Our notions about sex and sexuality need to undergo a massive shift in order to reduce sexual crimes in the country, says Meta Healer Anu Mehta
The room was engulfed in silence as I sat there deeply absorbed in thoughts. Suddenly, a noisy phone bell interrupted my reverie. I picked up the receiver. The voice on the other end was full of sobs, sadness, and helplessness, shaking me up to the core. My friend was narrating her harrowing tale of sexual abuse at the hands of an unruly mob outside Shah Rukh Khan’s bungalow in Mumbai.
On November 2, 2017, on the eve of King Shah Rukh Khan’s 52nd birthday, my friend was brutally molested right next to ‘Mannat’, SRK’s famous home in Bandstand. She found herself in the middle of a mob of over a hundred people, all running towards SRK, as he drove out in his fancy car. She raised her hands to protect herself from the tearing crowd. This simple action exposed the rest of her body, and for the next few minutes, she felt the onslaught of hands grabbing every part of her body, her breasts, stomach, every bit of skin they could get their hands on. It took a few grabs for her to even realise that she was being molested. She screamed, shouted, and fought the crowd off, but by the time she was rescued, she was emotionally and physically scarred. The whole episode did not last for more than a few minutes, yet it did the collateral damage of a lifetime. Her sobs, her bruised lips, her swollen tear-filled, light brown eyes screamed of being subjected to inhuman behaviour.
Said her mother to me, “She is the same girl who has visited 39 countries in 32 years of her existence, and today she has locked herself up in a room refusing to leave it.”
I began to think.
We are an empowered nation. Our Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, has been constantly promoting the slogan of Beti bachao, Beti padhao (Save the girl child, educate the girl child). And here, an educated, independent, and empowered woman was reduced to the state of a helpless, vulnerable child, sobbing uncontrollably.
I wondered why her education couldn’t save her? What if we have to educate the masses to save her?
In my opinion, the slogan should be changed to “Teach boys the meaning of consensual sexual behaviour and save the girl child”. We cannot get the results of a ‘sexual-abuse-free society’ by just teaching the girl good manners.
It isn’t the first incident of disrespect in the history of humanity and it won’t be the last. The newspapers are filled with stories of heinous rapes on a daily basis, and every person has some horror story of being touched against her/his will. Sadly, such incidents will continue till something concrete is done to stop them. And to effectuate this change, we need to understand the missing link in the whole picture. Somewhere we have got it all wrong about sex and sexuality.
We need to ask ourselves these questions:
Why should the person who is violated feel shame?
Why is our society not ready to face the topic of sexual shame and take responsibility?
Is there a lack of education on topics such as sex and sexuality?
Is our silence on this matter a cover-up to avoid taking any responsibility?
Why is a woman viewed as a sexual object?
Is there a connection between this episode and unsatisfied sexual desires?
I would like to add that even though this article has been written from a woman’s point of view, it does not, in any way, disregard or ostracize men who have experienced similar sexual abuse.
This above-mentioned episode happened on November 2, 2017, but the source of such obnoxious behaviour can be traced back to the childhood of every person in the crowd.
It is a well-known fact that our early childhood experiences are deeply ingrained in our psyche. The disrespectful behaviour of the crowd, towards my friend, reflected the condescending mentality people have towards their own wives, daughters, sisters, and any other significant women in their lives. This behaviour has its roots in their environment, which did not teach them good sexual manners because they have no role models to learn from. It also highlighted the status of women in our country.
Our education of sex and sexuality—which boils down to how to understand feminine and masculine energies — has to start in our childhood and continue into adulthood so that we can have healthy beliefs around sex and sexuality. These healthy beliefs will consequently influence us and reflect in our behaviour. For the world to stop the shame game around sex, we need to replace ineffective, inadequate information with empowering and factually accurate knowledge about sex.
Let us understand the basics of our sexual beliefs, where the problem around sexual issues manifest, and how issues of sex and power correlate.
What is sex?
The word sex may translate to gender. Sex may also refer to sexual intercourse, which is the sexual act allowing human beings to create life. Having sex is just a physical act, but how to connect with the partner is about intimacy.
What is sexual energy?
Sexual energy is a natural energy, contained in each and every one of us, which helps us to behave like a man or a woman. Each and every one of us has hormones, such as oestrogen or testosterone, affecting the sexual development or reproduction.
What is the role of hormones?
