'Down There' and the Taboo of Sexual Pleasure
By Amnani Fatin
I remember the first time I felt sexual pleasure.
Although at the time I may have been 5 or 6 years old, and I didn’t know that the pleasure I was feeling was sexual.
It was evening in our old family house in Kajang. My family and I were seated in the living room watching the news on TV3 prime time when I felt the urge to tinkle. As per usual, I walked towards the toilet, took off my panties by the door, stepped onto the wet bathroom floor and squatted close to the orange coloured water hose connected to the faucet. Balancing myself as I squatted on the floor with the bathroom door wide open, I could see my father seated on the brown sofa, his leg crossed on the other with his eyes locked on the television.
I relieved myself from all the Ribena I had been holding in from the day and stared blankly at the gush of yellow liquid that hit the floor in front of me spluttering about and flowing its way down towards the gutter. With the orange coloured hose in my right hand and turning the tap on with my left, (a routine my dad had taught me when it’s time to wash up after yourself) I directed the running water towards my down there and felt the cold surge of water against it. The rush of water felt different than at other times. It felt nice. I felt a kind of buzz, a tingle and then an electrical shock wave that seemed to hit my nervous system in all directions as my body shook in surprise at this feeling that was strangely nice and different. I was puzzled about the feeling that I felt down there. Why did it feel that way? What is down there?
As I continued directing the hose, my little hand now had a tighter grip guiding the flow of the stream. Curiously I yelled out from the damp bathroom,
“Papa! Papa! Kenapa bila paip air kena bawah ni dia rasa sedap?”
Papa! Papa! Why does it feel good when I
place the running water down there?
I’ll never forget my father’s reaction. Alarmed at my question he sat upright in a 90 degree angle and shouted from the hall with a stern look on his face that resembled wild dogs when they bark.
“JANGAN BUAT MACAM TU! JANGAN BUAT MACAM TU LAGI! TAK MALU KE?! JANGAN BUAT MACAM TU BEDOSA!”
DON’T DO THAT! DON’T DO THAT EVER AGAIN!
ARE YOU NOT ASHAMED OF YOURSELF?! DON’T DO IT AGAIN IT’S SINFUL!”.
We never spoke of it ever after that day.
At 14 years old, I remember my late grandmother telling me that the white discharge that collected in my panties were signs that my body was changing and entering womanhood. She had described my discharge as being manis – sweet, because I was an anak dara – virgin girl and pure. As I was entering puberty and womanhood she told me that I must shower wearing my panties because the angels are observing and I ought to feel malu – ashamed or shy – that the malaikat – angels can see my down there. I was confused by this but was the obedient granddaughter and so followed suit.
That same year, as I was lying on the bed flipping through the Hello! Magazine that belonged to my Aunt, I came across an advertisement for perfume. There were the images of both male and female models posing seductively, caressing each other by the beach. She was scantily clad and he was shirtless gripping her body tightly towards him. I felt funny. I felt strange. I felt aroused. Instinctively, I moved my hand towards my down there and began rubbing over my panties. By this time my panties were soaked and for the first time ever in my life did I experience and feel my down there. It was strange to have felt the lips of it, the bit that felt like a cherry or asam seed – the clit; hard but with a soft skin over it and when rubbed felt good; the stickiness and dampness that made it seem juicy like a ripened fruit. There was an entirely new side of me that emerged that day once I had acknowledged, explored and discovered my down there. It was a kind of quiet confidence and I felt liberated and in control because I had the power to feel this burst of physical sexual satisfaction created by me and no one else. To know that it was me who was responsible for feeling sexy and sexual gave me comfort, allowing me to fully envelop leadership and self-control. I had successfully pleasured myself. I gave myself permission to touch myself. I had overcome years of societal taboo surrounding sexual pleasure and in that afternoon I became a woman who was aware of her sexual rights and gave the angels a good show.
In my 30’s now, when I reflect on my journey of sexual pleasure I am fascinated by the Malay words used to describe the female body part: the vagina. Mostly referred to in Malay society as bahagian/tempat kemaluan, having the direct English translation as the area or place (bahagian/tempat) of shame (kemaluan). The root word – malu, has various meanings in Malay; shyness, embarrassment, humiliation and shame; all of which carries negative undertones and from a cultural perspective is seen as somewhat of a burden. Whilst, in real life, the vagina is far from negative in any shape or form, nor a burden. It is the place of conception, the womb which contains the future child to lead the next generation, a place of birth, and biologically speaking it is the cleanest part on the human body. Yet, it is referred to with such disdain as an area of shame.
These specific words used as a reference to the vagina, bahagian kemaluan/ tempat kemaluan/kemaluan/malu, chains it to ‘shame’ as a norm in society. Inadvertently creating a mental prohibition to sexual pleasure and keeping a tight lid on sexual rights. This cultural taboo - to sexually pleasure oneself, I believe is inextricably linked to the concept of consent. It is a very powerful experience to permit oneself to sexual pleasure, to give oneself consent in gratifying oneself autonomously, taking full control of the body independent of another person. This is freedom and the actualization sexual rights.
It was by overcoming the mental barrier of taboo as I did at 14 years old, and giving myself permission to pleasure myself, that I fully came to understand my sexual rights and accept that I have sexual pleasures. It is essential that society moves towards an openness in consenting to discussions and exchanges in dialogue in relation to sexual rights and sexual pleasure beginning at home. There must be a change in the words used to describe sexual body parts and sexual experiences in order to disengage and disassociate from years of societal taboo surrounding the topic. When we as a society progress from seeing sexual rights as taboo, will we then see a shift overall in human rights.
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About the Author
A proud and self-aware Malay-Muslim woman who is comfortable in her sexuality and asserts her rights to experience life fully. A creative content promoter, a Women’s Aid para-counselor, an activist for gender equality, an adventurer with a curious soul and seeker of truths.