I was born and raised in one of the most liberal parts of India, the beautiful Northeast. My earliest memories are of growing up in a small town in Assam, the tea gardens, birds chirping every morning, and going to school. I attended a convent school for girls where ‘Moral Science’ was an integral part of the curriculum. The nuns/sisters were dedicated to molding us little girls into respectable women of tomorrow. Everything was scrutinised from how we behaved with our peers to how we developed our personalities as we grew up. In many ways, my teachers in school helped me cultivate the social skills and values which are so very essential in today’s world. My parents are die-hard feminists who believe that women are just as capable as men and sometimes even more in certain situations, and so, from an early age, I was told that I could do anything and achieve great heights.
My teenage years were very confusing because I found myself being attracted to boys my age while I was strictly forbidden from exploring those feelings by almost everyone around me. Even admitting that I had feelings towards a boy was reason enough to be shamed for it. Puberty came with its own challenges and I was a bundle of raging hormones, curious to explore the realms of fantasy. I was obsessed with an extremely cute artist from my favourite boy band, and, somehow, I projected all my feelings towards him because he was a safe choice after all. It was better being called fangirl rather that getting caught while making googly eyes at some boy and being labelled “boy-mad” because of that. Basically, 14-year-old me had to hide my healthy sexual curiosity behind the poster of a popstar who had no idea that I existed.
I never had any sex-education in school or from my parents. All I learnt was in high school biology in very scientific terms. However, moral science and value education preached that sex was only for married people and women who indulge in it prior to marriage were evil and deserved eternal hell. Society called out women who lose their “honour”. This included women who were raped. It was incomprehensible to me that society’s definition of a woman’s “izzat” was in between her legs. The bottom-line always was “Never do it”.
It isn’t surprising at all that even among my peers, very few were actually open to talking about sex. We were all good little girls in our pinafores and pigtails who attended convent schools! College was however very different. Most girls were living away from their families for the first time and it just opened this whole new world of freedom. I was well into my 20s when I discovered masturbation and I remember being embarrassed to even admit to myself how good it felt. Sex was treated as taboo and something disgusting by the people around me. It made it impossible to enjoy an orgasm without feeling guilty about it.
I am a married woman now and when I look back at the way I was raised and conditioned to perceive sex, I feel a seething anger towards everyone in general. Sex is possibly one of the best things I have experienced. It isn’t only for making babies, but something that makes me feel good about myself and more connected to my husband on an emotional and spiritual level. It was wrong to make me feel like sex was dirty and disgusting when in fact, it is nothing less than spectacular. For a country that has such a negative stand on sex, it is surprising how quickly we multiply and create new population records every year.
It all begins at home. We need to stop telling our daughters that their bodies need to be preserved for their husbands or that their value lies in their virginity. We need to cultivate a safe space where they can freely talk about their feelings. I do not advocate promiscuity for anyone and especially not among teenagers, but we need to let go of our primitive thinking. An adult woman’s body is hers alone. We need to accept that. Sex-ed should be made mandatory in all schools so that people have a healthy take on sex from an early age. As a society, we must come together to encourage kids to ask questions and stop shaming young girls for something as normal as being attracted to someone along with respecting the choice of adult women to engage and enjoy sex without inhibition.