As we all know sex is the key to life. It’s a straightforward biological phenomenon that includes/ further produces love, jealousy, competition, sexuality, pleasure, etc. and the regulation of it is constructed through various historical social processes. While our social conditioning teaches us to control our energies, not forgetting the underlying understanding of biology is important in staying aware of the variety of complexities involved. Because it’s a fairly complex matter and on so many instances we stumble upon this question: what is right and what is wrong?
Just the other day, someone asked me, whether it is okay to have sex before marriage?
This is not the first time one has been asked this. People who haven’t had sex before marriage, people who have had sex before marriage, men, women (the context of marriage makes this a gender binary as of now, unfortunately), many of them are seen looking for an answer.
This is an effort to try to navigate through that.
Sometime back I used to work for an organisation that used to work with urban slum based boys to make them more gender equitable. To learn through activities and reflections that girls and women have equal human rights as boys and men to explore their lives with full potential thus any kind of discrimination is just a form of denial of those rights. Their curriculum included the aspect of sexuality – adolescent changes the difference between sex and sexuality and more. The mentors were mostly men but when the organisation realised that the whole space was only becoming a male-dominated, they decided to include women as mentors too.
In one of the communities, a woman mentor was conducting a session, a male participant (all these boys were in the age group of 13 to 18) expressed that he wanted to understand the changes that occur in the body and sexual pleasure by having sex with her. The mentor was so shocked that she almost decided to quit her job.
The organisation discussed this issue at length.
The issue was also put forth in a training session, with a well known activist working on LGBTQ rights. The discussion that followed was very interesting.
He asked a question to all the people present in the room:
If a (random) person of the opposite sex (considering that majority of the participants were heterosexual) expresses the wish to have sex with you, what would you feel?
The men said, they would feel good, happy, excited. A few of them said it might not generate any feeling. .
The women said that they would feel scared, angry, insulted, abused.
‘Is sex an insult? Is it a bad, wrong thing?’ He asked?
‘Why are the responses different for men and women?’
He further asked, ‘In your own private space, seeking sexual pleasure from your partner or on your own, who all feel some form of guilt in their mind?’
None of the men did while all the women did.
“As a society, till when will we be scared of looking at female sexuality? Till when shall we control it?”
If sex is not an insult, then why was our female mentor feeling so when she was asked for it?
Isn’t it ok for anybody to ask permission to have sex with another person?
Isn’t that the only way?
If one wants to deny permission one may very well deny it by saying, “No, thanks.” The abuse begins only if someone doesn’t acknowledge that the permission is denied and still tries to impose.
“Why are you saying no?” one may answer this question or one may choose not to.
‘No’ is also not an insult. It’s an individual choice. Also one can’t say yes to everyone even if one wants to. ‘No’ is a simple answer. It is not a defence or an offence.
Films like Pink have taught us what a ‘no’ means but do we really understand its meaning? Do we hear a ‘no’ as a ‘no’? We have been taught to insist on serving more food even if a person is full and saying no, and that is seen as a form of love. We have been taught to say no for any offering of tea or food even if we want to say yes. In so many popular films we have seen women saying no, men badgering on and eventually getting what they wanted in the end.
Very few of our parents have asked for permission or have let us know while touching us while changing our clothes or bathing us. In our adolescence rarely have they knocked on our doors. Such things have created a lot of confusion regarding consent.
Asking for it, denying it, giving it, being unsure about it, accepting the unsureness – all this needs to be given a conscious thought.
An informed consent is all you need for having sex.
Other than this, anything- caste, religion, class, marital status, work, race, number of partners, sexual orientation is (only) an individual choice. I am sure you understand that I am speaking only about legal adults here. Of course, it is important to be thoughtful and considerate towards our own and our partner/s’ physical, mental and sexual health.
But the first step would be to remove the fear in our minds that is attached with the idea of sex.
If we call ourselves to be living in a civilized society, it means to be living in a society that is equal for all and that understands human rights. That also means we are expected to ask permission for sex and while understanding and trying to deal with the intricacies of sex, love and relationships, one has to be aware about promoting individual choice, consent, right to have sex and the right to choose one’s own partner.