Every girl and boy is born with both the sex hormones, oestrogen and testosterone. Males are born with a penis and females, with a vagina. At the time of puberty in females, the secretion of oestrogen increases and in males, the secretion of testosterone, which then results in the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics in each of the sexes, helping them attain sexual maturity. Primary and secondary sexual characteristics refer to specific physical traits that differentiate men and women sexually. Secondary sexual characteristics in females include enlargement of breasts, growth of pubic hair, widening of hips, and onset of menstruation. For a man, they include development of facial, pubic, armpit, and body hair, thickening of the voice, and the start of wet dreams. These characteristics prepare our bodies to mate and have healthy offspring.
Can we control hormones?
Sexual behaviour in humans is controlled by hormones such as testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, and vasopressin. Sex hormones do not directly regulate the ability to copulate but only influence one’s motivation to engage in sexual behaviour. Some gurus rightly say that sexual desire is all about the ‘play’ of hormones, but their implication that we need to repress our sexual desires and hormones is not only impossible but also destructive and may create unnecessary guilt within us. We must understand that having sexual thoughts is a natural phenomenon. At the onset of puberty, sexual thoughts start to manifest, and for many youngsters, this may be very scary, yet exciting. The fear is usually due to a lack of adequate knowledge, which manifests as shame and guilt, and creates faulty perceptions and beliefs like:
God will punish me if I am not able to switch off these sexual thoughts
I should be able to control my mind
Sex is not good
Sex is evil
Sex is morally wrong
The functions of the body are dirty
Talking about sex is not a good thing
Feeling sexually aroused is not good
My naked body is sinful
Erotic expression should be suppressed
Masturbation is a sin
These beliefs hamper our ability to enjoy natural sexual feelings and limit our ability to fully enjoy sex.
These perceptions give the word “sex” so many meanings. For example, sometimes sex is compared to the life force—shakti—and on the flip side, it is considered a forbidden fruit, a sin, a shame—something that has to be done in secrecy—a taboo, or something that is ugly, filthy, wrong, or bad if done outside the boundaries laid by the institution of marriage.
It is a known fact that what we resist always persists even if we find ways to control our urges. The need to suppress sexual desires creates sexual frustration and stress, which, in turn, can develop various ailments around sexual organs, including polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, amenorrhoea, frigidity, abusive behaviour, and anxiety.
At the time when a young adult is going through massive physical changes and is transforming from a young child to a young adult, we, as parents and teachers, have a duty to educate them about taking responsibility for their sexual and emotional health and teach them the meaning of a normal relationship, first with oneself and then with others. We need to teach them to take responsibility for their sexual needs and learn how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and AIDS.
Sex, shame, and its effects
For most of us, the word ‘sex’ brings up visual images of human intimacy. One is often awkward around the topic since our educational institutes find it difficult to talk about this natural process. This natural need for love and intimacy, which is important for the survival of our species, is associated with discomfort, hesitation, pause, awkwardness, excitement, guilt, and internal judgement and shame at a subconscious level. We have created an ugly image of sex.
And since sex is considered shameful, the female body, which is sexier to look at than its male counterpart, came to be considered as dirty or sinful, the cause of male provocation. Because of this, women, by and large, are not comfortable about their bodies, and suffer from many body-image-related issues. And in case of sexual assault too, they are made to feel guilty of having provoked the man to rape and injure them by wearing clothes that did not cover them fully.
The sense of shame on being a female is very deep-rooted in the human society, often leading women to suppress their natural urges and give over their power to the men in their life, in crucial decision-making matters.
By making woman carry the burden of maintaining the moral fabric of the society, we have skewed the balance of masculine and feminine energies. And the feminine has ended up getting disadvantaged.
Therefore, sex, which was supposed to be a fascinating aspect of the embodied life, became a tool of domination and suppression of the female.
The sense of shame, power, guilt, and domination, which are so deeply entwined around sex, has led to the current distortion we see in the name of sexuality.
