“Does anyone have a pregnancy test? A friend needs it urgently,” read a message on a WhatsApp group made only for the girls of my batch at Ashoka University. Even though we were all in our respective rooms at that minute and had no idea who needed the test or if they even found one, I knew that every person in that group was wishing for the test to be ‘negative’. For we knew, that if it were positive, life would be hell.
Sex is such a huge taboo that it’s almost impossible to get contraceptives without being judged by the shopkeeper or the people around you. If you are a woman, this basic activity will earn you even more judgemental stares. Most people never tell their parents that they are or were sexually active before marriage. I wondered if in case the person who needed the pregnancy test got a ‘positive’ result, how she would handle it?
Radhika, a friend who is studying in Delhi University, narrated the story of how her classmate had to get a medical abortion, “It wasn’t her fault that condoms aren’t 100% safe but nonetheless she still felt guilty. She was very close to her parents and wanted to tell them but just couldn’t muster the courage because she’d also have to tell them that she was sexually active. I knew that if she had their support, she wouldn’t have been half as stressed out as she was.”
While it has been reiterated time and again that premarital sex is a huge taboo in our country, having sex as a college student comes with an additional logistical set of difficulties. For instance, many college students live in PGs with rules that disallow people from the opposite sex to visit. Moreover, only a few hotels allow accommodation to unmarried couples and even out of those, very few can be afforded on an average student’s budget. If one wants to have sex, every minute detail needs to be planned out so that the authorities, who shouldn’t have any authority in this sphere, don’t get to know. Moreover, students are always under the scrutiny of their professors, college authorities, security guards, PG owners, and sometimes, even their own friends.
While my university is extremely progressive as compared to other Indian universities and allows people from the opposite sex in our hostels, it still has a curfew for them. One of my friends, Srishti Bansal, says, “I haven’t faced too many problems but I feel like there is a shaming aspect as a couple of times the guards came knocking on the doors before curfew. Maybe my boyfriend and I want to just sleep together through the night. We deserve privacy, and the curfew is senseless according to me.”
Another student, Purvai Aranya, she said, “None of my friends have faced shaming but in terms of going to the men’s residence or getting looks from the grocery store guy while buying protection, definitely. Personally, I have always been afraid of buying condoms because I feel like I’ll be judged.” On being asked about the difficulties of being sexually active, Purvai said, “The entire thing of being sexually active is very complex. If I am travelling with my boyfriend, I am always afraid that the people at a hotel may react badly. Luckily, my parents have been very open minded and have never judged me negatively. They trust me to be having only safe sex and only with people whom I know and trust.”
However, many Indian parents avoid educating or even informing their children about sex. I often hear stories from my friends about how their parents change the channel on television whenever a condom commercial comes up, or say that even talking about these things is ‘immoral’.
The few sex education classes students are made to attend in school have almost no emphasis on contraception, the importance of consent, reproductive rights, etc. As a result, when people become sexually active, the internet and friends who’ve learnt about sex by practice or through word of mouth, act as sourcebooks. This haphazard way of learning at times reaffirms many misconceptions and doesn’t guarantee holistic knowledge. While most people I know use contraceptives, many don’t know about the kinds of contraceptives available and don’t know much about how to maintain hygiene if they are sexually active.
Worse, many learn about sex through pornography which sets unrealistic body standards for women and discourages use of contraceptives apart from giving an overly airbrushed idea of what sex is like. A friend narrated how this was the reason she broke up with her boyfriend, “He was disappointed with the way my body looked – he thought I had hair in places ‘girls don’t have hair’ and that I had marks between my thighs, not like the even skin toned women he was used to seeing online. Moreover, he refused to wear a condom. So, I dumped him.” Many students I know have had similar experiences. But unlike my friend, not all think these things are worth breaking up for. Instead, they try to conform to the standards set by porn.
The cause of all these problems, which may be ‘minor’ problems for a few, is that sex is unjustifiably a taboo in our country. College students need to be treated as adults, who have the freedom to make their own choices, rather than being policed with curfews or being shamed for having sex. For women, it’s even more difficult to have sex since our society continues to shame us for even having sexual feelings. This needs to change.
While a majority of our parents didn’t speak to us about sex, we need to now let them know that having or not having sex doesn’t reflect on anyone’s character or morality. It is important for the whole discourse around sex to change. Parents need to talk about it with children and vice-versa, and schools and teachers need to stop having hush-hush conversations about it.