The ‘S’ Word

Why are we so afraid of sex in this country? Really, it makes no sense. We’re the most sex-starved, depraved, lecherous lot of men, we ostracize women who have sex, and make a big deal of anything that could remotely be potentially sexual. From the ridiculous censorship on TV (where we censor not only sexual acts but also usage of the word ‘sex’, even in a non-sexual context. Just whenever, wherever – censor sex) to the ‘accepted social conduct’ where a man and woman holding hands in public will not go unnoticed or unremarked upon, and to the immediate public pressure at the initiation of even a conversation about anything related to sex. Perhaps the rules of the game are that a man must have sex but women cannot desire it in a society that cannot speak openly about it, which is what makes the conquest all the more victorious, and honourable that we are, we don’t like a cheat code.

I recently went to Beijing for a moot court competition (Somil, Linesh: <3) where Charles, a student of the host University was assigned to our team for the duration of the competition. We often spoke at length about each other’s cultures and the differences between them. Charles once asked us about how open the relationship between a man and a woman could be, and we told him vaguely that it was bad, but getting better. Unconvinced and unsure, another afternoon Charles pointed toward a couple who were sitting next to each other holding each other’s waists and asked us whether that was permissible in India, and we laughed and said that things were not so bad, and that such display of affection was acceptable. In retrospect, I think I may have spoken too soon and too defensively. While my instinctive response was that of course a man and woman can sit and hold one another’s waist, considering the Vice-Chancellor of National Law University Delhi, apparently one of the premier law schools in India which should reflect liberal and progressive thinking, issued a notice against ‘indecent behavior’ referring possibly only to students walking around campus holding hands, I definitely could not have claimed that to be general public opinion. Travelling within Beijing, I was pleased to notice that men and women were allowed to express themselves (heterosexuals only, unfortunately) without any social backlash – they held each other while walking on the road, they slept on one another’s shoulder in the subway, and kissed in public without fear of a khap panchayat announcing their wedding or beheading them for their insolence – and almost immediately after noticing, I felt sad to realize that I was the only one noticing these things. Nobody else even looked at them. Because nobody else cared.

As a culture, we have encouraged the suppression of anything sexual. The consequence is what we complain about today. The inability of a woman to roam around freely at night without being subject to humiliation, lechery, name-calling, eve-teasing, or at the very least, general unsolicited attention, without even entering the domain of sexual violence, is all, I believe, a result of the society we have created today where a basic human desire to interact and intermingle with the opposite sex is stifled in the name of culture. I concede that I have no authority to back this claim, but allow me draw a comparison with the one other country I have visited. In Beijing, women roamed freely at night in the city and in the suburbs until 10 pm and later. They dressed freely and without inhibition, ranging from shorts, skirts and dresses to kimonos and jeans, without fear of the hostility India guarantees. I asked Charles and he insisted that violence against women was not a problem in Beijing of the nature it was in India.  The comfort of a society in understanding that women, as men, are sexual beings, is reflected in the way that society treats its women. A society that is open about sex and sexuality as ideas would fundamentally differ in its treatment of men and women – from how they are raised and what they are taught as children, to how they interact with each other as adults.

Instead, sexuality in India is suppressed and predominantly understood to belong solely to the domain of men. Men have the privilege of being ‘studs’ and being encouraged when they boast of their sexual encounters and multiple partners, but a woman is adjudged a ‘slut’ and she is ridiculed and outcast. I am not a stranger to this bigotry our culture forces upon us – a man having a threesome with two women is a man to be a respected, a man whom you hope to learn from, but when a friend of mine told me that a girl he was friends with wanted to have a threesome with two boys, my instinctive reaction was to question the girl. I suppose the difference is that I recognize that I was wrong.

Because why shouldn’t she have sex with two men? I’d like to have sex with two women.

I’d just like to have sex.

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4 thoughts on “The ‘S’ Word

  1. The seminar paper for Law Relating to Sexual Offences for the LLM students contained a hypothetical question based on a real Canadian case, a very recent one. It was about two people in a heterosexual relationship wherein the woman had consented to sex, but the man poked holes in the condom he wore and impregnated her. Obviously, she had not consented to that. The case went up to the Canadian Supreme Court and the man was convicted of rape. I think the question in the paper was whether the situation would fulfill the elements of the offence of rape under the IPC (post the 2013 amendments).

    After moderation by the Examination Committee of our hallowed institution, two whole paragraphs were erased from the question, the ones mentioning anal and oral sex or any form of sexual activity apart from penile-vaginal (which were included to to build context). From the ones that weren’t erased, all instances of the words ‘sex’ or ‘sexual intercourse’ etc. were replaced by cohabitation. All instances of the words ‘condom’ or ‘contraception’ etc. were replaced by protection or protective. All instances of the word penile-vaginal were also removed, or I think replaced by procreative. The question then became absolutely senseless, incorrect grammatically and basically incomprehensible. Basically, the gist of the question became whether non-consensual unprotected cohabitation (which is nonexistent because cohabitation just means living together) would fulfill the elements of the offence of the rape.

    And we call ourselves a progressive University.

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  2. Pingback: The ‘S’ Word | Arshu's Blog

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