To understand the Indian woman’s attitude towards sex circa 2011, you’ll need to plot a simple graph. On the X axis, take the hit Bollywood item number where a hot village belle revels in the loss of her innocence singing, Munni badnaam huee, darling tere liye. And on the Y axis, take another hit Bollywood item number, where a snooty babe named Sheela croons I know you want it but you’re never gonna get it, tere haath kabhi na aani.
Both these songs are equally true depictions of the state of the Indian woman’s mind on the subject of sex. Which, basically, means that women are as confused on this subject as ever.
And then there’s the new fashionable animal. Casual sex. (Which I’m loosely defining as the sex people have without thinking about it too much, either before, during or afterwards.)
Of course, in these days of 72-hour-after abortion pills, hole-proof condoms and the anonymity that comes with working in big cities far away from friends and family, the three big bogey bears of pregnancy, HIV and social ostracisation have been pretty much neutralised. So all sex has become a little more casual. In fact, with the death of these three big guardians at the gate, the only barriers that remain are personal fastidiousness/reservations/conscience/hang-ups/ma-baap ke diye hue sanskaar, call them what you will. (The barrier of eager, willing partners not being around doesn’t exist. Because, let’s face it, girls, no matter how ‘unattractive’, will always find men who’ll be only too happy to have casual sex with them.)
And so, now that the stakes aren’t as high as they were for Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana or even Julie in Julie (Death! Hell! Social Condemnation!), today’s young and not-so-young financially independent women are free to run around aggressively chasing their sexual pleasures. And some of them are doing exactly that. To mixed results.
The right to casual sex is, in fact, being celebrated as a sort of female liberation or self-assertion in some circles. And maybe it is. Of course, the more paranoid women amongst us say that casual-sex-masquerading-as-women’s-emancipation is a trap set for us by sex-hungry men, where it seems they’re encouraging us to be all liberated and free, when actually they’re just setting us up to be used and abused.
Either way, the exhortations are everywhere. Have experimental sex. No-strings-attached sex. Hedonistic sex. Friendly sex. Boozed-out sex. Thank-you sex. Revenge sex. Sorry sex. Pity sex. Promote-me sex. The categories are endless.
Even if we manage not to think about it before doing it, we’ll surely think a lot after it all.
Shows like Sex and the City fuel the myth of the sassy, big city woman who chases her orgasms unabashedly and is not out to snag a man, just shag a man. Marketers, eager to connect with the 65 per cent below-35-years Indian audience, are pumping money into ads glorifying this ‘youth trend’. The Move On campaign by FastTrack watches, which shows a guy and a girl breaking up and finding new partners, is a case in point. Mainstream Bollywood flicks like Anjaana Anjaani and Band Baaja Baarat show young couples hooking up well before the interval with absolutely no haw-ji, dhikkar and emotional atyachaar. And of course, Facebook status updates have made break-ups as Clean and Clear as medicated acne-removing lotions.
But here’s the thing. Girls just aren’t as good at casual sex as men are. It doesn’t matter how hard they try. Just like they can’t run faster, lift heavier or grow as tall as men—they can’t have sex as casually as men can. Unfortunately, unlike in a race where it’s extremely evident that the man runs faster, or in weight-lifting, where it’s quite clear that the men’s world record stands at around 540 kilos and the women’s is at 180, there’s no tangible way of measuring which gender actually finds sex ‘more casual’. Which is why this preposterous, man-made myth continues to exist, that women can handle casual sex as well as men can. That they can have casual sex on a regular basis and stay all happy and fulfilled.
When really, for most Indian women, the phrase ‘casual sex’ is an oxymoron. Almost in the same league as casual murder, or casual frontal nudity. And even if we manage to not think about it before doing it (because of being crazied with lust, or drunk or lonely or insecure or whatever), we will sure as hell think a lot about it after the deed is done.
That maybe we’re losing control. That maybe, instead of being the user, we’re actually the use-ee. That maybe he thinks we’re easy. That maybe everybody is talking behind our back. That maybe every virtuous woman with her sindoor and mangalsutra on the telly is pointing an accusing finger at us.
And then, if you break the man-made rules and get emotionally involved, you’ll be made to feel like a bad person for demanding something more than just base physicality. You’ll be told you’re not playing the game. Your emotions, which are actually your strength, which is what makes you so good at nurturing, surviving crises and running huge corporations, will be quoted against you as your weakness.
So why are we falling all over ourselves to prove we can be as shallow and grabbing and amnesiacal as men? Especially when casual sex is almost always never good quality sex. It’s usually marked by awkwardness, fumblings, strange smells and abrupt, premature endings. Why don’t we just accept the fact that men and women are looking for different things? They’re looking to spread their seed the furthest it will go. We’re looking for a nice, strong, safe mate to make babies with. There’s a major conflict in expectation and somebody’s gonna get hurt.
I guess it’s only fair then, that women end up playing a little game of their own too. Which is about finding the way to a man’s heart through his crotch. They lure them in with the promise of casual sex, and then hold out and hold out and hold out, till sex with them becomes anything but casual for the poor sod in question.
How depressingly regressive!
But it usually works, as men are suckers for ‘loyalty’. Biologically, the male is programmed to settle with faithful females—so he won’t end up raising and propagating another man’s seed (every prehistoric man’s ultimate nightmare!) and that’s why the elusive, legs-tightly-pressed-together tease named Sheela will forever win out against the honest bawdy Munni who gave her all to her man and got just badnaami in return. Because Sheela, don’t you know, is virtuous. And monogamous. And therefore worthy of being bedded only after being wedded.
And that, stripped of all trappings of liberation and female emancipation, is the pure, biological truth.
Which is why we Indian women of the year 2011 need to pull casual sex out of the noble, empowering category it has insidiously managed to wriggle into. The category of Stuff Women Can Do As Well As Men If Given The Chance. Like finding a cure for cancer, becoming a CEO, or running a country. And put it back into the rather base category to which it really belongs. The category of Stuff Women Can’t Do As Well As Men If Given The Chance. Like peeing standing up.
Now, why would any sane woman even want to do that?
Anuja Chauhan is the author of The Zoya Factor and Battle for Bittora.