Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Baring the truth

It’s perhaps appropriate. In the age of universal meltdown, India seems to be a nation in heat. Take what just happened in Meerut.A young woman, Priyanka Singh a former beauty queen, well-spoken, smart, goes on camera to plead her case after being accused of killing her parents. She and her friend, Anju Singh, hint at a murky saga of sexual exploitation by their relatives and talk of being driven to the edge of a breakdown.Prise the lid off India’s gleaming globalised façade and a welter of images comes forth. There’s a woman in Mumbai chopping her boyfriend into pieces with her former lover.There’s a teenager mysteriously murdered in her Noida home amidst murmurs of her parents’ swinging sexual lifestyle. If social norms are changing, with the touchstones of modern life under siege, then sexual mores are in a state of confusion. What was considered a perversion earlier is a guiltless pleasure now. What was thought of a taboo is now believed to be an all access VIP pass.Even the terminology, loaded with the prudishness of the past, is being reinvented. Is adultery the same as infidelity? Does kinky sex just mean prolonged foreplay? The IT-AC Nielsen-ORG MARG sex survey 2008 of 5,353 men and women between 18 and 40, the sixth consecutive time we are studying the intimate life of urban Indians, seems to suggest all this and more.The seven deadly taboos, kinky sex, homosexuality, adultery, incest, underage sex, prostitution and pornography, are no longer regarded as out of bounds.Approval rates for everything considered censorious are high. Twenty-six per cent (more men at 43 per cent than women at 8 per cent) think sex outside a long-term relationship is acceptable, especially with those close at hand like friends and neighbours.Sixteen per cent are fine with homosexuality. Almost 20 per cent of the male respondents have had sex with prostitutes, some even sharing the experience, while 28 per cent of those surveyed have had sex before 20, a figure that social anthropologist Perveez Mody points out is comparable to the 37 per cent of Britons who lose their virginity before age 16.
Kinky sex is more than a blip on the urban Indian’s radar. Twenty per cent of adulterous couples (that is 1,037 of the total respondents) have tried swapping partners, 18 per cent of all respondents think trying new things in bed helps boost their sex life and anal, bisexual and sado-masochistic sex figure high in the score of sexual experiments they have checked out. Clearly, a bit of rough goes a long way. Much of these fanasties are being fed by the glamour and pornographic industries. Both men and women seem to share a taste for titillation, especially for home-grown and celebrity porn. Technology has freed their bodies, though their minds may still be trapped in a twisted moral universe.

There is a hint or more of repression, of aspirations outstripping actuality. According to our survey, 27 per cent of all the respondents had never had sex, and the percentage was expectedly higher for women (35 per cent) than for men (18 per cent).Does the survey show urban Indians speaking the language of love or of sheer desire, bottled for so many years by a socialist mentality? The fact that they are willing to even speak about their intimate lives is interesting as is the emerging female sexual self, who watches pornography as an extension of foreplay, who is testing the limits of alternative sexuality and who is willing to explore the possibility of paid sex. The urban man’s appetite remains as voracious as ever, no surprises there, even if the reality is often grim, with sex being bought.What is elevating though is that the urban Indian bedroom may not necessarily be an arena of combat between the sexes. Women may not want to confess to their deepest fantasies (a majority coyly says their greatest fantasy lover is their partner, not a celebrity) but as the silent shattering of other myths shows, what is between the sheets is no longer what lies beneath. Women are standing up for their pleasures, role-playing, even trying sex with eunuchs.

Fun, fearless and fierce. Will sex emerge as therapy for a modern society with its attendant anxieties? Will the good Indian girl and boy, restricted as they by society in their choice of monogamous partner, have greater latitude with their sleeping partner? As the silent pushing of the sexual envelop shows, the missionary position stands, but just about.


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