More than 60 per cent of marriages in our country are still ‘arranged’' where the first expectation from a girl is to be a good-looking ‘virgin’. Parents, from a very early age, get into the business of grooming their daughters to become uncomplaining, obedient wives who will unquestioningly follow all the rules set for her by the society. Some women in India take classes on how to be a dutiful housewife before they get married. Women are taught to think of the husbands as gods, how to perform household chores, and get along with their mothers-in-law by doing everything they say. Sex, they are told, should be offered to the husband on demand to keep him from straying. “The wife should sleep after her husband and wake up before him. When he returns home, welcome him with a smile, help him in taking off his shoes and socks, and ask him to sit down. Bring him water and biscuits, and with a smile, ask him about his day. A husband’s happiness alone is your life’s goal. Do not go out without your husband’s permission anywhere,” says Aildas Himnani, 62, a retired civil servant who founded the Manju institute for grooming good daughters-in-law. [Source: John Lancaster. Washington Post, November 11, 2004]
(Today, in the modern society, a girl is told to focus on her studies and later on, on her career, because the times have changed. Yet they are still not given the option to opt out of performing traditional duties like housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of family members, even though they may be holding a full-time job)
In a girl’s grooming, her parents exert complete control over her clothes, her manners, her choice of school, college, career, and finally, the choice of the man in her life. She has to avoid gaining unwanted attention to avoid being labelled as a bad, characterless girl. Covering her body completely, and in some communities, covering her face also is considered a sign of respect and morality. She is also supposed to keep her sexual needs and desires under wraps and marry the man selected by her adults. She may or may not feel physically, mentally, or emotionally compatible with her ‘would be’ husband, but she has to respect the wishes of her adults. In certain communities, women are not allowed any exposure to males, except for her father, brothers, cousins, and uncles.
Boys on the other hand hardly have any of the above restrictions. We do not teach them these things in the way we teach our daughters. A man can think and act on his sexual needs as he desires. He has no fear of becoming pregnant in any of his sexual encounters. Sexual discipline and expectations from a boy are vastly different from that of a girl, right from early childhood. They are not taught to be responsible towards the opposite sex in matters related to sex and courtship. Many feel proud about being males and think that a woman is solely responsible for her safety. They feel a sense of entitlement towards a woman’s body because they are subconsciously fed that a liberated, modern woman invites sex and subsequently rape, which is her fault and not his. This is not to say that the sense of shame and wrongdoing does not exist in males regarding sex. It does. But it gets reflected in the way they judge women for being sexually active.
They like to label girls as good or bad, based on their clothes and sexual history, while not applying the same parameter to themselves. It is not uncommon for men to reject women after they have slept with them before marriage. Since they are not taught to treat girls as equals, as partners, and respect sex and sexuality as healthy, they try to camouflage their natural desire to mate as a means to dominate women. Eve-teasing is a burning example where all the targeted women feel reduced to being a commodity by males and actively detest it.
How to change it
The games of dating and mating, which involve men wooing women and lavishing them with compliments, respect, and attention to win them over in a healthy, open environment is conspicuously missing from the Indian society. Women too—since they have been taught to hide their feelings—do not know how to handle the attention they get from young libidinous males and often overreact too angrily or too fearfully. It is imperative for the young breed to be taught that sex and attraction are natural, and a healthy part of life. They need to be coached about the process of attraction so that nobody hurts the other. Learning to say ‘no’ politely but firmly and accepting a ‘no’ in a healthy manner are an integral part of this training. Allowing men and women to meet each other in an atmosphere free of biases, without the involvement of drugs and booze, and decreasing the premium placed on virginity and chastity will ensure that sex finds expression in a way it deserves. With more availability, less judgment, female empowerment, knowledge of contraceptives and safe sex, sex would become a normal part of human existence. The instances of preying upon hapless children, and vulnerable men and women, too will reduce drastically with people having easier and non-judgmental access to sex.
Right now, the energy of a girl’s guardian, with respect to boys, is that of fear. They fear that patriarchy will prey, use, and discard their daughters. There is widespread lack of trust in the male gender with respect to females because of which parents prefer to marry off their girls to a boy of their choice without letting them explore their sexuality. And as long as females are considered weak and vulnerable, this fear will persist and continue to determine the sex lives of adults.
Is marriage the answer?
Sixty percent of marriages in India are arranged wherein the adults of the family see the prospective bride and bridegroom. The young couple get married and spend their lifetime together on the basis of a short meeting which may not have lasted for more than a few hours over a few days. They are expected to start having sex with each other and start living together without any hesitation. A young married couple begin to accept adult responsibilities which includes childbearing, working in and outside of the house, developing and maintaining social relationships, fulfilling religious obligations, and enhancing family prosperity and prestige as much as possible.
