By Rita Banerji:
A few days ago as I sat down to my newspaper at breakfast, my eyes went straight to this small, boxed news on the front page. A 14-year-old school girl in Bangalore killed herself because the man she was in love with had forced her to have sex with him and then left her, saying he had done it only for “fun.” In her suicide note she wrote, “How can he do that to me? I am ruined and have no interest in life.” This was a man who was much older than her, a second year college student, who she was ‘friends’ with, on Facebook.
Later, I kept thinking to myself: What did this poor girl go through in the days and hours leading up to her death? Shame? Guilt? Confusion? Fear? Was there anyone she could talk to? Confide in? Trust? Was there anyone who could tell her that she will be O.K.? What this man had done was wrong. In fact because he is an adult and she is under-age in most countries this is statutory rape, even if she had consented. But she hadn’t. This was a much older man who had taken her to his room and forced himself on her. But there was no one to tell her that. There was no one to comfort her and assure her that it was not the end of the world. Most probably there was no one she felt she could trust or even talk to. The society she’s living in would condemn her. The shame and taboo of what she had done was so great that she saw this as her only way out. In fact, India’s cultural and social set-up are just as guilty of this young girl’s death as the man who raped her.
Over and over again we hear stories like this, full of despair and self-destruction among teenagers and youth in India, who are confused and ashamed about issues of sex. Yet, as a society we continue to harbour an irrational resistance to any kind of open, informed and healthy discussion about sex. Parents don’t discuss it with their children. Teachers won’t discuss it in school and college. And then how can they, when they themselves have a distorted and stigmatized view of sex?
A few years ago, the India Today magazine had asked me if I’d do a couple of online chats for them with young people on queries they may have about sex. This was organized on the back of a national sex survey that the magazine had done that revealed that close to 20% of teenagers and a majority of college aged people in India were sexually active.
There were two things I realized during the India Today online chat:
1) Even though a vast number of teenagers and youth in India are sexually active today, they are dangerously ignorant and misinformed about some of the very basic things they need to know about sex.
2) There is clearly a huge need among the youth to know, but like with the 14-year-old girl here, there is no place where they can go and in a normal, open way ask questions or discuss issues and problems.
You can read some of the online chat questions and answers I did for India Today here.
Below I’ve summarized some of the issues and topics that came up in the chats repeatedly, with the hope that it will help more young people with doubts and questions. I’ve also included relevant links that I urge you to follow if you need more information.
1. Is it wrong to have premarital sex? Or is it best to wait till after you are married?
Culturally in India, this has been made a bigger issue for women than men. But this is simply a matter of choice. If you think it is wrong, then you will feel shame and guilt if you choose to have sex without marriage. Conversely, if in your head sex is a normal need; it is the right choice for you. Interestingly, this is a bigger issue in India today than it was in the past. Indian mythology is full of stories of women, like Shakuntala and Kunti who had pre-marital sex. And more than 1500 years before the western feminists made this argument, the Kamasutras were arguing that women had the same sexual urges as men, and there is no reason why unmarried women shouldn’t learn about their sexuality and orgasms the same way that men do.
2. When is the right time to begin to have sex in a relationship?
The only time that is right is when you want to have sex. Of course your partner must want it too. If you and/or your partner does not want to have sex, then it is not the right time. Girls/young women in particular should know that it is extremely important that they feel they not only have the physical urge to have sex, but also feel mentally and emotionally prepared. If you feel — afraid, uncomfortable, guilty, ashamed, or pressurized, it is not the time to have sex. You need to make sure you know and understand your own body, physically and sexually before you venture into sex. If you are heterosexual you also need to know and understand how the opposite sex’s body and sexuality work. Use the links below. You must feel confident and in control of your body and sexuality first, otherwise you will not feel comfortable or good about having sex.
3. If you are not using birth control pills and/or condoms can you get pregnant if the male partner withdraws before ejaculation? Can a woman get pregnant if she is having sex for the first time but her partner is not using a condom?
