By: Arathi Devandran
When I was in school, I remember sitting through a really awkward sex education class. They told us what it meant to copulate (obviously, they didn’t use that word, but you know what I mean), and what were the biological consequences of it all, and maybe, implicitly, the social implications of “doing it too early” or something to that effect. Then we were made to make some kind of declaration, like the establishment of an oral chastity belt, about premarital sex, and how we would always “value ourselves”. My memories of this are vague, but this was the general picture that was painted.
We weren’t quite told that we were allowed to think about it, and figure out our choices. To arrive at a conclusion we wanted to make on our own.
Naturally, all of us did it, because really, what was the alternative? And really, what did we know? And at that age when we’re too busy dealing with pimples and smelly boys, what did all of that even mean to us?
A decade later, I am at an engagement ceremony with my family. It’s an Indian affair, many round tables, many relatives presuming they know best on how to live, many loud mouths and louder opinions, and at the centre of this all, the engaged couple, holding each others’ hands and saying lovely things to each other. There is a picture slide show of how the groom proposed to the bride in a foreign country, lovely pictures with a rose-petal strewn bed, a romantic candlelight dinner, perfunctory shots of hands being held and The Ring. There is absolutely nothing even remotely salacious, erotic or vulgar about these pictures; if anything, they would make for sweet, good stories for children and grandchildren to come.
At my table, the conversation becomes a little hushed. “I didn’t know the couple traveled together before they were officially married…” The women exchange looks. There is something unsaid in that sentence, something tangible and strong in the looks that were exchanged.
It might have been disapproval. It might have been some kind of knowledge that these individuals think they are privy to. It might have been some kind of determination about the worth of the various individuals involved. I do not know. I will not claim to know, either.
An individual’s virginity is a prized possession. This is what we are taught as children, especially emphasized in Asian societies, where there is that added element of ‘What Others Would Say.’ A woman’s chastity and virginity are considered to be key elements of her person. Any hint of that being violated, any hint of that being given away by choice, any hint of that being questioned, becomes a cataclysmic affair. I would like to think that it is the same for a man, but I do not think I can make that claim as confidently.
The violation of any person is unacceptable. I think we are all pretty clear on that. The aftermath of said violation involves vicious cycles of pity, sympathy, judgement, and occasionally, like an oasis, triumph and new beginnings. But we are not here to talk about that today.
The murkier grounds are when choice becomes involved, when there is pressure in a more Westernized society for the freedom to keep or to give away one’s virginity vis-a-vis the Eastern society, which is more finicky, more reserved, more didactic about this. Does this stark contrast still persist today? Hells to the yes, it does.
As a member of a generation that straddles both societies and cultures, and as a member of a generation that is more often than not accused of being irresponsible and wanton, I can say that these struggles are real, and the conversations are few.
I think a lot about self-worth (especially my own), and most of it usually is related to how I treat other people, how other people treat me, the limits and extents of my actions, my deliverables, and my expectations of life. That’s the direction my paradigm takes. This differs from person to person, and I wonder, really, how many young women, or young men out there base their persons on whether they are virgins or not. I haven’t done a field study, I can’t give you facts. I couldn’t even tell you if this is the way we should be thinking. I’m still trying to figure this one out.
My parents never gave me the birds and the bees talk. It didn’t matter, because one learns, eventually. My school mates and I didn’t freely discuss issues of virginity and sexuality, not because we didn’t want to, but because we really didn’t know how to. We definitely were not given the space, as young girls on the cusp of adulthood (back then, I mean), to discuss what virginity meant to our selves, and where were stood with it. All we were told was to make sure we kept it safe. Good advice, I don’t discount that, but I’ve always believed that lessons stand stronger when you arrive at conclusions, rather than being told of the endings.
This isn’t me making a moral stand about when people should have sex. That’s frankly, none of my business, and none of yours too, if you are not one of the two (or three, whatever) individuals involved. This is me saying that if you have children, and they are pubescent, then maybe now would be a good time to create an environment where you can talk about these things.
If nothing else, start by asking your kids (and your own selves, too) about what makes you a human being. Is it your biological functions and tendencies? Is it your emotional bandwidth to deal with other people’s messes? Is it your ability to paint, sing, dance, write? Is it your ability to sit and meditate for three hours? What is it? Find out.
This is also me saying that as young adults, if you have an opinion, try to share it with other young adults instead of worrying about what they might think of you. Hell, try to share it with your grandparents if you think they will be able to give you some kind of insight. I’ve said this before, and I will say it again. Sometimes, all we need is to take a step and give voice to what’s inside. That’s enough to get the ball rolling. Try it.
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