Talking about sex

This paper describes a telephone helpline on sexuality based in NewDelhi, India, and analyses the language used by the men and women who have phoned the helpline to talk about sex and their experience of their bodies and their sexuality. Eight out of ten callers are men and many people phone more than once. The men seem to place their women sexual partners in certain categories, which are defined by the activities they engage in with them, or think they can engage in, and the social and emotional relationships they share with them. Callers’ perceptions of sexual acts and bodily processes appear to be based on and restricted by male-centred and male-defined assumptions. Women seem to accept these, even at the expense of their own uncertain understandings and experience. The penis is seen as central to sex and to any sexual problems men may have, and onlypenile-vaginal intercourse is considered real sex. Men commonly complain about women’s body shape and size, and how they smell and taste, but they understand little about how women’s bodies are constructed or what gives women sexual pleasure. Thus, both women and men are perpetuating a male-dominated set of values about sex and sexuality and classifying women’s sexuality on the basis of the little they know about women’s sexual desires and needs.