage.”

He explained that “there are reasons related to the women themselves: such as their sexual biological makeup, because the disturbance is in the brain centers responsible for the sexual mechanism. Certainly, in all cases, we need female specialists and sexual awareness education.”

A woman’s lack of orgasm or sexual pleasure negatively affects the sexual, reproductive and psychological factors. These feelings are affected by psychological disorders such as anxiety, frustration and depression, and vice versa.

While the body is affected by any kind of anxiety and tension, which gets reflected in the work of the body’s organs.

Socially, this absence leads to conflicts, quarrels, confusions, tensions and social frustrations as a result of withdrawing from relationships and events.

Different age groups and social backgrounds.. but the frustration is shared!

Maryam and the women of her family are not the only ones, there are many like them.

So after a long conversation with her, we continued the search to persuade others to be interviewed, and we were able to interview women from different social backgrounds and age groups, and the answers were similar.

Rana (50 years old, a secondary school teacher) complains to us about “the missing parts of her body, which were forcibly disappeared over the years and the sexual practices that her husband neglected, forgetting that she had organs and spaces that were still alive in them.”

Sexual intercourse between them, as she puts it, is “a purely mechanical act, meaning vaginal penetration that ends when he reaches orgasm.” She added, “Sometimes I think he forgets that I even exist.”

The disappearance of Rana’s sense of sexual pleasure from her life led to her frustration, which became the only present element, and became apparent and affecting her professional and social life.

As for Sarah (41 years old, a housewife), in every women’s session she felt that she was on another planet, far from the women’s stories that were being told in front of her.

She used to hear about pleasure but it was like she could “smell it but not taste it” as she said, since she had never experienced pleasure despite the presence of a partner in her life, but without sharing any sexual benefit. And it affected their emotional lives with apathy and coldness prevailing between them.

As a result, she explained, “she resorted to pornographic films, and the use of sex toys to masturbate and reach an orgasm.” While she confirmed that she “never regrets it”, she did not hide her feelings of “shame and astonishment when she had this type of sexual experience for the first time”, and described it as “the best thing she ever did.”

Jana, a 35-year-old lawyer, has another story. After 5 years of marriage that resulted in two children, she filed for divorce after long arguments and disagreements with her husband about their improper and unequal sexual relationship, and her lost sexual pleasure with him.

She confronted him that she had the right to happiness and enjoyment, and this is a fundamental right. On the contrary, he considered it not necessary.

In an interview with “Sharika Walaken”, she said that “when she asked him for a divorce, it was a shock to him, as he never thought that she would dare to do so because of this silly matter, according to his opinion.”

What is remarkable about Sarah’s story is that the Sheikh stood by her side and supported her in her divorce. He considered that her reasons are valid and right, despite her family’s opposition to divorce and its causes, which they described as “flawed”, and considered that it “caused her and them a scandal.”

Guilt prevents women from feeling sexual pleasure

We turned to Dr. Layal Abi Zaid, a gynecologist, and infertility and sexual health specialist, and head of the Reproductive Assistance Department at Al-Mashriq Hospital, and asked her about the issue.

She said, “in my clinic, I notice the guilt that stands in the way of any pleasure in sexual relations among many unmarried women. This conflict between the search for pleasure and guilt is the result of education and religious and social values, which deprive them of reaching this pleasure or orgasm sometimes, or they reach it and encounter feelings of guilt that deprive them of feeling sexual satisfaction.

She stressed that “the problems begin when we are not satisfied, and we feel sexual frustration, and this rule applies to all aspects of life, not just sexual ones.”

As for the health benefits of regular sexual intercourse, they are numerous.

It contributes to reducing stress and anxiety and to increasing the hormone of happiness. It is also good for the heart, and for increasing self-confidence, lowering blood pressure, and having a stronger immune system.

Her sexual history influenced her working life

We return to Maryam, who is looking for a different ending to her history than that of the other women in her family. She explains how her sexual history affected her professional and social life: “I struggled in all the jobs I worked at, even in the major I studied, which is accounting. I moved from one job to the next, as if frustration and failure were with me all the time, preventing me from completing any task that was required of me.”

She added, “I was suffering from a lack of focus and mental dissociation, which prevented me from keeping a steady job for more than six months. And I’m not saying that it’s related to sex, but rather to the psychological and emotional stability that any woman needs as much as any man.”

She explained, “in these times, I’ve either been in a toxic relationship being used more as a commodity, which I’ve always felt, or I’ve just gotten out of one of them. Today, when I am in my thirties, after realizing the reasons for my problems and the failure of my relationships, I became more careful and attentive, which helped me to continue with my current job that I started a year ago, and this is the longest time I have stayed in a job and I am proud of myself, and I work hard to maintain it.”

