184 Sexual Health
➤ Our bodies are
not causes for shame.
Our bodies allow us
to touch and care for
others, and to feel
sexual pleasure. Our
bodies are something
to discover, love,
Harmful beliefs about women’s sexuality
What it means to be a woman or a man in a particular
community includes beliefs about men’s and women’s sexuality—
that is, about sexual behavior, and how people feel about their
A few harmful beliefs about women’s sexuality that are
common in many communities are described below. These
beliefs and other harmful effects of gender roles—the lack of
opportunity and choice for women, and the lack of value they
feel—can prevent women from having control over their sexual
lives. This puts them at great risk for sexual health problems.
Harmful belief: Women’s bodies are shameful
Mothers and fathers begin to teach their children about their
bodies as soon as they are born. Parents do not do this
directly. But a baby learns it by the way the parents hold
her, and the tone of their voices.
As a little girl grows, she becomes curious about her
body. She wants to know what the different parts are
called and why her genitals are different from a boy’s.
But she is often scolded for being curious, and is told
that ‘nice girls’ do not ask such things. If she touches her
genitals, she is taught that it is dirty or shameful—and that
she should keep her sexual parts hidden.
Her parents’ reactions teach a little girl that her body is
shameful. As a result, she will find it difficult to ask questions about
changes in her body as she enters puberty, and about her monthly
bleeding, or about sex. She may be too embarrassed to talk to a
health worker, because she does not know what parts of her body
are called or what questions to ask. When she starts having sex,
she is less likely to understand how her body feels sexual pleasure,
or to know how to protect herself from unwanted pregnancy or
sexually transmitted infections.
Harmful belief: A woman cannot be happy
without a man
Some women do not wish to marry or have sexual
relationships with men. Other women prefer to have sexual
relationships with other women. Although they often face
discrimination, many of these women live full, happy lives.
The idea that a woman can only be happy if she is with a man
is often used as an excuse to control women’s lives, and has even
been used to justify rape. It implies that a woman’s ability to have
sex is the most important thing about her and her only way to be
fulfilled. This belief is frustrating for many women, and can keep
them from developing in other ways.
Where Women Have No Doctor 2012