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We are often told that our 'value' diminishes with each person we give ourselves to sexually, but I believe pleasurable, casual sex with full consent made me a better, more honest, and deeply caring person.
We are often told that our ‘value’ diminishes with each person we give ourselves to sexually, but I believe pleasurable, casual sex with full consent made me a better, more honest, and deeply caring person.
It was a regular afternoon, and we were having lunch on the bleachers in the basketball court at school, when the question was first posed. We could not have been older than eleven and in retrospect it feels like we may have been too young for this discussion, but at the time it seemed like a perfectly natural thing to discuss.
“How old do you think you’ll be when you first have sex?” my friend asked all of us at large.
Bear in mind that we didn’t actually completely understand sex back then, and while I had already hit puberty (and gotten my period), I hadn’t fully grasped the purpose of any of it either.
What we knew about sex was limited, and telling. We knew that we shouldn’t ask adults, so we had looked up the meaning in the dictionary.
We knew that’s what happened when the camera rolled to a shot of darkness, closed doors, or flowers in films.
We knew it was ‘dirty’ and ‘wrong’ for us to discuss it or think about doing it.
We knew that it had something to do with ‘suhaag raat’ (the night of your wedding) and that’s when it happened for the first time, and how babies were subsequently made.
We understood it had to do with nudity and genitals, but also to do with pain somehow.
However, the most important thing we knew about sex was that when you did it, it defined your morality and what kind of girl you are.
Our answers to that question were governed by that last piece of knowledge. Every single one of my friends said they would only do it after marriage. I said that too, because saying anything else would immediately turn me into a ‘weird’ girl.
What I didn’t (and possibly couldn’t) realise then was the decision regarding when to have sex had a lot to do with my body, and when (and how) it felt that desire. I did it when I felt that desire.
Of course, there were people around me who discouraged it with the usual arguments — wait till you’re older/married, you’ll get sick/pregnant, what will people think about you, only do it for love, all the boys will think you are a slut, he’ll leave you if you have sex with him — but for whatever reason, I was immune to these arguments because I didn’t trust the people making them. I knew that the same people who were okay with me marrying a man (whom I didn’t even pick myself) and having sex with him the moment we were alone for the first time couldn’t possibly have good advice on healthy sex.
The same people who were so ‘concerned’ about me before I had casual sex were going to condemn me one minute after, and something about that seemed disingenuous. I wasn’t amenable to their arguments and I did not grow to regret my decision.
I had sex with a boy I was seeing. We were safe and we were not in love, and there was never any intention to marry because we were too young to think about any of that. I liked him and he liked me. We had spent time together and we knew each other well.
We definitely had feelings for each other, but I had no intention of being in an ‘exclusive’ relationship. That did not diminish the fact that we experienced something big together, nor did it change the fact that having sex for the first time is somewhat uncomfortable (especially PIV – penis in vagina).
Logistically and physically, sex is a little bit weird no matter how much you love the person you are doing it with, and doing it a second time is more realistically illuminating than the first. The most important thing though, and I will never be able to say this enough, is doing it on your own terms, and for your own reasons.
Before I ever had sex, I was concerned about things like my body and how attractive it is; I was worried I wasn’t thin enough, sensual enough and skilled enough, and as a result I believed no one could ever be attracted to me.
That was the first thing to change after I did it. I realised after I did it a few times that sex isn’t as much about procreation (as it is almost always taught) as it is about pleasure. When the people involved in the activity are consenting, aware and eager, the likelihood of an orgasm (or several) is much higher than the likelihood of a baby, and pleasure during sex is not defined by the structure of your body. You can be thin, fat, tall, short, picturesque or shabby, it doesn’t actually matter as much as the things you do to and evoke in one another.
Realising that the sexual purpose of my body was my pleasure (and in the right circumstances, the pleasure of another) made me see my body completely differently. For the first time in my life, I didn’t see a fat arm or a hairy leg, I saw something capable of bringing me great joy and satisfaction. I saw something that had appeal beyond its size, texture or colour.
The more people I engaged with sexually, the more comfortable I became in my body. The first few times, taking my clothes off in front of another person was challenging, and I was unsure if I was visually worthy. By the time it was the fifth person I was undressing in front of, it didn’t matter, because I understood that the sexual worth of my body didn’t have to do with how it looked naked to another person, it had to do with how it felt naked to me.
We are often told that our ‘value’ diminishes with each person we give ourselves to sexually but my experience has been the complete opposite, I did not feel like I was giving away something that I did not value, I felt like I was sharing my most prized possession with joy and generosity, and each time I shared it, it got better, and more valuable. There are no notches on my bed-post, only medals in self-respect and care.