“Sexual desire is the dynamic that drives the life of every person, and its effects differ from one person to another according to the priority of this desire over other desires, and the extent of his/her need. Therefore, sexual need is certainly relative.” This is how psychologist Rania Boubou defined the “libido” in an interview with “Sharika Walaken.”

She added, “after all, libido is the primary driver and ulterior motive behind many behaviors. Failure to satisfy this desire, specifically for women, leads to many problems and disorders, whether on the physical, psychological, social, or even productivity levels.”

She pointed out that “it may develop into a disorder or a specific mental illness, which one for certain, cannot be determined, because the lack of sexual satiation is not the only reason for it, but rather several factors that come together. These are: personal predisposition, genetic factors and life experiences.

“Women often fall victim to blame because of their sexual frustration, which may lead them to blame this problem on their social and professional lives, making them feel inferior in all their roles,” she explained.

She also mentioned that “in our social relationships, we deal with people through a psychological defense mechanism that is projection, especially with people with whom we have a long relationship. We repeat images in certain situations and places such as the workplace and our social relationships, by transferring emotional charges into them in an unconscious way as a result of feeling like sexual failures.”

She added, “another option is when women divert their energy and pour it into one place, such as work, to make up for this failure and create value that satisfies them. But it certainly does not mean that every successful woman at work is sexually frustrated, but it can sometimes be an incentive to put in the effort at work. While some women withdraw from social life due to a lack of self-confidence, others use this frustration to shine socially and open up to others more.”

The impact of ignoring women’s demands, desires and needs on the economy

According to Professor of Development Economics and Economic Growth at Tennessee State University Dr. Fadi Fawaz, “Any employee who is emotionally, mentally, or physically unstable will not be able to be productive.”

And when we asked him about the impact of women’s sexual frustration on the economy, he said: “The strength of the economy is measured by the strength of productivity. But we live in a patriarchal society in which women’s requests, desires and sexual needs are ignored, which is considered violence against them.”

He added, “It is known that the employee’s happiness increases his productivity, and of course a woman who is exposed to sexual frustration is not happy, which is reflected on her productivity, practical performance, place and environment of her work, and the economy in general.”

A study published years ago on the risk of sexually frustrated women developing breast cancer indicated that this injury would force her to miss work to attend therapy sessions, which affects productivity.

The government may also have to cover her medical expenses, which will be a burden on the economy.

Fawaz considered that “the focus should be on educating men to understand the real desires and needs of women. Telling women that talking to a partner about their sexual and emotional needs is not wrong.”

Facing men .. He pours his anger in bed, to be relieved!

Although it is difficult for women to give their testimonies on this subject, the matter is worse for men, especially when confronted, because this affects the image and impact of their “masculinity”, especially socially.

What happens inside of the house and during sex is one thing, and outside is quite another.

Pride in patriarchal society must be nurtured, not undermined!

“I get angry and nothing can calm me down except sex, which if I don’t get on time I feel like I will hit her, and it happened many times,” said Mohamed, the 30-year-old we confronted about the improper and unfair sexual relationship he has with his wife.

He added: “You might think this is a problem, but I love sex and I have to do it every day. This is my natural right as a married man. Sometimes she acts like she doesn’t want to or she’s afraid, but I remember reading somewhere that this is a way for women to try to get men to soothe them. I don’t like violence during sex, but I feel better when I pour my anger in bed.”

When asked about his children and what his impact over them was, he answered that he has 6 children and that “birth is evidence of fertility and manhood. If it were up to me, I would have conceived 20 children! Believe me I did everything I could and even stopped her from using contraceptives! I also like for my boys to show signs of toughness and harshness early on. As for my daughter, I can’t wait for her to wear the hijab.”

As for his parents, he said: “I am like my father, he was tough and my mother always tried to please him.” He believed that “toughness is the key to everything, without it, things do not go as they should. But despite all this, I am sure that my wife and children are happy,” he concludes, laughing provocatively, as if he were victorious with his conclusions, considering that his wife’s complaint is nothing but a cute way to ask for more!

Between the false sexual information inherited for thousands of years, the absence of sexual and scientific education for both sexes, and the obfuscation of women’s rights and preventing them from getting to know their bodies, they turn into victims of the dominance of the patriarchal society and the actual tragedies it causes, making many of them pass through this life without getting to know themselves or their bodies. Without knowing their dreams, or the huge amount of violence they are subjected to, without realizing that their rights are being taken away from them daily.

Isn’t it time, then, for women to realize, and for society to recognize, that indifference to their sexual needs is “violence” against them?

An in-depth investigation, produced by “Shareka Walaken”, prepared by Zainab Sharara and Reem Othman, and supervised by Youmna Fawaz.

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