Sex is natural to all of us. It is in our being. However, in our culture discussing about it is a stigma. In the very words of Osho who approaches Sex as a science, ‘It is our life source. And the more we try to repress sex the more power it will have over us’. Not that I am propagating sex or Osho, however, one might argue as to why something so fundamental cannot be discussed out in open?
The ‘social animals’ that humans are, we have our habits, desires, beliefs as well as sexual attitudes and behaviours shaped by the very society into which we are born. This explains the reason as to why approach to sex in South Asia is different than in the Middle East and the West. While the West is more open about sex, the Middle East frowns and the Asian countries are tight-lipped about it. It exists but almost like a ghost. In our society whether you are a man or a woman, talking openly about sex brings disgrace. However, since our social and cultural norms endorse Men as the privileged gender in the normative sense, they do have the opportunity to get exposed to information and exchange opinions about sex. Women can undoubtedly do so as well but they would certainly be ostracized if they didn’t choose their audience wisely.
Seema Pandey, 24, from Nepal blames the patriarchal structure for forbidding women to enjoy sex by categorizing those who show interest towards it as ‘bad or promiscuous’. Many times it is the notion of virginity before marriage that controls the expression of sexuality in women. The cultural and religious upbringing can stifle sexual explorations and even load people with feelings of shame and being impure. And many times this is how a young Nepali girl feels.
Nouran Hassan from Egypt adds , “It is okay for men to have sex before marriage and they get away with it -- there is no hymen that breaks when they lose their virginity nor do they get pregnant should they end up having unprotected sex.” Also, it is assumed that the women's appetite for sex is low because of which women remain silent about their sexual needs. They mostly submit to the desires of men instead of satisfying their own. Many do not even know what orgasm is and fewer know that they can even have multiple orgasms or are capable of female ejaculation.
However, though this might stay true in wider sense, we have seen that things are changing especially in urban Nepal. The sexual revolution that had started in the west seems to be seeping slowly. Today in a married relationship, sex is discussed beyond procreation to something that is beautiful, something that gives both physical and emotional intimacy. We also see that the younger generation is being more open about their sexuality. There is even the realization among girls that having sex before marriage is not an act of eternal damnation.
22–year-old student Sita (name changed) says, “I lost my virginity when I was 17. It was my first and so was my boy friends’, we struggled but we enjoyed the sex.” Like Sita there are many young couples in Kathmandu and major cities of Nepal who admit to having intimate relationship. Another 26-year- old girl adds, “Why should I have to wait? If guys can do it when they are unmarried why can’t I? Besides, I don’t think men care much these days if you are a virgin or not. It is my right to enjoy sex with the person I love - before or after marriage”.
Much of the changes we see today have to be credited to education and exposure. Education can play a vital role in providing guidance and confidence to women as well as men regarding sexual behaviour and attitude. Especially for women, sex education is very important, particularly because they have the risk of getting pregnant. Bipana (name changed), 24, says that she has many friends who are young and are sexually active. But when it comes to taking precaution, many of them know very little. She claims to have witnessed couple of her friends going through abortion and the entire psychological trauma. For this reason too, it is necessary for young people to have knowledge on safe sex before engaging in sexual activities. Unprotected and unsafe sexual behaviour is neither good for an adult or a young person.
Though things are changing in Nepal, we should understand that in each society the sexual norms are rooted in the complex network of its laws, traditions and norms. Similarly, a change in sexual behaviour can also affect these very cultural and social norms that we might have benefited from. Consequently, no sexual revolution will do much good if it does not take heed of the historic and cultural intricacies.
On the other hand, if there are disparities imposed by these exact norms then certainly, as the pattern suggest, there will be resistance and change sought. Females from urban Nepal are coming out of their conventional shell. Many though shy to admit are involved in sexual acts before marriage and no matter how much we try to smother this reality it will prevail. They admit openly to loving and enjoying sex as much as men. The key now is to act less like a hypocrite and more like a human. By acknowledging this change and by educating them about sex, we keep our younger generation safe and less susceptible.