Read our prestigious winners at the 10th Laadli Media Awards, on India’s Low Divorce Rate and The Sexual Violence of Flashing.

Why Is Sex Before Marriage A ‘Sin’ For Indian Women, When The Man Involved Gets Away Easy?

Posted: August 13, 2020

Indian women are slut shamed for sex before marriage, but Indian men can easily get away with fewer repercussions. Why this inequity when both participate?

In a society that is truly equal, women would not find the need to ‘hide’ the fact that they have had sex before marriage. As it stands however, women who do so find themselves carrying the unfair and unnecessary burden of ‘shame,’ for an act that is perfectly natural and enjoyable.

Note: This post contains spoilers for the short film Level 13

When I watched the trailer for the short film Level 13, I was intrigued. It certainly seemed like it had a message to give.

I don’t know if the message I took away was the one which the makers wanted me to, but the ‘twist’ ending to the movie left me incredibly angry.

What is Level 13 about?

It begins with Anuup Sonii and Sandhya Mridul, playing a husband and wife, on their way to the anniversary party of his boss. It is established that Annup, playing Rohit, is an opportunistic man, who wants to use his wife as a ‘connection’ to climb up the corporate ladder. “Mingle with other women yaar, especially my MD’s wife. She has to like us,” he tells her. He is also the typical middle class man, for whom casual sexism is a way to ‘bond’ with other men.

Sandhya’s character, Priya though, is established to be a person with a mind of her own. She isn’t her husband’s slave to do his bidding and certainly doesn’t care to be a social butterfly. She is happy to spend the party on the couch, playing her favourite game on the phone.

As the story progresses, we discover that the boss (Rajeev Paul, playing Aakash), is married to Rohit’s ex-girlfriend from college, Sonal (played by Swati Semwal), who he dumped by disappearing from her life suddenly. While they don’t reveal their relationship to their respective spouses, they do acknowledge each other as acquaintances.

A chance look at Rohit’s childhood photo on Priya’s phone, however, reveals their secret to all. It is a match for Aakash and Sonal’s son, indicating that he is actually Sonal and Rohit’s child from their affair before marriage.

Where Priya and Rohit looked shocked at this revelation, Rajeev looks betrayed and then angry as he walks away. The one we feel the worst for though, is Sonal, who looks absolutely distraught as her world comes crashing down.

Women always bear the greater burden of ‘shame’

While the film stops there, it is not difficult to imagine what will happen further in the lives of these characters.

Most likely, Priya will be told by everyone that ‘it is all in the past,’ and that she should ‘forgive’ Rohit. Being a strong minded woman, she may not listen to them, but even so, Rohit won’t have a stigma attached to him for the rest of his life.

Sonal, on the other hand, is now a ‘branded woman’. She will either be divorced by Aakash, and bear the double ‘dishonour’ of being both divorced and ‘promiscuous.’ Or she will be trapped in a loveless, possibly even an abusive marriage, that exists only to keep up appearances. She will forever be ‘reminded’ of the way she ‘betrayed’ him.

The greater loss will unfairly be hers.

This, in fact, comes too close to the real life of a very dear friend of mine, whose story I am sharing here with her permission. When she watched the film, she was left so shocked and so shaken, that I immediately regretted sharing it with her.

Her husband found out early into their marriage that she had had sex before marriage, and ever since has been abusing her. She is slut shamed on a regular basis. He even refused to believe that their child was his, and accused her of having extra marital affairs. He wanted her to abort the baby, but she held firm.

As much as she would like to leave the marriage, her financial situation, unfortunately, keeps her trapped in it. Yet, she is a survivor, who showers those around her with kindness, because she is a feminist who knows at heart that she is not wrong.

This is not just her reality but the reality of too many women in our country, who suffer in silence, for the simple act of having loved someone.

Why is sex before marriage such a taboo, especially for women?

As this report in The Mint, based on the data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2015-16 reveals, most Indians have sex only within the boundaries of marriage.

Quoting the report, “The data suggests that pre-marital sex is still a taboo across large swathes of the country. Only about 11% of single men and 2% of single women in the 15-24 age-group reported having had sex.”

There is a huge gap between that 11% and 2%. The reason being, that men face less damaging consequences for having sex before marriage. In fact, in much of pop culture, the idea of a man bedding multiple women is celebrated. It is used to highlight his virility and desirability.

For a woman though, that becomes a scarlet letter. Even the man/men who have had sex with her, start to think of her as being ‘easy.’ Such women are regarded as only ‘girlfriend’ material, not ‘sanskaari’ enough to be good wives.

Even at the gynaecologists’ offices in India, ‘are you married?’ is code for ‘are you having sex?’ The assumption is that a woman who is not married will not have an active sexual life. This goes beyond shaming and can have potentially serious medical implications too.

Part of the reason for this bias is the cultural emphasis on a woman’s ‘virginity,’ which is not a medical reality but a “social, cultural and religious construct – one that reflects gender discrimination against women and girls.”

Slut shaming is a weapon used to exert control over ALL women’s bodies, and keep them ‘in line.’ By shaming the women who exert their sexuality, it silently sends a signal to other women warning them of the consequences.

Controlling women’s sexuality helps to uphold traditional and oppressive power structures of family, caste, class, etc. While the sexual liberation of women is not enough on its own to dismantle these systems; it can do a great amount of damage to them.

In addition, most religions portray sex as something to be avoided except for procreation within the context of religiously sanctioned marriages. Some studies have shown that even just thinking about sex increases analytical thinking, which in turn weakens religious belief. This then leads to a reasonable speculation that in a country like India, where religion thrives on women’s participation, women’s sexual expression is controlled, to ensure the continuity of religion.

Sex is natural and enjoyable, even for women

As a result women are taught to think of sex as a ‘duty’ and not a pleasurable experience.

However, wanting sex is natural. It is a basic need. We don’t prevent people from eating, drinking or seeking shelter before marriage. Then why this ridiculous taboo against sex?

Sex can be incredibly pleasurable, even for women. However, as writer and director Paromita Vohra points out, female desire is often ignored and, conversations around sex in India, get stuck around the issues of violence and rape, and never move on to discussing how it can be a desirable activity.

It is high time, that we stop thinking of women as dolls that move from factory floor, to shop, to home, untouched inside a sealed package, and start thinking of them as human beings that feel and act upon sexual desire, love and every other emotion in between.

Author’s Note: This piece quotes statistics about young people in India and their sexual lives that state the age range considered as 15-24. The author would like to clarify that she is simply quoting the study, and not advocating that underage minors (under the age of 18) should have sex. An adult having sex with a minor is paedophilia – an act that is legally punishable and morally reprehensible.

Liked this post?

Register at Women's Web to get our weekly mailer and never miss out on our events, contests & best reads! Or - get a couple of really cool reads on your phone every day - click here to join our Telegram channel.

Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views. Individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times. If you have a complementary or differing point of view, sign up and start sharing your views too!

How To Be A Successful B2B Writer

Comments

Share your thoughts! [Be civil. No personal attacks. Longer comment policy in our footer!]

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

Do you want to be part of a network curated for working women?

""