Yes, YES! Who hasn’t enjoyed that moment where the world stops, the mind goes blank, muscles contract and pleasure heightens until the spasm hits each of your senses? For many women nowadays, that lovely moment known as the petit mort is neither hidden nor oppressed. Female pleasure is no longer an illusion, whether that’s alone or in the company of another man or woman. The journey here has been a long one and, whether we like it or not, is still latent in our collective subconscious.
For centuries, in many countries around the world, the western woman was held prisoner by a patriarchal system that demanded she be sweet and submissive to all men. Female sexuality belonged to men and, for a long time, it was deemed healthy for women to have no sexual desire. The first vibrator was created as a therapeutic device to treat female hysteria and was totally unrelated to pleasure. For hundreds of years, women’s sex lives have been exclusively associated with the patriarchy and eclipsed by guilt, fear, the sin imposed by the church and punishment for those who did not accept the status quo.
Female sexuality belonged to men and, for a long time, it was deemed healthy for women to have no sexual desire.
In marriage, sex was long considered a mere conjugal duty that women had to submit to without complaint, often feeling uncomfortable, for the sake of legitimising their offspring. But did they want to do it? Did they feel pleasure?
Now, the first case is determined by the second – truly enjoying sex was not characteristic of a dignified, family woman. For women, being able to explore and get to know the ins and outs of their bodies was simply not part of the equation. Eroticism was prohibited among women and couples, and was something that men could only experience with prostitutes or lovers. Moreover, although pleasure was not denied with these women, male satisfaction was always the main objective of the encounter.
Eroticism was prohibited among women and couples, and was something that men could only experience with prostitutes or lovers. Moreover, although pleasure was not denied with these women, male satisfaction was always the main objective of the encounter.
Later, two world wars meant that many men had to leave for the front, leading many women to abandon the isolation of the home. And though it may seem strange, this was an undeniable step on the journey towards female emancipation. Sexual emancipation, on the other hand, had to wait a while longer, but arrived with the launch of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s. Pleasure was separated from reproduction once and for all, opening a whole new world of opportunities to women. YES, YES and YES to that invention!
Sexual emancipation, on the other hand, had to wait a while longer, but arrived with the launch of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s.
The purpose of this article is not to give you a boring history lesson, although it’s important to know the context in which these things happened in order to understand the present as well as some of the ideas that remain. Nowadays, most women take pleasure in their right to enjoy a big “Oh, YES!” between the sheets. They now know what they like, how they like it and when and who they want to enjoy it with. Let’s toast to the fact that we can now finally enjoy the freedom to seek pleasure in different ways without shame. Let’s go all out and celebrate!
Nevertheless, while we’re celebrating the “Yes!” we mustn’t forget the importance of saying “NO”. We decide if we want to condemn ourselves to eternal guilt, to the burdens associated with the word “no” as regards sexual relations. Because, although emancipated, the modern woman still seems to feel the pressure of not being able to say “no” within the confines of marriage or on dates. We cannot ignore the numerous cases of sexual abuse that are committed, above all among adolescents, as the figures continue to rise. Public opinion casts doubt on abuse or considers abuse committed within this context as less serious, maintaining the dogma that, within a loving relationship between two people who make an emotional commitment to one another, the woman’s body belongs to her partner. This is a perpetuation of the idea of duty. That same duty that has marked our sex lives for centuries and which continues to exist despite the fact it doesn’t make any kind of sense.
the modern woman still seems to feel the pressure of not being able to say “no” within the confines of marriage or on dates (..) Public opinion casts doubt on abuse or considers abuse committed within this context as less serious, maintaining the dogma that, within a loving relationship between two people who make an emotional commitment to one another, the woman’s body belongs to her partner.
The world has changed a lot with regard to female pleasure, but there are still things that are yet to change in the short term. Women who fall victim to sexual violence continue to be judged for the clothes they wear, the alcohol they drink, their behaviour, language and the places they frequent, etc. The woman who has multiple sexual partners is still a slut. The woman who takes initiative in the bedroom is still bossy. The woman who says “no” is still annoying and irritating, as if denying a man her body as a source of pleasure were an offence.
We’ve got to the “yes, YES!”. So now we all need to learn that respecting a “no” within an intimate relationship is important in order to shape our personal journey so that we may become more dignified and free in the future.
Working as a journalist for Expresso for 10 years, Pinto Cosme moved to a different side of the communication sector when she decided to begin work at a consultancy firm and embrace humanitarian causes, forming part of the creative team behind O Apartamento. Nine years ago she created A Vida de Saltos Altos (“Life in High Heels”), whose feminist chronicles were published in book format in 2011. Furthermore, in 2012 she launched Os Segredos da Maleta Vermelha (“Secrets of the Red Suitcase”), a book that’s brimming with sweetness. Pinto Cosme loves people-watching but hates labels and, in addition to being a consultant and blogger/journalist, she defines herself as a woman who loves to tell stories.
Photo: Pau Storch