Let’s talk about premarital sex, baby
Why are we hiding our sex lives under the covers?
With a population of 135.6 crore, Indians are certainly having a lot of sex. But saying that word at a family gathering is like throwing a match into a pool of gasoline, with an angry dragon nearby. You’ve crossed the Lakshman Rekha and are now the belihaaz black sheep of the family.
Educated, modern liberals in India are comfortable discussing their love lives at friends’ dinner parties and on Instagram posts, but in front of Mummy-Papa, we’d rather pretend we’ve taken a vow of celibacy even if we’re over 30, living independently and in long-term relationships.
Why premarital sex in India is such a touchy topic
Chastity begins at home
For every Veere Di Wedding and Four More Shots Please!, there are five dozen matrimonial ads looking for a ‘virgin bride’.
While parents khabardaar mat karo their kids when it comes to drugs and alcohol, premarital sex is like He Who Must Not be Named in Harry Potter.
We posed the question to the members of Tweak Connect, our private community of like-minded women (to join, click here). Almost everyone agreed that parents addressed biological gender differences, and spoke about sex when an incident (their porn stash was discovered) triggered the subject but premarital sex was never broached.
Says educator and founder of Untaboo Education, Anju Kish,“It’s because parents themselves have grown up without talking about it, so they have some mind blocks. They worry that talking to their child about it will make them want to experiment or make them misconstrue it as permission.”
She believes a large part of this comes from societal perceptions, “In India, women’s sexual needs have never been addressed in the past. So with parents, firstly sex is a taboo, and secondly, a woman initiating sex is an even bigger taboo.”
“The finger-pointing is towards women. The men are always excused. Our sex education programmes across the country reflect that this archaic attitude still exists.”
Says Anjali Sheoran “We don’t talk about periods, we don’t talk about intimacy, we don’t talk about relationships, we don’t talk about anything. My mom changes the channel till date (I’m 32 years old) when there’s an intimate scene on the TV.”
Parents are our information providers, so refusing to discuss premarital sex leads to a knowledge deficit.
Left to your own devices, you may end up with skewed perceptions and misinformation. Which is problematic for both cisgender and queer young adults grappling with their sexuality.
Between archaic notions of “sex is for married couples” and mixed messages from pop culture, even mature adults get conflicted — so imagine the state of young adults.
Says Damanjit Grewal, “I think we make it a big deal by not talking about it. The whole concept of a virgin bride never really made sense to me because men are not bound by the same requirement.
I am very close to my mom and even though I haven’t openly discussed with her, she knows. Coming from an older generation, being with one man throughout her life, it gets difficult for our parents to understand dating and breaking up and dating again.
Now I am married, and my hope for the future is to raise kids who understand that they have the right over their own body and we as parents need to be more supportive of their choices.”
Which is why Kish believes that the taboo must be broken early on, like she shared in her video for us on ‘how to talk to your kids about sex’. Natural curiosity provides plenty of opportunity to start a dialogue with young kids.
But when it comes to having sex, parents need to recognise their kids are growing up.
“The first thing every parent needs to recognise is that their kids are sexual creatures, the moment they hit puberty,” she says.
“Conversations around sex don’t happen at all. I often joke about the fact that actually sex is our national secret. Parents are realising the importance of talking to their kids now, but that percentage is very small.”
Walking the talk
Officially, India’s legal age of consent and marriage is 18. By that age, we should be well-equipped with our understanding of consent, sexual health, pleasure and risks.
The knowledge gap actually exposes young adults to greater harm.
Says Latha Kishore “Not discussing sex was the way I grew up, but I have an 18-year-old daughter and I’m amazed by how open she is and the sex education she has received in school. During a discussion the other night, she made a point — Sex is just a natural phenomenon. Why attach so much importance to when you are having sex, it’s more important to have safe sex. And finally, it’s important to enjoy it no matter when you do it.”
Kishore adds, “I never talked about this with my parents but I’m glad I have this relationship with my girls. I think I’m learning more from her than she’s learning from me.”
Kish shares of the next generation, “We speak to teens and young adults (across genders), all of them realise the importance of sex in a person’s life and don’t shy away from talking about it — they want emotional, mental and sexual compatibility.”
Between our respondents on Tweak Connect and real-life interviewees, who represent a small percentage of modern India, it seems we’re shedding our archaic notions as quickly and confidently as we’re shedding our clothes when we find something worth taking them off for.
Anju Kish’s guidelines for talking to adult kids about premarital sex
On experimentation: “If you’re talking to a 17-18 year old, you can’t tell them ‘save yourself for your partner or when you get married’. Sure, you can share your value system and beliefs, but once you’ve shared all the information (biology, safety, protection, legal aspects) you have to trust their judgement and choices.
On safety: “Every parent needs to recognise that their kids are sexual creatures once they hit puberty. Once they accept that, the conversations will happen naturally and flow better. It’s extremely crucial to talk about safety — theirs and that of the person they’re with.” This includes talking about contraception, boundaries, expectations and more.
On consent: “The concept of consent should be introduced the second you talk about the sexual act. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is teaching kids to be safe from abuse but not telling them not to inflict abuse – because we think, not me, not my child.”
On changing faces of consent: “It’s an ongoing conversation to be had with a partner, one that ranges from ‘If I consented to penetrative vaginal sex, have I consented to anal sex?’ to ‘If I’ve consented to sex, is it okay to pull back my consent? What are my boundaries?’ and more.” These are important conversations for partners to have, but can only come from a place of confidence and self-awareness built by shedding taboos.