Sex and sexuality are two issues that make up for a highly uncomfortable conversation in most Indian households. Parents and elders want young ones to believe that humans are asexual being and babies are conceived through tears and whatnot, and that to even think about sex is dirty and impure. If held at gunpoint, they may concede that yes, sex comes to us naturally, but they would also add that the only acceptable sexual relationship is the one between a husband and a wife. This makes one wonder, is marriage a licence to have sex in India?
While premarital sex is a big taboo in India, it doesn’t mean that people lead sexually inactive lives before marriage. It is just that they do not talk about it. Even the concept of dating continues to raise eyebrows outside of urban India, how then do we expect families and society to be open about sex before marriage? The stigma is especially rigid for women. While a boy having premarital sex may get away with it, due to the gender card, for women premarital sex is a matter of dishonour, because the dignity of entire household and lineage is tied to her hymen.
So, good girls don’t date, don’t have sexual relations outside of marriage, and obediently marry wherever their family wants them to. Which means a good girl must put a pause on her sexual urges till she gets married, if she is unwilling to risk her family’s reputation. Many men too abide by the same rule, waiting to lose their virginity on their marital bed. This adds to the excitement that surrounds a wedding, however, once the initial thrill subsides, a couple may find itself in a wedlock marred by a dreary routine they didn’t foresee, because they were blinded by their excitement for sex.
Also, in many orthodox households, sex is perceived as more of a duty for women. What even does female pleasure mean? She is expected to have sex as an when her husband wants, or for procreation. No one cares about her sexual desires. No one wants to know whether she is satisfied sexually in her marriage or not. If her husband is asexual for instance, or has little to no interest in sex after a point of time, no one cares how she is managing her sexual needs. So while marriage might grant legitimacy to sex in India, it might not guarantee satisfaction or pleasure.
The whole business of marriage being license to have sex means unmarried women and even men have to keep their sex lives and sexual needs under wraps. Sex comes to us naturally, our sexuality is a big part of our identity, to have to hide it from our loved ones, for the fear of being judged and shamed, doesn’t it seem cruel? Why must people be answerable to others regarding what happens behind their bedroom doors, as long as it is consensual? Who gave our society the authority to grant legitimacy to an act based on their prude mindset? And mind you, age is no barrier here. Single women in their thirties and forties, people who have separated from their partners, or are widowed, it is not easy for them to lead active sex lives under the sharp scrutiny of society.
Since women themselves have internalised this mindset, it is important that we first break the taboo around sex within our social and familial circles. Women must talk not just about sexual desires, but of struggles they may have faced in their sexual fulfilment after marriage. These stories will not only help shatter the stigma around sex, but will be a reality check for those are excited by the prospect of marriage, because it means being sexually active with a seal of approval from their family.
The views expressed are the author’s own.