Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

First Came Sex, Then Came Marriage?

First Came Sex, Then Came Marriage?

October 29, 2012

I grew up watching dishum-dishum scenes, but never anything remotely along the lines of 'love-making.' What's up with that?

The couple on the television leaned closer, their eyes closed, their lips barely touching, fully clothed.  Click.  Now, a news anchor had replaced the image of the lovers, talking about bloodshed in Libya.

Ah, yes. Much safer.

My dad replaced the television controller on the table, and carried on with his crossword puzzle, content, perhaps, with the  knowledge that his daughter (in her mid-20s) was no longer exposed to all the nonsense love-making. Yeesh.

That his daughter had spent much of her time lip-locked (among other things) with a white man until about four months ago, was something he was blissfully unaware of.

This was a daily occurrence in my home, back when I used to live at home as a child. I remember watching a Friends episode at an NRI family friend’s house, just before I went away for college – the scene where Rachel and Joey kiss for the first time.  My father hastily grabbed the remote, amidst chuckles from my friend. Apparently, her NRI father didn’t do that. I do remember watching violent “dishum-dishum” Hindi movies as a seven-year old child with my family; thankfully, Bollywood movies had no sex scenes.

I love my father; I know he loves me. I also know that his values are shared by a considerable number of people, NRIs or otherwise.

I get that; I also get why it took me so long to allow myself to be intimate with a man.  That my cousin, who lives in India, had to ask his father, the day he got engaged, what happens during the “first night”, is telling, of our culture’s hush-hush attitude towards this most natural and wonderful aspects of human life.  I’m not talking about just sex; rather, the entirety of the sharing of love and intimacy with another person.

I’m not advocating for all Indians to begin having frank conversations with their children about sex and love.  I only want to suggest that this veil of secrecy, and the pretence either that such things do not happen to their kids, or if they do, are attributable to all that is wrong with Western society, provides little help to NRI children navigating their first experiences of this real human emotion known as love. The guilt commonly experienced by NRI youth as we engage in even the simplest acts of intimacy, such as kissing another, can prevent us from experiencing, enjoying, learning, and growing, as people. (Side note - turns out that kissing - and all of its different forms - originated in the Indian subcontinent.)

So many restrictions surround the idea of love and physical intimacy in our culture, chiefly the one of marriage being the only meaningful institution in which physical intimacy should exist, and/or will be tolerated. To desist until you meet the person you are to marry (as chosen by your parents, and/or by you, as long as they are: someone from the very same religion, culture, caste), is to succumb to a juvenile understanding of love and intimacy, shackled within the confines of cultural institutions.  Perhaps the 'pervyness' of men in India can be partly attributed to the cultural intolerance of contact with the opposite sex until the wedding night.

Marriages in the past were arranged, often a pact between families, both benefiting from the union.  They were a matter of convenience, perhaps the only way a woman had to leave her home, and make something of herself: to procreate, raise a family.

Today’s women are no longer the helpless, innocent young girls of yester-year, their every decisions made by elder brothers, fathers, uncles. Our lives no longer revolve around cooking and birthing babies; we are increasingly more empowered, and often, do fine even if we’re not married.  Yet, the idea of seeking companionship remains outdated. That a woman must be chaste until marriage, marry at a certain age, and have children, was the cultural norm of a different era; still, the same beliefs linger.  Mere observation suggests to me that NRI families begin looking for a husband for a woman at a far earlier age than that of a wife for a man; and if allowed to date, one must do so only with the intention of marrying that person in the near future.  Break-ups not allowed.   Similarly, divorces – not allowed.

That Western countries have higher rates of divorce is not proof that desi unions are somehow better than Western ones; instead, it is partly a reflection of the negativity with which divorce is still viewed in our culture.  I would argue that matrimonial sites and horoscope matching are just as good at choosing suitable life-partners as online dating sites, or speed dating; i.e. not very good. In desi culture, it makes more sense to stay together than bring pain upon the families by separating, thus creating the semblance of happier unions.  I know plenty of desi couples who merely co-exist, with little evident affection for one another.

Seeing an online profile and knowing a person for a week before becoming engaged is not exactly a recipe for an organic, passionate life-union; it simply is an extension of marriage as an inorganic, social/legal contract, the union of two parties for mutual benefit and the fulfillment of some pre-determined duty. It is marriage for the sake of marriage; not the thing of beauty that one supposes is being celebrated in the wedding rituals and ceremonies.

