Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
The poet Eunice D’Souza once wrote, “Keep cats if you want to learn to cope with the otherness of lovers.” And it’s true that the lover, real or imaginary, is often as mysterious as the eyes of the cat – you never know what is going on inside. Yet, there’s a popular understanding that women talk enthusiastically about sex among themselves and men – equally enthusiastically – among themselves. What are those conversations like?
Let us part the silky curtains and listen to the conversations in the men’s zenana.
I wish I could talk about sex so I could learn from others’ experiences.
We are a group of three childhood friends, we can talk about anything.
My friend Sudhir was the first person I ever spoke about sex with. I was in the eighth standard, he was in ninth (I am in class 11 now). Back then, I’d discovered masturbation by accident. I was in shock when I discovered it, but since it was pleasurable I was happy. I went to my friend and told him, “I did something funny and this happened, do you know about it, have you done it?”
He said, “Yeah, it’s about sex, everything to do with your dick is about sex.”
Tarun is the other friend I feel comfortable talking with, but he’s too excited always. He keeps asking me every week, “Are you masturbating?” I don’t know why. He asks what’s your score, what’s your daily average, what’s your weekly average, and tells me his own stories (like when his grandparents were out and almost caught him masturbating on the sofa when they returned early).
Sometimes he’s irritating, but I wish I had more friends like Tarun. I feel restricted to talk with others, and being able to talk about it lets me vent. It would be good because we’d also learn from each other’s experiences. Now, I have to go to online forums about “teen relationships” and “sex”, or whatever topic I want to discuss, ask it, get feedback, learn from someone… but the context is not generally the same. Someone will reply from the US, the whole social and family structure is different from how it is here, so the answers generally don’t add up. I feel it’s not useful for me. I wish we could discuss these things because that would make us more open-minded about other topics as well. It would be a freer society where you don’t have to hold back.
That’s why I discuss these topics with my younger brother: he’s in fifth standard now. I told him about masturbation, that it’s a natural and pleasurable thing, and he told me what he already knows about sex and masturbation (he first heard about it in fourth standard). I’ll tell him more as he grows up and starts feeling these feelings.
The first time I spoke about sex to men, I wanted to have sex with them.
The first time I spoke about sex to other men, I wanted to have sex with them. As a gay man, that time is your sexual awakening. It’s different now, when you’re talking to gay men that you want to hook up with… you’re asking, “how big is your cock”, “what position”, “do you like to fuck or get fucked?”
I don’t go beyond innuendoes with my straight male friends. I can tell some of my straight male friends “daddy gave it to me good” and it would be fine, they’d say “oh you got lucky” or something like that, but I wouldn’t go into more detail. It feels like a farce: I always wonder if I’m making the other person uncomfortable.
I prefer speaking to women and my closest gay friends about sex. With them, I discuss everything: the way he touched me, the way he ruffled my hair and grabbed me, whether I wanted him to stay or just go immediately…
I don’t talk to anyone about my [sexual] anxieties though. I want to talk to the men I sleep with about it because I’m sure they’ve also felt the anxieties I feel. But I don’t because that’s a dangerous move. With gay men, I feel the second you start talking as real people and become more than just bodies from a Grindr hookup, they distance themselves. Talking is what hints at commitment, it makes it more than just a hookup. But then again, you know… there are other gay men. All they want is to do is talk before they go to the bedroom. I guess there are all kinds.
As we get older, there are fewer boxes to tick, so there’s nothing left to share.
As boys grow up and start having their first experiences, the conversation is similar to sharing newfound facts about sex in childhood: “You won’t believe what I did!” “how did it feel?” “this is how it is.” There’s a lot of discovery within the group based on each other’s experiences, and a groupthink, ki kisne pehle kya kiya. There’s obviously a lot of exaggeration, and it can make men really insecure.
There is a desire to share with your friends, but also the pressure of them making fun of you. Even if you’re worried about something, or if you want to talk about romance or an emotional connection, because of the macho pressure of performance, conquest is seen as a far greater thing than romance. So there’s a general pressure to talk up and enhance the sexual experiences more than other experiences, and we don’t talk about a lot of things we really want to.
When a boy has a girlfriend and goes out with her, he’ll come back and his friends will ask, “So what did you do, how far did you go?” If he responds saying they only held hands and watched a movie, they’ll mock him for not being a “real man,” and that also goads him into exaggerating or lying about what he did.
That’s why men speak about sex in generalities. We never commit to the kind of details that could make us vulnerable to ridicule in front of friends, or reveal our exaggerations. So we speak vaguely about “anal” or a new position.
As you get older, there are fewer boxes to tick in the checklist to sex. There are no new discoveries or conquests, so there’s nothing left to share with others. We don’t talk about it. Also, nobody wants their friends fantasising about their girlfriends or wives. The only time I’ve seen adult men talk about sex is during a break-up, that’s when they say nasty things like “she was never good in bed”, or “she didn’t know how to give head.”
The first time I had sex was the last time I ever spoke about it.
My very first time with a lady was very nerve-wracking. I had no idea how anything worked, and it was all different from what I was expecting. I don’t know what I was expecting, my only idea was from porn, but the reality shocked me. I suddenly found myself in a position where I was supposed to do everything and know what to do. And what bothered me most was, I wasn’t expecting it to be so wet. I didn’t have a clear idea of what the female genitalia looks like, and the first time totally threw me off. When I told my best friend about it, he said, “Oh my god, so you are gay.” I’m not gay and I know there’s nothing wrong with it, but it shocked me. That’s when I learnt why you should keep personal matters personal. Friends will only give useless advice.
I find it so much easier to talk to women about sex.
I started speaking to girls-who-are-friends about sex because they spoke to me! Girls talk about sex in such detail, they’re so comfortable sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, but I definitely find it much easier to talk to them. Men just don’t feel comfortable talking about this with each other.
There are two scenarios. One is if I find out my significant other has said something to a mutual female friend about our sex life. If I knew the friend well enough I would try and find out what it is. I don’t know why women [you’re sleeping with] don’t just tell you directly when you ask how the sex is, they only tell their friends. In that case, it’s like an investigative mission. So I end up having the most directly useful discussions about sex with those female friends, if they tell me.
The other part is only women friends give really honest feedback. The female body is like a mysterious textbook with lots of chapters, and examination sab out of syllabus hi aata hain. If anything weird happens during sex, or if I try out a new move, I ask my friends ki, “I did this, would you also find it nice, how can I tell if she really enjoyed it,” and they give honest feedback, or suggest areas for improvement, or what they like which other girls also like.
Honestly, another part of the reason why I talk to my female friends about sex is to make them jealous. A lot of my girls-who-are-friends are actually girls who’d “friendzoned” me in the past, and I’m okay with that, I didn’t mind and we become friends. But that hangover is still there, and when they talk to me about the great sex they have with the boy they end up with, I sometimes feel they’re trying to make me jealous by talking about it. So I also do it to them, and discuss all the sex I am having.