Subscribe to FII's Telegram

When we were younger, we could never muster up the courage to string the letters into the word, out of fear and even a certain sense of shame and chagrin. When we grew older, some of us may have embarked on our own journeys of self-discovery to see what all that hype was about. For now, they remained confined to fleeting images on screens, hushed whispers and quick google searches, only to be succeeded by the erasure of all search history. Yet, the concept would continue to hold a great degree of fascination for us nonetheless. When we finally grew up, we began discussing it further and understanding it, yet these were again spoken of very discretely, very rarely with the opposite sex, let alone at home at the dinner table.

Image Source: The Lily

For some of us, it was even worse because our families would never understand that love is love and desiring someone of the same sex would not show us in a lesser light or mean that our hearts deserved anything less. Such talk was also a burden for those of us who never felt right in our own skin and questioned the very identity we were commanded to perform from birth. Roleplay seems to figure a lot on both ends when it comes to adult conversations as grown-ups put topics they would rather not discuss at bay and children grow to understand them all the same, unbeknownst to them. 

Despite living in Singapore for a large part of my life, I still lived in a largely conservative and sheltered environment, where the very notion of sex and intimacy never existed, let alone discussed at home, for how could we ever validate or give shape or form to something that was never given a place to exist? As a young girl, with the pure innocence of childhood curiosity, I always wondered why I felt squeamish and awkward during intimate scenes in movies or why my mother would even cover my eyes, almost shielding me away from the world and fantasies about desire and pleasure that I was too young to dwell on for obvious reasons at the time.

Image Source: KPBS

During a conversation I had with my mother during my winter break, she reminded me how I should never be ‘that kind of girl.’ Yet, though I tried probing her further and asking her why she believed so, she never gave me an answer that quite satisfied me. Besides the vague and awkward period talk I had at the ages of 12 and 13, topics like sex and overall sex education were never revisited and remained confined to further adolescent speculation and sleepover conversations with my friends at the time. Where were the conversations about first relationships, first loves and first times to help prepare us for the messiness and drama of our adolescent and young adult lives?

Despite living in Singapore for a large part of my life, I still lived in a largely conservative and sheltered environment, where the very notion of sex and intimacy never existed, let alone discussed at home, for how could we ever validate or give shape or form to something that was never given a place to exist?

A Long And Regressive History

Indian households and by extension, society, regardless of place and time, has mastered the art of dismissal and living in the shadow of denial especially when it comes to those important conversations about, well you guessed it, sex. It is often for societies and families to come to terms with the fact that their girls are sexually active after a certain age and are free to make their own decisions. Despite living in the modern time we do, our generation continues to face the brunt of long-entrenched stigmas and social taboos associated with topics like sex which has, in turn, led to a complete break down in communication, especially at home with our families. Somehow conversations about sex have always been confined to the risks of teenage pregnancy and transmission of STDs rather than the emotional toll that sexual and physical relationships can have on us as well as the impacts and discovery of female desire and pleasure. 

Image Source: Kurnik

The lack of sex education in my primary, as well as high school, aggravated the problem further, along with my own reticence and fears of having conversations about sex and relationships at home. In hindsight, I now realise we never spoke about the emotions and other dimensions there were to grow up and being tossed into the world, besides securing a good grade and going to a prestigious university. A part of the culture shock I felt in university when I moved to France was also in part due to how openly people spoke about sex, relationships and hook up culture. I remembered even feeling rather uncomfortable when college mates I barely knew at the time once asked me about past sexual relationships and boyfriends. 

Moreover, the very concept of female sexuality, in particular, is probably one of the most ignored and disregarded simply because of society and its entrenched patriarchal structure where the very notion female sexual desire is often deemed an aberration and dirty fantasy, thereby feeding into the overarching narrative of male domination. A part of the breakdown in communication stems from the way Indian society, in particular, suppresses negative freedoms, making it near impossible for us to have open conversations about sex with our families.

Families and societies fail to come to terms with the fact that women, after a certain age, have the right to exercise their own freedoms, especially when it comes to understanding our independence and dealing with the multiple facets of self-exploration, identity and of course, womanhood. Talk about safe sex practices, anxiety and necessary health precautions vaccinations like HPV are also never discussed.