When we consider what our land produced (the Kama Sutra, Tantric sex, erotic carvings on holy Hindu temples, etc.)  it is clear that this land has not always been so conservative or prudish; in fact, one can imagine that once upon a time, while British missionaries spread their message of the wicked sinfulness of sex, our religious teachers were probably engaging in, and celebrating, their sexuality. Now it seems that the only exposure to sex for many Indian men comes from what they can find on the internet, or like my cousin, none at all.  Not exactly a healthy introduction.

Much can be learnt from intimacy that occurs without the confines of prior agreements and familial contracts; and besides, it’s fun, when its mutual and consensual.  Intimacy might be the act that comes most naturally to us, as humans; surely, none of us would exist without the most sacred form of which no one must speak of.  Why is it so bad, to get to know someone of the opposite sex (or of the same sex, depending on your proclivity) intimately before marriage, or even if marriage never occurs?  Short answer ... it’s not.

In time, perhaps the idealized image of the naive bride, veiled, innocent and virginal, can be replaced with the image of a self-assured woman, in love and confident.  Perhaps the groom is someone who is experienced in matters of love, and knows how to make a woman happy, rather than a naive, intimacy-starved youth whose first contact with the opposite sex occurs on the "first night".  Both know what they want; love is no longer a mystery.  As our world evolves so rapidly around us, it is time that our culture shifts with it.

It's not easy, but the dialogue must begin somewhere. This is what it means to evolve, and to be empowered. 


  • Maya
    21.11.12 06:37 AM
    It's really not that difficult to control yourself in the West. Having been born and raised in the USA, I have zero problems maintaining my personal boundaries with the opposite sex, and I suspect I will have little difficulty instilling the same morals in any future generations I spawn.

    Educate your kids on the dangers (physical, social, psychological, etc), of screwing around. If you aren't monogamous, you expose yourself to a myriad of diseases and problems. There's a reason why people get them, and it certainly isn't caused by monogamy.
  • Vijay Patil
    Vijay Patil
    04.11.12 07:59 PM
    Dear Priti
    Nice attempt ! there was no need to spice up the title with word sex:-)

    If I understand you correctly you wish that young couples explore (including phyisical intimacy) each other before they get married (if at all) and parents should be OK with this. Right?

    Well this is good idea if young people are mature enough and educated enough (to detect if someone is taking advantage of them etc.) to make right decisions for themselves. This is not always the case (this depends on lot of factors).
    If parents feel that their teenage sons/doughters are mature enough they would indded not mind them getting into physical or any relationship if they want to. Teenagers need to demonstrate that maturity to their parents. Do they? If they don't is it fair to complaint about the restrictions put by parents on them?
    We all know most Indian parents are over-protective but if you demonstrate your maturity throught your confidence they will let you do whatever you want.

    BTW: Getting into physical relationship before marriage is a personal choice (like believeing in God or not) with pros and cons, there is nothing to debate and conclude. Make your own choice and take responsibility for it.
  • srinivas
    01.11.12 11:41 PM
    The author seems to have assumptions about Indian sexuality like
    1) Indians do sex only for procreation not for pleasure. and the
    2) Indians don't have any knowledge about sex until marriage and last one
    3) They don't know about romance because they don't have relationships before marriage.

    how far these assumptions are true?

    But cousin case seems to me very curious one because he doesn't know what is "first night". and he is asking about it after his engagement. is it child marraige they are still happening in some parts of india.
    01.11.12 11:32 PM
    @ Ai

    I love your explenation, it's brilliant and it's good and it makes sense. As I was reading, I couln't stop laughing in a good way. :) Ai you are a good entertainer.

    But I still think that your analysis only applies to the groups of people, and last time I looked at this, we were individuals. We do belong to a group, but we are still individuals with our own thoughts and minds, therefore the example that you have given in collective manner doesn't apply to everybody.

    When you suggest that women in country 'A' can dress up like this and still be safe from eve teasing where as in India it's not possible and I do agree, but I am not one those induvidual which this applies to, and I am sure this doen't apply to you as well, so therefore you can't say we are all like this. Do you see my point in what I am saying?