Over time I started to see sex as both a social and recreational activity. In common parlance my approach to sex may be referred to as ‘casual sex’, but to me the act of interacting with someone sexually became akin to having a deep and revealing conversation. It became my favourite thing to do with other people.
Of course, the path to this point was fraught with judgement in many ways and it would be unrealistic to pretend I wasn’t called a slut, sexually abused, accused of wanting ‘attention’, deemed diseased (please, I don’t even share water bottles with my own family), labelled unmarriageable, accused of being mentally ill, but all of that judgement came from the people I didn’t trust.
I realised I could not reject a system and stand against it while still defining myself by its standards. I consider myself an expert in my sexuality, no one else gets a say, and anything anyone else says is not informative enough to warrant a mention. My sexuality is able to exist completely outside of social norms because I refuse to listen to anything else.
A part of this is privilege, of course. I was raised in a secure, stable environment, ensured an education and rendered financially independent, and I am able to openly profess my commitment to my sexuality because I am not reliant on anyone in my life for my safety or survival. The societal threat to me is extant but it’s not so dire that I cannot remove myself from it.
Another side to this priority I give to sex is that I found it to be the most informative way of getting to know another person, and I love people.
For a generation with endless means of contact, we are inexplicably poor at communication. Especially, honest communication. If you’ve been on a dating app, you’ll know the vapid conversations that the world’s most interesting people are having with one another.
A part of that is just being human I suppose; we want people to be attracted to us, and we lead with our most interesting stories, and after the dopamine from revealing our amazing-ness has worn off, we move on to the next recipient of the information. We do with communication exactly what the conservative moral police thinks we do with sex.
Another part is the sheer volume of conceptual, virtual ears that are available to us, it’s hard to value sharing yourself with one person, when you could do it with thirty at the same moment with a fraction of the effort. In a sense, digital interaction (quite poorly) does the job of sexual interaction by micro-dosing us with similar responses. Instead of sexual creatures, we become sexual objects to one another.
In that regard, sex is the opposite of screens to me. One is never more human than when engaged by a primal force. You cannot hide when you’re acting in the interest of your pleasure, there are no witty quips and pictures of beer at the beaches, you cannot Google anything, you have to be there, as yourself, and in entirety. That honesty in communication that sex enables between two people is the main motivation behind doing it.
Over time I also noticed that the conversations I had with people after we had had sex were always better. Perhaps once we had stopped trying to communicate with the goal of being attractive to one another, we were able to be more honest. Once we had seen each other’s bodies, warts and moles et al, we weren’t leading with insecurity, and had achieved a bodily comfort that allowed us to really engage with one another.
All of those relationships whether they lasted a day or a year, opened on the same plane, and as result, I learnt never to define myself by them, nor to define them by their interaction with me. Whether it is the girl I met in Mussourie and spent the weekend with or my husband, they are both people with whom I had sex. I don’t love one, and I do love the other. That did not need to, and does not have a bearing on our sexual interactions; one didn’t mean less than the other, and one wasn’t more shameful than the other.
Fundamentally, that is why the term ‘casual’ sex is somewhat misleading. It implies that some sexual interactions, on account of being frequent or short-lived, are meaningless. That they are easy or crass, and they have some bearing on your morality, but that is more telling of how we think about sex itself. We do not see it as a respectful way of engaging with people, and therefore doing that with a lot of people (that you definitely do not marry) is meant to be demeaning.
I take no issue with the term casual sex, it’s almost accurate (which is better than more terms), I take issue with how sex is viewed in that equation. If we viewed it like playing tennis, whether you played one short game with a person, several games with different people or thousands of games with the same person, it wouldn’t matter in light of the fact that you were enjoying the game and getting some exercise. That’s what sex is to me. Having it with more people doesn’t make it more shameful because it never was that. The way I see it, I’m just talking to people, getting to know them and developing connections, what’s so wrong about that?
Beginning with this piece, we present a new sex column UnMissionary (all posts for this column will be here) that is nuanced, real, and a deeply personal exploration of women’s sexuality and sexual experiences that steers clear of any stereotypes, and is informative, colourful, humorous, and very serious, all at the same time. This is in contrast with most sex columns that revolve around popular ideas of women’s sexuality are largely stereotypical unidimensional, and are mostly from the male POV and for the male gaze, and are often about the “how to” of sexual lives.
Image source: a still from web series Love Per Square Foot
Aarushi Ahluwalia is an author, journalist and columnist. She has been covering women's issues and rights for various news organisations throughout her career of almost a decade, and now runs a women's media read more...
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.
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