To Tackle Marital Rape, We Should Be Able To Talk About Sex in The First Place

Posted: September 5, 2018

In today’s time, surrounded by inhibitions, taboos and pressures, even supporting a social cause, can raise an eyebrow. Marital rape is one such cause which needs no introduction, yet it needs to be spoken about over and over again because most of us are still living in denial about it.

Thousands of women continue to silently bear the brunt of this inhuman act. Why do they suffer in silence?

The image of marriage being a sacred institution and blessing would be the first reason. By default, after marriage, the rights of a woman get subsumed by the rights of her husband, and she is expected to worship or adore him. Then, how can she raise her voice against a person who takes the default role of decision maker and head of the family, after marriage?




Through this societal construct, indirectly, the concept of marital rape gets lost. Many a times, a husband’s role as head of the house strips off the existence of his wife’s identity and freedom. And in many cases, her sexual freedom too. The concept of a wife’s consent is assumed to have simply vanished, after getting married.

I always ask, ‘Well, does she really cease to exist as an individual after getting married?’ And over the years, this question has perplexed me more, as many educated elders, friends informed me of their views.

Rigid gender roles…and their presence in bed

On the one hand, we try to portray marriage as the most sacred union in the world. And I am sure, most of us have grown up, hearing this. And, the role of ‘Head of the house’, ‘breadwinner’, ‘master’ is also, fed into us, right from childhood. So what happens because of these inculcated social customs? Well, for one thing, such pre-defined gender roles and titles actually take away any semblance of ‘equality’ in any marriage.

Just to introspect further on this, do such roles and titles promote healthy, meaningful conversation of sex, sexual health, reproductive health etc. between the partners in any way? And for a marriage to be equal, both persons involved need to decide on aspects of their lives together. And that includes their sex lives.

The chances of contentment and satisfaction in married life are always high when such pre-defined gender roles or titles don’t exist. Expectations of the man being in control, and solely responsible for decision making, would simply curb free dialogue from taking place. And such a power play would pass from the dining table, to the living room and finally into the bedroom as well.

Come to think of it, how many married women have talked about marital rape? Perhaps in a few surveys and studies.

It is an act of violence that needs to be criminalised, everywhere. Because crime is a crime. And this act violates the individual and fundamental rights of a person. Spousal rape survivors can sometimes be more psychologically traumatised. And living in constant fear and shame combined with being quiet about the rape, also leads to the eventual breakdown of marriages.

Of course, the present critique is that, criminalisation of marital rape would alone destroy the institution of marriage. But what about the silent abuse that slowly kills the marriage? Is it okay to pass on this problematic patriarchal mindset, to our children?

Protecting one’s culture and preserving it, is fine. But in doing so, if a person is violated, is it justified?

Make a start – with criminalising marital rape

Times have changed and what was acceptable a few decades ago, is not necessarily, acceptable today. Even now, the debate continues on the exemption (2) of  Sec 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which doesn’t acknowledge sexual intercourse within the institution of marriage without consent as rape. And these debates continue on with child marriages as well.

The same question is applicable here as well – where does this leave the child brides? Should the institution of marriage be protected for keeping social customs intact or the rights of such children being forced into marriages be looked into?

The criminalisation of marital rape can be a start, as a system of prevention and protection of rights. At the same time, what will help more in the long run, is the sensitization of the general public, societies, families etc. on individual rights, women’s autonomy, consent to sex and sexual and reproductive health. Innovative campaigns are the need of the hour focusing on every member of the society and not judges, lawyers or counsellors alone. It is time that stereotypes are broken at every step of the way.

Why should sex be a ‘sacred’ activity?

Within the institution of marriage, sex is considered sacred. Something that is personal, and should not be discussed outside closed bedroom doors.

Why should sex be only seen as a sacred activity, reserved only for married adults? And if it is indeed sacred, why is it not consensual in some cases? Why is it used as a tool for personal satisfaction of one person and not for both the partners involved in sex?

Inculcating the idea that sex is sacred or some sort of a secret which shouldn’t be discussed outside private spaces, often perpetuates more inhibitions about sex.  As a result, honest conversations never take place, not even between parents and their children. And how easy would it have been, if such conversations took place? Definitely it would have led to fewer women or no woman suffering in silence.

To conclude, Marital rape is not marital sex. It is forced sex. And forced sex is rape. Of course, not every marriage has the same fate. But that does not mean the violence of marital rape is not a reality.

First published here.

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Artist. Writer. Thinker. Based in Delhi. Ponders on most things in the universe. Also ponders

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