    What I'm saying is some minds are more Devious then others and we don't know which one is what, and you can't group them with colour or geography, if you see what I'm saying.

    It's all about individuals what this world is full of eventho we all are a part of a group or some groups but in the end we are not all same, not two children from same mother are same, not even two identical twins are same, when it comes to thinking.
    Do you see the point I'm making.

    What you suggest are great in theory but not in real life, therefore we don't know what is going to happen when it come to individuals, and there is no pattern even if you see one. You don't know what one individual will do even if you know them well or so you think. That is the point I'm making.


    PS It was nice talking to you.
  • Atheist Indian
    Atheist Indian
    01.11.12 05:33 PM
    I have split my response to two parts for clarity. Here goes the second part:
    Sex crimes of all types are not prevalent in every society. In spite of the higher awareness and high rates of reporting; sexual crimes are very low in the Scandinavian countries, most of EU and much of South East Asia as well. South Asia and the Middle East on the other hand, 'enjoy' a rather high prevalence of child sexual abuse, rapes, molestation and mob violence; thanks to having a more enlightened culture.
    I am glad that you agree about the human mind today being what it was 200 years ago. Which is why sex as a taboo outside marriage doesn't work in the current world, where most people don't marry in their teens, right after reaching puberty. The human psych is not designed to handle 10 or more years of sexual abstinence at the peak of our sex drives, till we finish our school education, get a degree, get a job and finally marry once we are 'settled enough'. The complexities of the current world makes it pretty much impossible to get back into the culture of marrying early, so we might as well move on an accept pre-marital sex as the norm; rather than continuing with the taboos that were designed for the issues relevant in 13th century societies.
    The high rates of sexual predation in India is a fallback of extended sexual repression. Take a trip to Shillong someday and watch how the streets are filled with women in every kind of attire that you can imagine and yet, no one molests, catcalls or harasses them. Take a city bus in Aizawl and watch how women are unafraid to sit next to you or board a bus filled with men. Then compare it to a mainland Indian city of equal size. Don't make the mistake of blaming eve teasing and rapes on lust. Don't mistake sexuality with drug or porn addiction.
  • Atheist Indian
    Atheist Indian
    01.11.12 04:39 PM
    "You and I both know that western society is not repressed when it comes to sex."
    Not repressed? I don't even know where to start - your assumptions that western society is 'not repressed' or your idea of a monolithic 'western society', or even the idea that this monolithic 'western society' shares a common trend of sexual crimes and perversion. Or that somehow, sexually repressed cultures are immune to these problems.
    The 'western society', which is the Asian generalised term for the Anglophone nations, is far from being 'not repressed when it comes to sex'. The market forces and socio-cultural dynamics of sex/romance in these countries are geared towards fuelling consumerism via sexual repression. Don't mistake the commercialisation of sex as a sign that the 'western society' is sex positive. Continental Europe might be sex positive, the US and UK are not.
    Lets take a few points:
    1) Teenage sex is considered a taboo and while teenage abstinence is propagated as a social norm. I am yet to come across an American parent who'd be comfortable accepting their under-18 kids as sexually active.
    2) There is a love-hate relationship with pre-marital sex. One one hand, we have conservatives preaching abstinence, while the liberals can't decide on which side of the fence to kick their footballs.
    3) There is an adverserial and competitive attitude between men and women when it comes to sex, which is very unhealthy. Slut shaming is prevalent and mainstream. Feminists respond to it by colouring normal male sexuality as predatory and perverted.
    4) Pop culture and porn psychologically program both women and men to see sex as a competitive and difficult-to-attain aspiration. Unrealistic imagery of sex and romance is used to fuel rabid consumerism.
    6) Homophobia and male biphobia is mainstream. Sexuality is rigid, not fluid like it exists in the real world. Heteronormativity is justified on an evolutionary level by pop-psychologists.
    8) Sex is seen as a vice, on the line of violence and drug use, rather than a biological instinct. You fell for that trope.
    Granted, the US is less prudish compared to mainland India or the Middle East when it comes to sexual expression, but it is far from the "not repressed when it comes to sex" ideal that you believe it is. The US culture is more porn-positive than sex positive. Americans are still knee deep in a lot of Victorian era hang ups.
    31.10.12 11:06 PM
    @ Ai

    I do agree with you on certain points which you elaborated in the post but I don't know the stats when it comes to India today or in the past because I haven't lived in India more then few years in total of my whole life.