Moreover, the very concept of female sexuality, in particular, is probably one of the most ignored and disregarded simply because of society and its entrenched patriarchal structure where the very notion female sexual desire is often deemed an aberration and dirty fantasy, thereby feeding into the overarching narrative of male domination.

Female pleasure and independence are aspects that are never discussed simply because we continue to believe that the primary purpose of sex for women is to ratify and consummate a marriage and start a family. We never consider the emotional and mental impacts that sexual relationships have on us, both in our exploration of our freedom and agency as well as the appreciation and understanding of the complex workings of our own bodies and minds. Empowerment, on this front, isn’t necessarily about acting on our feelings or being pressured into relationships when we aren’t ready but being confident about our conviction and self-autonomy as women by being offered a choice.

Also read: Sexuality And Trauma: How Fear Is Transmitted Across Generations

The Road to More Openness and Change?

Yet, though many of us continue to face a number of obstacles when it comes to having open dialogues and discussions in comfortable environments about sex and other associated topics, shifts in societal perspectives will prove to be an effective solution in the long run. For one, understanding complex related issues that seek to undermine and inhibit free and open dialogue about women’s sexual freedom is imperative to dismantle preconceived notions and counter the propagation of harmful and damaging stereotypes about women’s bodies.

Rather than objects at the receiving end of societal ostracisation, female sexuality is celebrated and women’s issues and struggles are recognised at the same time. Problems like rape culture and its toxic normalisation continue to debilitate due to the aggravation and breeding of toxic masculinity, victim-blaming and slut-shaming. Societies continue to remain sexually oppressed due to an overall lack of education, knowledge as well as the propagation of misinformation.

As a society, I also believe that it is necessary that sex education focus on women’s bodies and pleasure as sex is often seen as a power dynamic owned by men and for the sake of their gratification. For instance, schools, if at all, continue to simply gloss over key information and largely ignore deeper topics like relationships as well as understanding sexism and predatory behaviour. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to break the cycle of oppression, fear and dire lack of communication. 

Image Source: Wikipedia

Furthermore, plays like Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues have proven revolutionary in their exploration of rape, coercion, and abuse as well as female sexual pleasure and freedom, through its honest first-hand accounts from different women across the world. These performances are now held in many educational and professional institutions across the world to give women a voice on the stage and inspire others to speak up as well. Additionally, in recent years, films like Lipstick Under my Burkha have proven to be pioneering and groundbreaking in their social commentary and storytelling. The film openly discusses women’s issues and freedoms by telling the stories of four different women who are disillusioned and constrained by different facets of society as well as their personal lives.

As I was exposed to more open and honest discussion especially after I began university, similar topics were discussed even in the classroom, particularly topics like power, gender and feminist politics. Even though I never discussed sex when I was in school and still lived with my parents, I realised that it was impossible to escape such conversations in the real world because such discourse and debates flourished among young liberal, political and left-leaning young people in universities like me who wanted to correct and address the wrongs in the world.

Image Source: YouTube

I learnt about radical legal feminist theorist Catharine MacKinnon’s Man-fucks-woman-subject-word-object analogy that stresses the Marxist foundations of the construct of gender and the interplay of social forces which make it impossible for women to speak up against social injustices and sexual abuse. Psychoanalytic feminists explained women’s oppression as rooted within psychic structures and reinforced by the continual repetition or reiteration of relational dynamics formed in infancy and childhood. In this case, the lack of openness about female sexuality and freedom definitely exacerbates this particular problem further. 

Also read: “Where Do Babies Come From?” – 5 Child-Friendly Books About Sex And Sexuality

Though I have no shame discussing sex openly now due to my experiences and own learning, a small yet deeply buried tugging voice of the small shy 12-year old girl who struggled to come to terms with her own body, mind and heart, still resonates within me and haunts me when I try to discuss sex openly with family and even friends. She will get over it. I know she will. Give her time. Society has told her otherwise for far too long.


Featured Image Source: The New Yorker

1 COMMENT

Leave a Reply