Updated 26 February 2013

Women's relationship with desire

Many women are suspicious of their own erotic desires, says Dr Shakti Mari Malan.


It is very common for women in our day to be suspicious of desire. Over many centuries, we have become used to being the objects of men’s desires. In our time, the sexual objectification of women has perhaps reached an all-time high. Not only is the image of a women’s body as object of sexual arousal for sale in any medium and form imaginable, many household objects – anything from cars to shampoo to video games – are sold with a women’s body as the focal point.

The effect of this on women is complex. On the one hand, many women are repulsed by this objectification and as a consequence even become estranged from their own erotic impulses. On the other hand, many women also aspire to look like the objects of desire.

In a beautifully crafted book called Open to Desire, Buddhist psychologist Mark Epstein presents the possibility that we as women may engage our desire from a subject rather than an object position. He refers to writings of feminist Jessica Benjamin and reflects on her writing: “Can women be their desire? The challenge for women, she added, is to move from being just an object of desire to becoming a subject: she who desires.”

Epstein describes this relationship to desire – that of being rather than having your desire – as quintessentially feminine.

What if you were to embrace your erotic desire as a space to be in – as a space, with spaciousness, without any demands for completion, achievement or satisfaction? Imagine how much could be revealed and developed in you in such an open space of desire. Can you feel how just being your desire could draw you into a life of simple pure presence?

You could of course continue to do what many women have done: deny and suppress your desire, judge it or pretend that isn’t there. What good will that bring you or the world? Will it make you more alive? Will you feel more authentic? Will it really make you more pure, more spiritual, if you suppress your desire? Or will it add just one more layer of veneer to cover the truth of who you really are?

It is interesting, but not surprising, to me that women are more inclined to suppress their eroticism than men. I would ascribe this to the following:

  • We live in a world where women’s sexuality has been demonized. You are either a virgin or a whore. You are either a submissive, obliging Eve, or a child-eating Lilith.
  • Men have had more space and permission to explore sexually. In fact, in some conservative cultures it is almost assumed that men would have extramarital relationships, where as it is expected of women to remain faithful to one partner. In many cultures, it is accepted that men would masturbate and fantasise, but the same activity among women is met with significantly more and foreboding.
  • Women have been sexually objectified and the features of female sexual icons created by the media are unattainable for most women – this has left many women feeling distinctly unsexy.
  • Many women tell me that they have simply been too busy with child-rearing to consider things sexual.
  • A high percentage of women have had sexual experiences that have been markedly unpleasant, if not directly abusive.

These are some of the reasons why women suppress their eroticism. You may have others. The point is: we can stick to our reasons, or we can start to own - to be - our eroticism, reclaim our lifeforce, inter grate what is in the unconscious. If we say “yes” to this journey, we’ll sooner or later find ourselves ready to enter the inner temple – to meet the meditation of the real.

This is an extract from Sexual Awakening for Women by Dr Shakti Mari Malan. Visit her website:  to buy the book. 


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