    The things which you are saying are also in the western culture / society as well. You and I both know that western society is not repressed when it comes to sex. So my question is why is it there are so many sex related crimes in UK and Europe? if what you are saying is true in genral. At this point you will argue and say that prosecution rate is higher in Europe but it still does not explain why is it still there.

    In my personal experience sex crimes are every where in every society regardless of their sex viewpoint and their behavier and it's nothing to do with geography.

    Human mind is just as same now as it was twenty years ago or for a fact two hundred years ago. The technology has changed not us, we are just as much primitive now as we were two hundred years ago. Lust is most primal urge in human pysch. This will never change with time.

    For you and An Indian From UK to say that Indians are like this because they are repressed nation is just as much as true as santa claus.

    @ An Indian from UK
    You live in UK and I am sure you read and watch news and things that's happening and do you still think I'm blinkered regarding India and Indians and sex crimes. I do know the way Indian society has evolved about sex and marriage, I don't think there is perfect solution in any society, but my question is, is it realy that bad in comparison to the others. I don't think there is a right or a wrong answer in this, it's only an opinion from diffrent perspective.

    I don't know why you both think that Indians are more devious then others, maybe you both have seen them in different light but then I haven't that's the reason why I don't agree with you on yours. But then who knows what's real truth.

  • feluda
    31.10.12 09:10 PM
    just for argument's sake, there was a survey recently that suggested people who start having sex later in life have more satisfying relationships -
  • Atheist Indian
    Atheist Indian
    31.10.12 09:00 PM
    "However, you, perhaps, could have elaborated a bit more in the second paragraph of your comments."
    I skipped a sentence. When I am physically stressed out (like flying a jet over 1300 nms first thing in the morning), my train of thought sometimes goes too fast for my typing speed. Anyway, I'll reterate the missed portion and add a little after thought. I can't of course, detail everything I had observed here, I am putting them together for my book.
    Rather it balances people out, makes them more whole and prevents the kind of beastly obsession with sex that is prevalent in culture that have picked the western trend of late marriages without the fail safe of sexual liberation; which results in perversions that crop out of bottling sexuality longer than humans are psychologically capable of handling.
    Incidentally this period of abstinence also happens to be the sexual peak for humans. You do that to any other primate and you'll see aggression rates spike, especially in males. You really think this is healthy and normal?
  • An Indian from UK
    An Indian from UK
    31.10.12 07:06 PM
    Very well said, Atheist Indian. Take my hat off to you for putting it so succinctly.

    However, you, perhaps, could have elaborated a bit more in the second paragraph of your comments.

    Incidentally, the sexual and emotional perversions that you have witnessed in India existed before when I left India in 1973 and surprise, surprise, which still exists. Women are treated as an object rather than as humans and very rarely command respect and attention which they richly deserve.

    I respect for what Harry says and admire him for his views but I feel that he may need to rethink again based on his own experience, unless he has been completely blinkered all this time and has remained completely oblivious to the ways Indian society has evolved about sex and marriage as a whole!!
  • Atheist Indian
    Atheist Indian
    31.10.12 04:20 PM
    @ HARRY
    I beg to differ, as my experience, observations and education say otherwise. The human physiology has been designed for sex (without the aid or necessity for any 'toys') and there is a complex physiological and psychological circuitry that creates the drive for sex, as we experience it. On the other hand, drug use or smoking do no have any inbuilt circuitry, the pleasurable response to drugs is more of an induced and cognitive response. Porn might be similar to drugs, sex isn't.
    Having a sex positive culture with a healthy attitude towards sexuality does not create the kind of obsessive excesses that you talk of. Rather it balances people out, makes them more whole and prevents the kind of beastly obsession with sex that is prevalent in culture that have picked the western trend of late marriages without perversions that could crop out of bottling sexuality longer than humans are psychologically capable of handling.
    In fact sexual perversions like paedophilia, rapes and extreme misogyny/misandry are the hallmarks of cultures or individuals who are sexually repressed. Personally, I find men and women who are virgins beyond their 20s to be far more psychologically 'unhinged' and emotionally damaged as compared to those who had normal, healthy sexualities during their teenage. If I had the time and the inclination, I'd be able to write a book in the sexual and emotional perversions that I have come across in India and other conservative cultures, but I think for the sake of clarity, what I have already said would suffice.
    30.10.12 01:02 AM
    @ feluda

    You do understand in what I am saying don't you. Try telling this to your kids when you have them and see what happens. I don't think young people will agree with you and you know that don't you. We as people do sacrifice all our happiness to make our kids happy and that's Indian way.

