South Asians probably hold the most contradictory views towards sex for any nationality worth its weight in emotions. How did we go from the Kama Sutra to being ashamed of sex to Bollywood item songs?
If population statics are anything to go by, Desis clearly don’t have an issue with the act itself; what we do have a problem with is how we perceive and express it.
Sex is the ultimate form of body language–whether you’re speaking love, lust, reproduction or duty, it is one of the most expressive forms of non-verbal (applying the term lightly here) communication. So it naturally follows that as a society thriving on active relationships, this is something we need to talk about openly and maturely.
In this, we as South Asians seem to widen the already prevalent gap between men and women as well as adults and youth. I find many parents hesitant to talk about sex and relationships with their teens because of the fear that talking about it will encourage it. It’s quite the contrary!
Imagine the mental, emotional and hormonal chaos that ensues when you leave an Asian kid who has grown up in a conservative paradigm to the mercy of pop culture and porn to figure out the birds and the bees! Even if parents do talk to their emerging teens about sex, it is often in a mechanical way, completely bypassing any discussion of how love and human emotion is so strongly connected to it. Again, this is likely done to avoid encouragement.
But I wonder if South Asians realize that talking about love in the context of sex actually dissuades promiscuous behavior since it elevates sex to beyond a physical act. Young people are more likely to wait if they realize the value of connecting with someone on a level that goes beyond the physical.
To confuse the matter further we have Bollywood; South Asians’ home away from reality. Bollywood has done a real number on the whole notion of sex (with or without love). This industry sells fantasies at the cost of reality, and yet we Desis love our Bollywood! Many of us will deny it vigorously, but we do try to create aspects of Bollywood in our lives.
We trust it in a way we could never trust “Western entertainment.” I find it funny (and a bit odd) how some South Asians get squeamish over a sober kiss on TV but won’t blink an eye to Munni and Sheila thrusting body parts that I, as a fellow woman, didn’t know existed. Perhaps it is because we like to separate sex from reality. As long as it’s in an extravagant, exaggerated context we can enjoy it without directly relating to it. It’s not us, it’s them; we’re just bystanders reaping a few benefits.
In recent years Bollywood has attempted to balance fantasy and reality by dealing with mature subject matters like interracial marriages, pre-marital sex, adultery and harassment. But this doesn’t mean that Desi society wants to accept these realities. Some feel it is Bollywood’s way of copying “Western lifestyles”.
What we watch on screen remains an illusion that we may be fascinated by, but on the streets and in our homes do we accept such things as the norm? Not likely. So by the time many of us are in our twenties, have spent a few decades juggling judgmental conservatism and rancorous displays of sexual imagery, we have formed parallel identities; one thing on the inside, and something else on the outside.
I feel this “passive passion” is imposed more rigorously on South Asian women, especially those who are unmarried. A woman who is comfortable with her sexuality is often considered “loose”. To enjoy sex (or anticipate it) seems to be unladylike and an indication that a girl is “available to be harassed”.
Until we as a community don’t translate this natural, healthy human inclination into mature conversations, we can’t live as whole human beings. For a culture that places prestigious moral demands on its people, I would go so far as to say morality is rooted in happiness, and what makes a person happier than good, old fashioned sex?
‘No Sex in the City’ is inspired by the popular TV show Sex and the City, and is a voice representing Desi romance and culture in all its complexities!