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Freedom in the bedroom

india Updated: Aug 17, 2009 20:32 IST
Vijay Jung Thapa

I was 13 and sleeping over at a friend’s place when we were woken up in the middle of the night. Apparently, my friend’s sister (all of 16) had been discovered in flagrante delicto with a boyfriend in the basement below. Though both my friend and I knew about the ‘boyfriend’, we were shocked at her audacity of letting him into the house that night.

The scandal whipped up an anger and frenzy among relatives that I’d never seen. There was no question of her having used any contraception. My friend’s mother spent the rest of the night in a hand-wringing daze, wandering from room to room saying: “I hope she doesn’t get pregnant.”

Today, decades later, I sit at home watching TV channels beam countless advertisements on oral contraception. Imagine that. Women in urban India have easy access to the pill and if in their moment of passion they forget to pop that, there’s always the iPill.

If that isn’t a revolution, I don’t know what is.

Most women today aren’t haunted by the fear of pregnancy or the guilt of bringing into the world a child which she may not be able to provide for. Anthropologists say a sexual revolution is only ushered in when true sexual power lies in the hands of women. Basically, I guess, when women get to act just like men.

So, 62 years into our Independence, is the country finally in the throes of a long overdue sexual revolution? It’s hard to say.

Forget, for the moment, the sundry magazine polls that portray India as a country in heat with dubious statistics that say 80 per cent of women as sexually active before marriage or 40 per cent of married men commit adultery.

Forget the many sordid incidents of perverse sex from all over the hinterland that the electronic media devours with voyeuristic relish.

Forget even, the fact that finally we have made space for alternate sexualities (though the ruling on Section 377 is more about restoring gay dignity than spreading gay sex). The question really to ask is: Now that pregnancy is out of the equation, can a women have sex whenever she wants to without having her morals questioned or being labelled a slut?

As always in India, the answer is complex. There are two interpretations to the same reality. One says Indians are being from the shackles of prudishness and their attitudes to copulation are changing. Sexual freedom is at hand and being exercised by many. The other position says India is facing a moral and social breakdown. Our culture and traditions, which have held us in good stead for centuries, are being whittled away by sexually permissive and perverted people.

In the name of freedom, we are being engulfed by filth. Depending on where you stand, you’re either inside a sexual revolution or plain left out of it. The thing to remember is that erotic renaissance (or rot as some would have it) is a cyclical thing. We alternate between sexual permissiveness and repression. Sexual historians say the early Vedic Age was an extremely erotic time. The ensuing Buddhist period brought in a wave of prudishness.

Immediately after, the Golden Age was a period of incredible freedom where women enjoyed sex for pleasure and not just propagation. Then came the Mughal and colonial periods where life was once again ruled by marriage, monogamy and the missionary position. It’s a clear pattern.

Sexually speaking, we are stuck in one big plastic moment — ringing in the new while still dealing with remnants of the old. The sex is all out there. But this is suppressed by a righteous moral brigade that whips up a frenzy every time it perceives a threat. So we have a parliamentary committee absurdly advising against sex education in schools. A cartoon porn site called Savita Bhabhi gets banned overnight when anyone can still access millions of such sites. MPs discuss what you should and should not watch on TV.

The way I see it, though, is that this plastic moment will inevitably give way.

Slowly, sexual mores will (they already are) change from a censorious attitude to a more tolerant one. And the shrill puritans will first decrease and then eventually die, finding few mourners. When that happens we would be at the cusp of another Kama Sutra Age.