Apr 2013 10

By Arunima Gururani, 19

Peer Educator- Know Your Body, Know Your Rights


Premarital sex is an issue which most people refuse or shudder to talk about. It is sadly, still a taboo in a society that is secular, globalised and calls itself modern. Now, what exactly is premarital sex? Premarital sex involves the various sexual activities performed by unmarried individuals. However, the definition of it has evolved over time and can thus be put as ‘sex before marriage’. Premarital sex was considered a sin, and in fact, still is, among certain groups. Each society, however, interprets sexuality and sexual activity in different ways. Around the world, there are different attitudes towards various aspects relating to sexual behaviour like premarital sex, homosexuality, age of sexual consent, masturbation etc. In old times, people’s views on sexuality and sexual behaviour were influenced by religion, but today, these views are mostly socialized. Through studies and research it has been discovered that the instances of premarital sex has increased over the years. Historically and culturally, many people did not prefer sex before marriage due to the notion of it being immoral. The most obvious of these; religious groups – like sects of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism- consider premarital sex to be an act of sin and something that deserves punishment. [i]A study of 37 countries reported that non-Western societies—like China, Iran, and India—valued chastity highly in a potential mate, while Western European countries—such as France, the Netherlands, and Sweden—placed little value on prior sexual experiences. Sweden is thought to be the most liberal when it comes to attitudes about sex. Sex education, which starts around age six, is a compulsory part of Swedish school curricula. Sweden’s permissive approach to sex has helped the country avoid some of the major social problems associated with stigmatization of sexual activity. For example, rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease are among the lowest in the world.
We conducted a survey with the students studying in Delhi in an attempt to know what the views of young people are, regarding premarital sex. After analyzing the results, we found both males and females reacting to different questions differently (obviously!). However, what prominently stood out was that a majority of the young people in Delhi who have access to higher education did not consider premarital sex to be a taboo and something to be damned for and judged upon. When speaking of the ‘moral acceptance’ of premarital sex, the majority of both males and females said that it is a matter of choice. What also mattered to them was the consent. What was also novel was the focus on safe sex. Many of them also disagreed on the various norms of society such as pre-marital sex having a negative impact on future relationships and issues of love and morality pertaining that is often linked to it.
However there was a difference in opinion when it came to the influence on gender on the issue of premarital sex even within the privileged sample group that our survey targeted. A large section of women said that gender does influence their opinion. “In our society, women traditionally are perceived to be chaster and hence they are not open or willing to the concept of premarital sex”, was one of the answers by a young woman. The males on the other hand, were in a conundrum regarding this, with half of them agreeing and half of them disagreeing.

Another area of difference arose on the question of women indulging in premarital sexual activities. Again, a majority of women said that it is less acceptable. “Women are always taught to protect their ‘virtue’ and virginity is seen as a value” was one of the responses that supported the analysis. Out of the total number of males, most of them were fine with the whole idea of women getting into premarital sex and found it in no way unacceptable.

[ii]Recently, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has claimed that a UN declaration calling for an end to violence against women will lead to the “complete disintegration of society”. The past few days, at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York have been spent debating the wording of a declaration that would condemn violence against women. However, the brotherhood slated the declaration by calling it a decadent and destructive document that undermined Islamic ethics by calling for women to work, travel and use contraception without their husbands’ permission. The brotherhood’s statement claimed; “This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.” But, it is not just the brotherhood who has voiced their objections. Countries such as the Vatican, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Russia have led the conservative response.

Now the question that springs up is “To what extent? To what extent can religion influence and dictate everything we do?” This interpretation pretty much completely denies a woman of her freedoms. Why should a woman not work or travel? And, why in any situation must she ask permission from her husband for using contraception? It is her body, and it is her right. The claims made by the brotherhood, simply question true and clear logic along with the identity and basic human rights of a woman. [iii]When it comes to Hinduism, on one hand, it talks about devout persons who rejected all physical pleasure and comfort as an obstacle to the eventual union with the Supreme Perfect Being. On the other hand, many famous and sexually explicit works of art and architecture testify to the celebration of sexual pleasure. One of the best known early sex manuals, the Kamasutra {written in the 2nd century B.C.), treats sexual intercourse as a means of spiritual enrichment and thus is a legitimate expression of Hindu culture.

In a country like India, where there exists a taboo when it comes to sex, sexuality education is very important. The issue of including it in classrooms has seemed to evoke various responses from politicians. Some responded positively to it, while some were against it as it was against the ‘Indian culture’. However, the example of Sweden clearly portrays the impact of giving sex education at an early age. So, maybe it’s time for people to ‘grow up’ and be open to sexuality education and treat it as something very natural. The idea of sex should not be talked about in a disgusting way, but should be discussed as a normal and healthy practise. If sex as a taboo can be removed then it would be easier for ‘society’ to open up to the idea of premarital sex as well.

However, speaking of such a sensitive issue, the decisions pertaining to it should be a matter of choice and not religious or moral faith. One’s sexuality is one’s own and all the decisions made regarding it should be of the individual and not governed by societal notions and religious preaching. Everyone should and must be open to exploring their sexuality in their own way without any fear or hesitation.

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