You can get pregnant any time you do not use birth control, whether it is a woman’s first time, or even if the man withdraws before ejaculation. In fact there is no 100% guarantee that even with birth control you won’t get pregnant. Birth control sometimes fails, and there is a small chance that you can still get pregnant. But it is important for both men and women to minimize this risk by using birth control if you do not want a pregnancy. Using two methods together the pill and the condom reduces your risk further.
4. Is masturbation “dirty?”
No, it is perfectly normal and healthy for people of all ages and genders. In fact it can be a good sexual relief if your partner is not in the mood for sex! Some counsellors have suggested that it might be a safer and healthier alternative for teenagers, who bodies may be ready for sex, but their minds need to mature. They think that acknowledgement and acceptance of masturbation as normal and healthy is one way to promote sexual abstinence in teenagers, and others who because of their circumstances, like for e.g. being in prison may not have access to a partner.
5. When is it ‘safe’ to not use a condom?
Never! The purpose of the condom is not simply prevention of a pregnancy. The most important use of the condom is prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. And there are many types of sexually transmitted diseases besides HIV that may not kill, but will create many health problems, and even cause infertility later. Click here to read about a few. Keep in mind how sexually transmitted diseases work: Every time you have sex with a person, you are having sex with all the partners he or she has previously had, and every one of the partners each of those partners had, and so on. So do the math! Whether you are a straight or gay couple the condom is a must because it is the only protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
Search for your sexual health related questions at this forum by the Society of Canadian gynaecologists.
6. Is it abnormal to have sexual feelings towards someone of the same sex?
No, this is perfectly normal. It happens very often when people of the same sex interact closely in a closed-off environment, like in same-sex schools, or same-sex teams. Sexual attraction is determined by our hormones. And since both men and women have both male and female hormones, it is perfectly possible for a person to be attracted to people of either sex. In fact everyone has some scope of being attracted to someone of the same sex, at some point in time. However, being attracted to or even having sex with someone of the same sex a few times, does not necessarily mean you are gay. To determine your sexual orientation observe your own patterns of attraction. Are you consistently attracted to someone of the same sex? If yes, then most likely you are gay.
This link offers some suggestions that might make it easier for you to work through your questioning about sexual orientation.
7. If you know you are gay when or how do you ‘come out?’
There is no compulsion to ‘come out’ if you are straight, so there should be none for anyone who is gay! However this is a personal choice and whatever you do depends entirely on whether it is something you feel the need to share with others. All you need to do is cater to your own comfort zone. To determine where you want to ‘come out’ or how, how much you want to share, and with whom, ask yourself whether or not you feel comfortable with it.
8. What is rape?
Any forced sexual or sexually motivated penetration of your body is rape. Penetration of the penis into the vagina, anus and/or mouth are all rapes. The penetration of an object, like a stick, in place of a penis into the vagina and/or anus is also rape.
Click Here for Pandora’s Project an online support and resources website for all survivors of rape and sexual abuse — for men, women, teenagers.
9. How do you know you’ve been raped?
Anytime you don’t want sex and you are forced physically, or forced through mental pressure or blackmail, to submit to someone’s demand for sex, it is rape. Sex where you are not in a state to give consent is also rape. So for example, if you are in a state of unconsciousness, like you are asleep, under anaesthesia or drunk, and you wake up to find that someone has had sex with you, then that is rape.
10. Are men and boys raped?
Yes, men and boys also get raped, usually by older boys or men. It usually involves the penile penetration of the anus or mouth. If the boy is underage and the woman is an adult, 18 years or over, it is still statutory rape.
Click here for a site that discusses how men can deal with the trauma and consequences of male rape.
If you have questions or things you think you want to discuss, please put your questions down below. You can write anonymously too. It important to be informed and/or clear your doubts. I am sure there are other people on-line who will also be happy to contribute to this discussion. But be warned, trolls will not be entertained here!