By Sumedha Pal Sep. 17, 2021
For the longest time, my absurd theories on sex and intercourse were influenced by the taboos associated with it. Incredibly, even the ‘sex education’ available on paper, only held me back, as it does scores of other children in this country.
After making a purplish solution with all the “toxic” products I could find around the house, I was convinced that the mixture would kill me. But that, sort of, was the intention. Trembling and tired from my head spinning for days, I wrote with an almost broken pencil on a tiny chit of paper “I am pregnant” and handed it over to my mother.
She gasped after reading the chit, not uttering a word for two minutes. Staring at me, amused and confused, she asked me if I knew in the slightest what it meant. I was given the dreaded talk on birds and bees to my eventual relief; explained in no uncertain terms that I was in fact not pregnant. Relieved, I decided not to share my “zeher” mixing preparedness nor the reason that I assumed I had become pregnant – the fact that I had kissed a boy.
For days I felt guilty about what I’d done. In all the movies and shows I had watched explicit mentions of kissing or any acts of physical intimacy were often shrouded in secrecy and shame. All those diagrams of my reproductive system, the complex terminology and hours of getting a basic sketch done, taught me nothing about the actual act of sex or pleasure either. Naturally, even the miserly taste of another man’s lips had left me worried, feeling villainous, not just for doing it but having enjoyed it. In retrospect, the innocence of my teen years guaranteed that without an adult to demystify sexuality, anything was believable as well as deniable.
While elite schools have started professing gyaan on safe sex practices and body positivity, the conversation is yet to enter the final frontier, where it can either sustain or perish forever – the Indian drawing room.
For most Indian girls like myself, the discourse around sex, in over a decade, has not progressed much. Going to your parents for advice on your sex life is worse than the idea of torturing yourself with guilt or suspicion. While elite schools have started professing gyaan on safe sex practices and body positivity, the conversation is yet to enter the final frontier, where it can either sustain or perish forever – the Indian drawing room.
Not too long ago I came across this story of a 25-year-old boy who attempted to “seal” his penis to ensure that his partner did not get pregnant. He died. My first reaction to this story may have been shock and disbelief, but eventually, a wisdom dawned upon me. Born out of my own history of agonising over the things we as kids aren’t told about sex. The 13-year-old me, who had almost chugged down a dangerous toxic to hide the shame of intercourse and conception, could somewhat relate to the panic.
I remember sitting in a huge auditorium hall. No chairs, just over a thousand of us girls sitting on the bare floor waiting for their questions to be answered. My school, unlike others I had studied at till date, had organised a “sex and sexuality workshop”. By then the memories of my accidental pregnancy fiasco had faded. I felt I knew more about my body and sex.
Chits were passed around, containing questions ranging from how to remove pubic hair to the types of pads to use. There was laughter, but largely there was collective embarrassment. Answering one of the questions, a grey-haired woman exclaimed “If you give sex to a man, he will leave you”, followed by “Men are with you for sex.”
From pop culture to every possible advertisement, the idea of being available and created for someone else’s pleasure was a tough one to get over.
Thanks to the supposed “counselling” we received, the idea of actual “sex” or intercourse became a strict no-go zone. Every time I was just about to, I’d be reminded of just how risky it was to have sex. “What if this person isn’t the right one, what if I get pregnant” the slew of what-ifs meant a string of dry humping sessions and resenting how I will perhaps never actually have sex. I had my partners convinced that sex was overrated anyway.
The lack of understanding of our own bodies and what to do with them leads not just to personal illiteracy, but to a kind of social blindness as well. Little do we know what to do with someone else’s body. Inexperienced and untrained we are forced to navigate relationships like animals discovering new planets. In a world where everybody seems to be “doing” it (have you looked at this country’s population) nobody is ready to open up about the ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ just yet. Consequently, the idea of receiving pleasure has become twined with guilt and shame, and for women, it has become all the more forsaken.
The paradox of the great Indian sex story is also the fact that the most progressive and nuanced ideas on sex and ‘sex education’, continue to construe women as objects of consumption- reducing women’s bodies to those meant to give pleasure. From pop culture to every possible advertisement, the idea of being available and created for someone else’s pleasure was a tough one to get over. I have literally trained myself to ask for my fair share.
My body alone does not define my participation in this journey. It is, after all, my mind and heart at play too.
From Salaam Namaste’s Preity Zinta getting pregnant after one night of action to the rather controversial Swara Bhasker masturbating in Veere- di- wedding, Indian depictions of female sexuality have come a long way. However, desire, wanting to explore one’s own body let alone a partner’s is a rarity for Indian shows and advertisements. From Cocktail’s Veronica to Mirzapur’s Beena Indian women demanding pleasure have been cast or interpreted as sluts or schemers.
I have realised over the years, the not knowing wasn’t just about our bodies and about the act of sex, it was also about the sense of belonging and identity. My body alone does not define my participation in this journey. It is, after all, my mind and heart at play too. I’ve also arrived at the unassuming fact that sexuality is fluid, it’s an elastic journey with no known consequence other than a cascade of stops – some of them memorable, some of them disappointing, some even confusing. But it’s all a never-ending journey, through which the education I never received, I believe, shall never stop. And I look forward to it.