Marriage is supposed to provide companionship to people involved in it, yet in our society, it seems to be catering to the physical needs of a man and neglecting the woman’s. According to a survey, 90 percent of the men interviewed said they were happy with their marriage while 90 percent of the women said they weren’t. As a healer, I have seen many unfulfilled souls who find this institution a ‘one-way cage’ without an exit. They compromise and live unhappy lives blaming their destiny for their condition. With women being taught to give in to their partner’s demands but the men not being taught to respect the desires of their wives, it is not surprising that the outcome is so lopsided. Add to it the overcrowding in cities where many people share the same room, I wonder if one ever experiences privacy and, consequently, uninhibited intimacy. This can lead to sexual frustration and create more abusive behaviour in an individual.
Marriage on its own is not the magic formula that resolves all our sex and companionship-related issues.
Importance of sex education
Education on sex and sexuality is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values. It encompasses understanding sexual development, sexual and reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles. Education on topics of sex and sexuality also help us to choose the right partner, teach us about who to trust, which contraceptives to use, and also makes sure we treat our partner with respect and consent, without force. It teaches young adults about cultural expectations, values, and the idea of consent. We need to educate our men to not think that a woman he is married to is his possession.
Where does such an education begin?
It begins at home. Niyati N Shah, sex education coach, says, “Parents and caregivers must undergo sex education themselves so they can equip their children with the correct, apt, and honest information according to the age of the child with correct verbal and non-verbal communication. Parents should be deliberate in finding daily occurrences as opportunities to introduce this education.
Most of us have or would want to have a child of our own at some point, but we are scared to talk about our reproductive system. Many women seem ignorant about their basic sexual anatomy. They may not be aware as to which hole their child will be delivered from. From the moment of birth, children learn about love, touch, and relationships. Infants and toddlers learn about sexuality when their parents talk to them, dress them, and show affection. Body language is important while talking about sex. Don't use unnecessary words, don’t complicate it, and don't make it long.
We also need to teach children the meaning of consent and magic around the word ‘NO’. 'NO' can be said in words or in actions.
Niyati N Shah explains this with a beautiful example saying, “When we are tickling our child and our child is laughing and asking us to ‘stop tickling,’ we need to stop tickling him right then to make sure that he/she feels heard and for to him to understand the magic of the word NO. These lessons, not learnt early in childhood, can impact the young adult where a ‘No’ means ‘Yes’ and he might end up forcing himself on someone who is genuinely saying a ‘NO’. These examples illustrate that parents have a huge role to play in a child’s healthy upbringing regarding sex. We need to make our children aware that sex is a very beautiful and spiritual part of human connection that created them, and that intimacy in sex is the foundation of any good nurturing relationship.
As children grow into adolescents, they continue to receive messages about sexual behaviour, attitudes, and values from their families as well as sources such as friends, television, music, books, advertisements, and the Internet. They also frequently learn through planned opportunities in faith communities, community-based agencies, and schools.
When does one start sex education?
We can start sex education as soon as the child is born. At this tender age, the child does not understand language but understands touch. If you hesitate while cleaning your child’s genitals because you are gender conscious, then he/she is going to carry this understanding throughout his/her life. By the time a child is in the kindergarten, we must use right terminology to address body parts including the genitals. It is interesting to note that most of us find it difficult to use the words ‘penis’ and ‘vagina,’ often giving these parts many nicknames disclosing our mental blockages and shame in their regard.
These are the first words we, as parents, need to use to empower ourselves and our children and get them out of the trap of shame and hiding.
We have innumerable cases of molestation and disrespect because India is ashamed to talk about sex and sexuality. Our country, despite being the birthplace of one of the oldest literature on sex called Kamasutra and home to the caves of Khajuraho, has made sex ugly and shameful. We need to stop misusing, disrespecting, and abusing the word ‘sex’ and stop treating women as sex objects. On that eventful day, the people in the crowd were playing their own private game with my friend, as she was viewed as an easy target. It was an aggressive, abusive touch which shamed her. Touching a physically inaccessible SRK and a physically off-limits woman seemed to hold the same kind of novelty. Their actions made her feel vulnerable, and the crowd, powerful.
I feel if we can educate the masses on sex and sexuality and draw away the curtains of ignorance and shame, we may become a more sexually educated country with a better understanding of consent and consensual sexual behaviour. We can then bring back the respect for our women and treat them as companions in its truest sense, and not as servants of the patriarchal society. We need to eliminate shame from sex to make our population grow into a sexually and emotionally healthy and happy nation.
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