Remember the awkward silence, switching of channels, family members scattering, etc. when a scene of people kissing or even getting close came unannounced in a movie or on television? Or for that matter when a sanitary pad or condom advertisement caused the same effect! The conversations around sex and reproduction are avoided as though they are things of no consequence.

Conversations on Comprehensive Sexuality Education

When children reach a certain age they start to explore their body and become conscious of their sexuality. When one has questions about the difference between a boy and a girl or where do babies come from or why is there a difference in the anatomy, etc. we are shushed. Children have so many questions which aren’t answered, but they are curious. Ignoring or avoiding addressing these questions pushes children to find other unreliable sources to tend to their curiosity. If scolded for asking these questions, the impact usually makes children believe that this is a wrong or a bad thing that shouldn’t be spoken about. But it is important to address these questions and hence the need for a strong Comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculum.

Also Read: Web Series Review: ‘Sex Chat With Pappu and Papa’ by Y Films

Once we start to grow and hit puberty, the control over women’s sexuality begins. We have all been told ‘sit like this’, ‘walk like this’, ‘girls speak softly’, ‘ why are you trying to attract attention’, ‘behave like a lady’, and the list will go on. If society makes the very idea of sexuality wrong, then how will sex even come into conversation?

The conversations around sex and reproduction are avoided as though they are things of no consequence.

Women’s sexuality is controlled in various ways, apart from being told to behave like a girl, there is also moral policing. “Jawaan ladki zyada enjoy karti hai toh pregnant ho jaati hai” (Young girls who enjoy too much, get pregnant), a line from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) . We know how premarital sex is looked down upon, especially for women. If a girl has a lot of friends who are boys at some point she will be slut shamed. Men, however, are applauded for their ‘manhood’ for being able to ‘score’ so many women.

Premarital Sex and Relationships

Premarital sex will obviously not be acceptable in a society where no one converses about sex and control women’s sexuality. Girls are told to stay away from boys, no talking to them, no meeting, etc. even looking for girls-only schools or colleges for their daughter. The interaction with the ‘opposite sex’, being male here, is completely restricted.  The concept of virginity is made extremely important, as a good or ideal wife should be so. No matter how many women the boy has slept with, he wants a virgin wife, like somehow sexual activity is the test for ‘purity’ and the owner should have a purity check.

Women’s mobility and sexuality are always so controlled that they do not choose a sexual partner of their own choice. Their prospective significant other of their own choosing could be from a different caste or religion, and can damage the notion of ‘purity in lineage’.

If one manages to waver from this situation, they run the risk of being subject to honour killing, house arrest, etc. with different degrees of punishment for the different types of rebellion. The moral policing met out by Khap Panchayats and the likes, puts the onus of ‘honour’ of the family on women and creates caste-based divides. An example of which is clearly seen in the movie NH10, where the brother and uncle not only kill the girl and boy but also get violent with people who come in the way. Sending a message, that if you step out of line you shall see a similar fate.

Even when sexually assaulted, a woman is blamed by her choice of clothes, the time at which she was out of the house, emphasising the fact that a woman cannot have autonomy over what she wears or when she goes out. As ‘preventive measure’s, women are told to dress appropriately (who decides what appropriate is?) and be back home at a ‘decent time’ (another senseless concept). If the onus of the blame is put on women of ‘loose character’, then how does one explain the assault or sexual harassment of women who follow the society’s book of rules for being decent women?

Women’s mobility is further restricted by giving then a curfew before which they need to get back home, to keep her ‘safe’. Then isn’t it important to keep the men inside? The not so great phrase used, ‘boys will be boys’, is no justification for putting someone in harm’s way. It is the constant reinforcement of the patriarchal system that leads one to believe that they are in fact entitled.  When this imaginary entitlement isn’t provided, they assert their sense of power.

Marriage, Marital Sex and Reproduction

Marriage is considered to be an essential milestone for all and it is socially acceptable if you fulfil certain criteria, of caste, religion and heterosexuality. In a typical arranged marriage one barely gets the time to know the other person, as there is so much pressure about the possibility of the marriage being broken on the basis of any trivial thing, which could lead to tarnishing the reputation of the girl and her family. Since the two people do not get to understand each other in an organic way, one doesn’t really know what they are walking into.

A person who has internalised the idea of sex as sinful, finds it difficult to shed their understanding of the subject.

Once you are married, the next step is consummating your marriage. But after all the years of stating that sex is something sinful, bad or unspeakable, there comes the moment of actually having sex with a person you do not know well. One probably doesn’t even know oneself, being unable to explore their sexuality. Even if they tried, it was probably nipped in the bud.
When a girl gets married she is given a lot of advice as to how to be with one’s in-laws, how to keep the house, maintaining the kitchen and how to be ‘dutiful’ to your husband. This duty towards husband indirectly also means satisfying the man’s sexual needs. However, consent as a concept is rarely acknowledged. And since a woman is married, it cannot be called rape.
According to Maneka Gandhi, marital rape is inapplicable to Indian Society. How the meaning of marital rape changes from one country to the other is beyond my understanding. And this very clearly is the reason that we use to justify a case of marital rape by calling marriage ‘sacred’. Well, we can’t ignore the fact that there will be decent men who would give space to their wife, to be comfortable enough, until they wish to be involved consensually, but that is rare.
Once the milestone of marriage is achieved and some duration has passed the whole family gets ready for the next milestone, children and motherhood. The interest and involvement of the family in the bedroom of the couple is quite uncomfortable for me. These are the same people who never gave us any understanding about sexuality and reproduction. The interest in planning a couple’s family is an uncalled for interference! These are adults who are capable of deciding for themselves. Then there is the unsolicited advice given on how to conceive a male child!
Since even today it seems to be of great importance for people to have a male child. A mother is often asked by people with so much sympathy “oh you have two daughters”, or the pandit my parents go to still tell my parents they can have a ‘putra yog’ or possibility of a male child, if they try.
Sex selection is a very prevalent practice despite being criminalised. People provide ideas to conceive a male child by taking medicines, conducting rituals, going to some god-man, etc. The importance of a male child, makes one do various things, all the while pretending to be supporters of gender equality. Campaigns like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao are of no real use if people still follow such regressive ideologies.

Overall Impact

A person who has internalised the idea of sex as sinful, finds it difficult to shed their understanding of the subject. Sexuality isn’t something that suddenly hits you and you embrace it. A person’s sexuality is only then fully understood when they have enough information and a non-judgemental explanation of the subject. A person’s sexual desires or fantasies when judged makes them question themselves. For instance, homosexuality, BDSM, bisexuality, intersex, transgender, etc. are all judged, questioned and condemned in our society. But is it our business to judge what two people do in the privacy of their home? This only lead to a highly confused understanding of the self, which impacts our relationship with ourselves and others.
When we never receive any clarification about our questions, it is frequently understood that what is the visible ‘normal’ is the only acceptable way of being, any other alternative is ‘abnormal’. Once this understanding is made, we project it on others too. And through ignorance, we teach our children the same. While this vicious cycle keeps repeating itself.

Also Read: SC Says Protecting ‘Institution Of Marriage’ Is Above Marital Rape


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