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‘I Was Worried If I Was Feminine Enough’: What Indians Think While Getting Naked For Sex

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Illustrations By Ramya Kannabiran Tella

It’s one of the most confusing things about sex. You feel this pressure building inside you to take off your clothes, take off your lover’s clothes, and be skin-to-skin as urgently as possible. BUT! But we also feel suspense, anxiety, uncertainty, excitement and maybe even a little fear about what getting naked will mean. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Especially the very first time — what are you supposed to feel?

 

Madhu, 21, learnt a lot about nakedness from her childhood experiences of being around other people in school.

As a member of an OBC community in an elite school, he also felt like his “too-small” body was an indicator of his caste, and it always made him feel self-conscious. At a school medical check-up, where all the boys were made to strip and stand in rows to be examined, he remembers feeling as though he was on display. To him, his childhood body and adult politics cannot be separated. He carried over what he calls a “leftover consciousness”, despite years of being politicised, but was never conscious of his body when he was with his lover. He said it was love that broke that consciousness.

Getting naked is a wonderful moment for a lot of people. Many remember the actual moment of getting naked with a lover with a quick, secretly delighted smile, although it doesn’t necessarily translate to a great first sexual experience.

Surekha, a 27-year-old lawyer in Ranchi, remembers her first time being naked with a lover as a slow and, she says, languorous experience. “It must have taken a full two hours for us to get naked that very first time,” she reminisces. “Nowadays, people [myself included] seem to just jump straight into it, as if they can’t bear to spend more than a couple of minutes kissing. My very first time was with my ex-boyfriend, and it was his first time too. We took it so slow, the entire process of getting naked was so spread out that by the time I finally was, it felt like my whole life had been leading up to this. I was just too physically turned on to even think about insecurities, or even to process anything properly. I think he was in a similar state too: it felt too natural and too urgent at that point to actually dwell on being naked.”

The moment of getting naked isn’t all fields of roses though. For many, it’s a moment when hidden insecurities can take centre stage.

Manisha, 25, said that the first time she got naked, was with her best friend, who soon became her boyfriend. She was 14 and says that at that time, she loved her body. “Not in an oh-my-god-I’m-so-skinny way,” she says, “but more that I didn’t have a shred of fat on my body, so I was so incredibly confident. It felt really good to be naked that very first time; it felt like it was just meant to be. We were best friends, and the second we were both naked, we literally exclaimed out loud, ‘whoa, this is so strange and so awesome’. At the time, I was a huge proponent of nudity. Not that everyone should be naked all the time or anything like that, just that nudity felt so natural and comfortable, I felt sure there was some intrinsic value in letting your body be free like that every once in a while. It’s different now. I dread taking my clothes off in front of someone new these days because I’ve gained some weight since then.”

Malini, a 34-year-old Bangalore-based media professional, says that in hindsight, she feels like her insecurities about her weight badly affected her first sexual experience. “I was so preoccupied with positioning my body in ways that I thought ‘hid my problem areas’, and also in sucking my stomach so that he wouldn’t notice my love handles, that I absolutely couldn’t let go and enjoy myself. In fact, I was pulling my stomach in so hard that I could barely breathe, forget anything else!” Malini says it’s gotten much better now, though. Although she faced a lot of the same insecurities the first time she had sex with her then-boyfriend-now-husband, she said they soon evaporated, and that she’s never been more confident. “You can only suck your stomach in for so long: my husband has seen all my flaws, and I’ve seen his, so I don’t feel like I have anything to hide, or even that I could hide anything if I wanted to.”

Bryan, a 30-year-old queer teacher, wishes he could reach that level of intimacy with a partner. “I used to have acne, and still have the scars, so I wanted the room to be as dark as possible so that he wouldn’t notice. I was thinking about that more than what I was feeling! I still worry about my skin and what people think of it. It’s always worse with new people. I’m tired of feeling the same way each time. I wish I could just find someone and settle down; a person I could trust completely and just let go with no fear.”

Aseem, 24, says he always felt shy about being naked. “I love sex, but I feel a bit ashamed about getting naked, or rather, having someone see me naked.” When questioned more closely about this “shame”, he says, “I don’t know exactly. Everyone has that feeling. I think it’s the programming that we’re raised with. I try to keep socks on or hide under the blanket a bit so that I don’t feel totally naked.” He says, though, that it gets better once you are fully, or in this case, almost naked: “Then your body just takes over, and you forget about other things; your body just wants to have fun. I wish we didn’t have to look so much at each other during sex, and could just feel it instead. As much as I love sex, I wish it didn’t involve so much staring!”

This kind of conditioning Aseem talks about could come from different places: from family and popular culture to television.

Priya, a 40-year-old Kannada writer, looks back at her own first time and contextualises it against a different cultural background, one that was less preoccupied with weight (or losing it). “I wasn’t self-conscious about my body in the way young girls are now. I wasn’t worried if I was thin enough and I didn’t have some catwalk model’s body in my head. But I did worry if I was feminine enough, delicate enough. I wasn’t feminine or delicate. It reminds me of that moment in “Chaalbaaz “when Sunny Deol is holding the hand of the rowdy Sridevi thinking he’s got the shy Sridevi. Then rowdy Sridevi says “Chodo Na!” And he lets her hand go. And rowdy Sridevi is shocked: “Chod diya?!” I felt like that.

I felt he was looking at my body and then touching my body as an opportunity to see something in live action that was he had only seen in pictures before. A demo model. I wouldn’t say the experience was exploitative or ugly, just that it wasn’t intimate in any way. I didn’t feel curious about his body and was sure back then that my body was a lot more interesting than his.”

Circumstances force some people to change the way they feel about nakedness.

Alfiya, a 24-year-old psychology student, says that whatever bones she ever had about nakedness disappeared after she gave birth to her first child. “I felt shy the first time I was naked in front of my husband, it didn’t seem like it was really happening, but you get used to it. When I was pregnant, I used to worry about the delivery. I couldn’t imagine having so many strange people look between my legs, but then during my 12-hour labour, I didn’t care less. I feel the same way about breastfeeding now: I don’t care where I am or who is around, feeding my baby comes first, and all the thoughts about propriety and modesty I had when I was younger can just fly out of the window.”

And for others, it isn’t really an option at all ☺

When asked about her first experience of getting naked in front of someone for the first time, 21-year-old Deepti said, “Oh my god! Who would ever do such a stupid thing!”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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