Our discomfort with s*x

Why can Pakistanis not be ‘happy in bed’?

Earlier this month Mathira’s most recent venture hit the social media circuit to mixed reviews. Her appearance in Josh condom ads felt liberating to some, just as it felt disgusting and out of place to others. It didn’t take long for PEMRA to shift uncomfortably in their shoes before they gave it the boot. No Mathira. No advert for protection. No population control.

But what was in that ad that caused such a commotion to begin with? If we dig a little deeper than the obvious truth, we’re left with something which isn’t really that lewd; we’re left with our own lack of ability to handle sex. The Pakistani people are no strangers to coitus with the country popping out close to 14,000 children on a daily basis. A developing country such as ours cannot afford the population boom. Staunch denouncers of Mathira’s Josh are blaming her left, right and centre for tarnishing the family planning/birth control platform. That sounds about right? Not if you look at the ad closely. It doesn’t really touch on the subject of family planning at all. It can, however, be tied in with sex education.

The various aspects relating to one’s physical, psychological and sociological needs are what form the basis of such education. The manner in which men treat women in Pakistan is deeply rooted in the fact that they’re not taught to be empathetic, and especially in terms of sex, they’re not educated at all. What Mathira represents in Josh’s advertisement is a woman who’s married to a man who keeps her happy. The idea that physical intimacy can be important for women too never really occurred to any of us, did it? And when faced with it, we know not what to do except recoil in horror. Like the air you breathe, like the food you eat, the birds and the bees is just another need one has to satisfy. Why it’s taken and turned into a taboo which needs religious, moral and ethical policing is confusing.

The volume of marital rapes in the country is enough to make you wonder just what is it that the men are doing with their women. It’s a silent crime where the victim is called the victor and the perpetrator is the master. We would rather punish bad morals than educate people for having the bad morals we taught them in the first place. We do not wish to teach our young men to be kind, gentle and good to the women they love. We’re okay with a husband forcing himself on his wife with no thought whatsoever of making the experience a little easier for her to handle. And when you add the stamp of religious approval, there’s literally nothing anyone can do. This can be fixed if men are taught to be more kind to the women they’re married to, however.

Sexual behaviour has been made such a taboo that simply treating a wife as an equal partner in a sexual act is thought of as immoral. And the immorality police is nowhere to be found when women are being wronged time and time again. Josh can be accused of a lot of things but its ad had to be appreciated for trying to present a different point of view. An average Pakistani woman will give birth to five to six children in her life time. From those, several will be the product of marital rape or sex subsequent to some form of abuse. So it’s not surprising that Pakistanis can’t stomach Mathira’s character prancing around like a happy woman who’s so terribly satisfied that the entire neighbourhood is jealous.

This is a country where experts estimate that almost all HIV cases where women are involved stem from transmissions from a woman’s husband to her. So we’ve built our women to be willing victims of rape and disease and there’s no law that can rectify that situation – but we will ban an advertisement which focuses on keeping women happy in bed. Pakistanis look at condoms and conclude “family planning”, because we fail to acknowledge them having any other utility. And we fail to tap out of our “haww gandi baat” mentality no matter what we do. Physical intimacy isn’t just a man’s play, it’s equally important (if not more so) for women.

But more than the men, it is the woman that are fault for taking it lying down (no pun intended). They refuse to talk about the taboos, refuse to address marital rape and go along with all manners of horror willingly. Discussions over sexuality are held behind closed doors with one’s mother, never with one’s husband. And never is the subject of pleasure derived from physical intimacy visited. It is the same women who are having such a hard time understanding why Mathira would do something so ludicrous i.e. be satisfied with physical intimacy.

At the end of the day, if the critics of the ad are to be taken seriously than any woman who’s happily married to a man who’s nowhere near as good looking as she is, is basically a woman that lacks character. If she’s satisfied with coitus then all the more so. There is no insinuation that simply using Josh can get you all the women you want. The only woman the guy seems to want till the very end is his “wife”. It is high time we actually try and sensitize men to the role they play in their spouse’s sexual wellbeing.

While family planning is an important issue, it is not the only one that demands attention. We have a dire need to revisit how we look at our women, how we treat them, and how we label the ones that seem different. For now, evidently we cannot tell the difference between a woman that’s being objectified, and a woman that’s merely satisfied. What we cannot comprehend is “oh so dirty!”

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. She can be emailed at [email protected] She tweets @luavut

Luavut Zahid

Luavut Zahid is Pakistan Today’s Special Correspondent. Her work places an emphasis on conflict and disasters, human rights, religious and sexual minorities, climate change, development and governance. She also serves as the Pakistan Correspondent to the Crisis Response Journal. She can be reached at: [email protected], and she tweets at: @luavut.