Pierre Brouard, Deputy Director of the Centre for the Study of Aids in South Africa, raises some interesting points in his post on male circumcision and female pleasure. Originally posted on Gender Masala, the blog by journalist and editor Mercedes Sayagues, who has posted on Akimbo before, Brouard’s post raises nuanced and provocative questions about the sexual pleasure of women in relation to male circumcision.
He starts with a great premise, and one that IWHC belives in strongly:
“I believe sexual pleasure should be a human right advanced to all, though for some of us this may be a progressive realisation of rights as we work through all the baggage of our socialisation!”
Next, with this premise established, he goes on to highlight a study that links male circumcision to female sexual pleasure:
“One of the many studies emerging as a companion to the now famous three circumcision trials, which showed the partial protective efficacy of male circumcision, suggests that “women whose male sexual partners were circumcised report an improvement in their sex life.”
Nearly 40% said sex was more satisfying afterward. About 57% reported no change in sexual satisfaction, and only 3% said sex was less satisfying after their partner was circumcised.”
Sure, this data might seem promising at first glance, especially to those who are keen on increasing and supporting female sexual pleasure. But Brouard identifies the somewhat skewed and oversimplified way of thinking about female pleasure that this headline and study reflect:
“What’s vexed me, and others, is this notion of pleasure and how we define it. Those of us who come from a “social” as opposed to “biomedical” or “public health” paradigm would argue that sexuality is fluid, it changes over our lifetimes, it may be context or relationship dependent, it is informed not only by our gender but our class and orientation.
So “pleasure” in a sexual encounter may be shaped by mood, the time of life, the way a woman is relating to her partner that day, whether she was exhausted from chores, her beliefs about female agency in a sexual encounter, whether she was menstruating or in menopause, whether foreplay had occurred.
Pleasure, surely, is variable, contextual, dynamic, changing, unpredictable. Even enigmatic sometimes: a woman may have a good orgasm but still feel angry with her husband or partner. She may never have had an orgasm but feel happy that he does. She may secretly masturbate after he falls asleep and feel fantastic after that.
A biomedical or public health perspective, I would argue, reduces men and women and their practice to simple categories and distinct binaries: gay vs straight; masculine vs feminine; satisfied vs unsatisfied; safe vs dangerous.
This is necessary if you want a simplified view of the world and if you want “proof” that most women will be happy to have their male partners circumcised.”
By questioning what studies that claim to measure women’s sexual pleasure are exactly measuring, Brouard raises some fascinating questions about female sexuality and the studies that attempt to measure it. I look forward to more explorations as nuanced and thought-provoking as Brouard’s analysis was regarding female sexuality and male circumcision.