Ekta Kapoor should make a new serial titled – Un-Pavitra Rishta and place condoms and pads as its main protagonists. Whilst the former is used for an act of intimacy still viewed as “indecent”, the other is needed as part of a biological function viewed as “impure”.
Even today, kuch kuch hota hai when Indians discourse on topics related to sex. For the most part, sex in India has been a combination of taboo banter, off screen, and titillating rape scenes, on screen. The general consensus is that there is serious lack of education on the subject, not just in India but other nations too.
How sex is commonly portrayed in Indian cinema….
Remember that scene where the Lisa Haydon character in Queen takes off her red bra in the restroom and gives it to Kangana?
Even that is not spared by the Indian Censor board as the bra is conveniently blurred because revealing a supporting garment for your breasts is akin to blasphemy.
Bollywood and TV shows also make ample use of the “suhaag raat” trope.
The Monthly Menses
As an accountant at work, I have to take part in the monthly review of all company accounts and bring them to a close so the next month can start on a fresh cycle. As a woman, my body does the same with my period.
Even today, many young girls do not receive proper guidance about menstruation and just go with the flow.
For something that is a monthly activity for nearly half the world’s population, you’d think people in India would be more receptive to the concept of women wearing sanitary napkins to deal with the biological event. But that is not the case.
Growing up, I found that every store owner at any goods shop would wrap the packet of pads in a layer of black polythene bags or brown paper bag. This was done to avoid any awkward glares in case someone saw me holding it as I would walk back to my home.
God forbid, anyone thinks I am healthy and fertile owing to my regular menstruation. I felt like I was carrying some secret nuclear weapon that must be concealed from general public’s view.
Today, in the US, I can walk to the appropriate aisle and place a pack of pads into my open cart with ease. The cashier does not specially wrap the pads to conceal them.
For many women in developing nations, pads are not accessible which causes young girls to drop out of school. A society’s expectation to hide a natural bodily function can make them fearful of even asking for the purchase of pads, especially if the store-owner is male. Women can become hesitant to share their menstrual woes and irregularities with doctors, let alone female family members and friends.
An Easy Way to Talk about Menstruation with Men
Ladies, if you want an easy way to discuss menstruation with your boyfriend or spouse, just sing Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis. Here are my edited lyrics below. Let them know that regular menstruation implies you are healthy.
“Closed off from (my love)
I didn’t need the (period) pains
Once or twice (a month) is enough
(Till pregnancy and menopause) it is all in vain
Time starts to pass (before I bleed again)
Now you know that I…
Keep, keep bleeding
(Every month) I keep bleeding
I keep, keep bleeding (my love)”
Condoms in a Land Condemning Sexual Freedom
India is largely a sexually repressed society which will improve with generations to come. Contrast this with the US which practically has a Museum of Sex in New York City!
As a kid, I used to cover my eyes each time a semblance of a sexually arousing scene or a condom ad would surface on TV. Either that or my parents would just switch to another channel.
One time, my dad frantically fast forwarded some sex scenes in “Life in a Metro” whilst my grandma was watching it with us on a rented DVD, which just goes to show how his cultural apprehensions were inherited by his kids. I also went to watch “Delhi Belly” with my parents in the cinema hall, where the option of fast forwarding was not available. When that oral sex scene surfaced on screen, it was, perhaps, the most awkward two minutes of my life. Hilarious, but awkward.
Amongst my naive peers in high school, bringing up such sex related words would simply induce nervous giggles.
Pimply teenager #1: “It was my first time flying on Virgin Atlantic.”
Pimply teenager #2: “ZOMG! He said virgin! Bwahahahah”
Pimply Me: “You do know it’s an airline company?”
Pimply teenager #3: “Oh, so only virgins can fly on that plane? LOLOL”
It was only because of American sitcoms (e.g. Rachel’s unplanned baby in Friends) that I understood more about sex. It is also no surprise that Indians, especially men, learn the most about sex by privately watching porn – feeding unrealistic expectations of intimacy and love.
HIV in India
Even though HIV prevalence rates have declined in India over the last decade, HIV death rates are still very high (3rd highest in the world based on CIA 2012 rankings). Usage of condoms is key to prevention and sex education is a vital part of that process.
Many ignorant folks believe that promoting sex education will “spoil” their kids. Rather, such education is focused on understanding about methods of contraception, implications of teen and unplanned pregnancies due to psychological and financial burden of raising a child, as well as prevention and protection from sexually transmitted diseases. The onus lies on parents as well as the school and state sponsored sex literacy programs.
Below are wonderful examples from NYC gov that I have seen posted in subways, trains, and buses to deter teen pregnancies. Apart from these ads, studies have shown that sound education about using condoms and access to birth control helps in further decline of unplanned pregnancies and therefore, abandoned children.
Sex Education in Schools
Having served as a substitute teacher in my local school district made me discover that all 5th graders have to go through a mandatory puberty education seminar. Most of the students were apprehensive to hear about how their bodies will change but it was a necessary exercise. One boy told me that he didn’t want to grow up and another girl was irritated to know that she would bleed every month as she loved to swim. Being an adult qualifies me to be humored by their comments because puberty is not fun for anyone. Since many kids suffer from various disorders due to bodily changes and don’t receive proper guidance from friends or hesitant parents, it is imperative that we address these issues via education.
Personal note about my educational experience in India
My high school did organize a menstruation seminar for all girls to address their pains and problems with female specialists much later in 9th grade; however, it did not have a similar seminar on sex education for girls and boys. My high school is also home to a MMS scandal wherein a boy shared a private video with his friends which went viral. Though the girl consented to the filming of the sexual act by the boy, the girl was ostracized after it went viral and had no option but to flee the country, mainly because the regressive Indian society still places greater blame on the woman for losing her “izzat” (honor).
With the recent Hobby Lobby case in the US, it seems like even developed nations have a long way to go.
Below, I have a five simple tips for men and women alike to achieve a progressive society. If you have any of your own, do share them in the comments section.
1. School and parents should have a healthy discussion about bodily changes and sex with children as they approach puberty
2. Women’s bathrooms should have the facility to discard sanitary napkins in proper wastebaskets
3. Contraception should be accessible and affordable to both men and women
5. Sex (with consent) can be beautifully expressed in art and censoring it limits the freedom of a society’s adults
4. Women and men should not feel ashamed to purchase sanitary napkins in public view
Thank you for reading. Namaskar.