In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira asks Bhishma many questions as the latter lies on a bed of arrows, awaiting death. One of them (rather strangely considering the situation) asks: Who gets more sexual pleasure, a man or a woman?
And Bhishma replies: It is difficult to answer the question who gets more pleasure unless one has experienced being a man and a woman.
Does such a being exist? And Bhishma tells the story of Bhangashvana. He was born a man and had many children. Then he annoyed Indra, who turned him into a woman, and as woman he had many children. So he had sex both as man and woman. He said a woman gets more pleasure than a man.
A similar story is told in Greek mythology. Zeus and Hera, king and queen of the Olympians, wonder who gets more sexual pleasure. The seer Tiresias accidentally kills the female of a pair of copulating serpents and is cursed to be a woman; he then one day kills the male of a pair of copulating serpents and is restored to male form. He says that women have greater pleasure than men and when Zeus laughs, Hera turns Tiresias blind.
Irish mythology also speaks of a man who encounters the fairy people and turns into a woman and enjoys pleasure both with women and men. But he does not reveal what gave him more pleasure, perhaps because the story is retold by Christian monks. He gave a slightly different spin. He said he preferred the sound of the children who called him mother than those who called him father.
Scientists are divided on this, as it is difficult to define pleasure. The human imagination complicates things and so even the definition of sex can be rather vague. Some people, who rarely get to see women’s bodies, may get excited by the sight of her ankles, as in Victorian times. Today, a person who grows up in a South American beach and is used to seeing hundreds of men and women in bikini straps may not respond so.
Studies with male to female transsexuals or female to male transsexuals yield variable results as they suffer from gender dysmorphic syndrome and usually do not like the previous body which leads to bias in their answer.
Neurobiological studies reveal that while male pleasure is more in the form of a quick spike, the female pleasure is more sustained and so men can feel spent quickly, just as the woman is getting started. This could be the reason why many men feel inadequate, and why, according to some anthropologists, patriarchy may have arisen. As men were too impatient and constantly ended up feeling they were not good enough for the women, they established laws curtailing women’s sexual freedom.
In the Purans, one comes across stories where Mohini chastises and curses Brahma for refusing to satisfy her when she is aroused on grounds that HE has rituals to perform (ancient version of work/headache excuses of modern spouses). In the stories of Diti in Bhagvata Purana and Kaikesi and in some versions of the Ramayana, the men (Kashyapa and Vishrava respectively) are approached when ‘they are ovulating’ and the men get angry as the ‘hour is inauspicious’ and will produce demons, tales that indicate at one level female desire and at another level male anxiety.
The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.