How Gender Roles Affect Sexual Health 185
Harmful belief: Women’s bodies belong to men
In many communities, a woman is treated like the
property of her father or husband. As a child, she
belongs to her father, and he can arrange to have her
marry or do whatever work he chooses. Her future
husband wants his property to be ‘pure’ and unspoiled
by other men, so he expects her to be a virgin. After
marriage, he feels he has the right to use her body for
his pleasure whenever he wants. He may have sex with
other women, but she is to be his alone.
These beliefs can cause great harm. A girl learns
that other people make the important decisions about
her life—it does not matter what she wants or what skills
she could contribute to the community. Because virginity
Some girls are married as
is valued so highly, she may marry at a young age. Or she children to make sure they will
may try to remain ‘virgin’ by using unsafe sexual practices.
For example, she may have sex in the anus (so that her
hymen will not be torn), which puts her at great risk for HIV
be virgins. This can cause serious
health problems for a girl and
her babies (see page 59).
infection. When she starts having sex, she may not be able to
use family planning methods with her partner or protect herself
from sexually transmitted infections.
But men do not own women’s bodies! A woman’s body is
hers, and she should be able to decide how, when, and with
whom to share it.
Harmful belief: Women have less sexual desire
A woman is often taught that it is part of her duty as a wife
to meet her husband’s sexual demands. But if she is a ‘good’
woman, she will endure sex, not want it.
Again, these beliefs harm a woman’s sexual health. First, a
woman who believes she should not think about sex will be
unprepared to have sex safely. She is less likely to learn about
family planning or about how to get and use condoms. Even if
she has the information, it will be hard for her to discuss these
things with her partner beforehand. If she can discuss sex, her
partner may think she is sexually experienced, and therefore ‘bad’.
How far should I
let him go? I like
him, but I’m afraid
of what he’ll think.
Once she is in a sexual relationship, she is likely to let her
partner control the kind of relationship they have. This includes
when and how they have sex, whether they try to prevent
pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, and whether
he has sex with other women. This puts her at great risk for
But sexual desire is a natural part of life, and a woman can
feel as much sexual desire and pleasure as a man.
Where Women Have No Doctor 2012