  • feluda
    29.10.12 11:26 PM

    its also the childrens duty to sacrifice their happiness for their parents.
    29.10.12 10:44 PM
    @ Priti

    Brilliant article.

    First I'm a parent so I do understand in what you are saying. Everybody either will say we (Indian and NRI) are like this but nobody will really say why?

    Why sex is taboo outside marriage in our community / culture.

    Sex is important in every relationship Indian or not. It's most wonderfull thing one can experience.

    But at the same time sex is also seen as a vice like all the other things like smoking, drinking and taking drugs when it's done outside the realm of relationship. I will explain this why?

    Human nature is a such that we like to explore more and more and deeper and deeper then ever before. It's bit like going to extream bit by bit until we cannot go any futher, then we start digging side ways and this can only go so far and no more. It's same as you dabble in drugs and once you do, you want to do more and more extream to experience same high as you felt first time. Well sex is exactly identical, once you are hooked and get used to, you want more and more extream kind.

    If you are not in any relationship then there is nothing to govern you where you will stop when it comes to sex. That is why the relationship is there to govern you otherwise you will do allmost anything and everthing that you want. Threesome foursome and so on........... when it comes to sex. Relatiionship has rules, what is allowed and what isn't.

    When there is nothing stoping you, you will do same in sex and this will eventually damage you physically, emotionally, psychologically and mentally, just like drugs. People may say they know when to stop, but do they. It's like every other vice. You only know this when you have gained some experience in life.

    The way our culture is going is only because of what they have learned from past experience. At this point you will ask what about Intamacy and Love. These can only beexperince through meaningfull relationship and this only comes with time and when it does it's most beautiful thing that can ever happen to you.

    Love and intamacy cannot be rushed, that is why we believe in no sex before marriage. Any one can make or break marriage, but it's our cultural norm to sacrifice our happiness for our childrens but it doesn't happen in westeren culturs, where it's about me my self and I and that is the differece between them and us.

    I don't judge people on what they do in their life but it's every parents duty to safe guard their children and that is why we are like this.

  • An Indian From UK
    An Indian From UK
    29.10.12 09:59 PM
    Wow, what a great title!!

    Of course, sex came before marriage. Marriage - a concept adopted by humans to control the explosion of the population on the planet and to utilise the available resources in an orderly manner as well as to reduce the inbreeding and the chaos that would have ensued in the society. If this concept had not been put in place then, God only knows where we would have ended. Of course, controlling of the population by using so called Indian methods (marriage, no interaction amongst opposite sexes, etc.) hasn’t worked. When I left India, population was approximately 500 odd million and now it stands over a billion. So, in my view, and mind you it is only a view, it confirms that Indians are very good at procreative sex but not in sex with love and respect.

    We cannot blame British for every ills of our society. They only ruled us for 250 years. It’s about time we Indians had a good look at ourselves. Kama sutra and Tantric sex exists to this day regardless of whether it is for after marriage or before. Of course, it would be a difficult task now to seek the opinion of, whoever commissioned these, on this but there is no denying the fact that it exists and for better or for worst, it is in the open – an indication perhaps that sex was an important and an integral part of the so called Indian civilisation/society before prudishness kicked in.

    What, in fact fascinates me is that sex is considered worst then the violence or other form of non-human behaviour in the Indian society, as the writer has pointed out in her Blog - not only in Bollywood films but in everyday life and in every walk of life.

    It was only recently, an article printed in the respectable news paper “The Times of India” pointed out that over 50% of the girls have either been abused or sexually assaulted incestuously in India. Now, that makes me wonder if sex did not come before marriage. I, sometimes, wonder if behaviour such as these would still prevail if the society was not as prudish.

    Most of India currently seems to be preoccupied with rape and sexual assault on women. I, sometimes, wonder if that too is to do with the sexual frustration of the Indian men rather than their ‘pervyness’. Could it be that the constraints imposed on Indian men, by the so called Indian Society, puts them in a position where they never learn to respect and enjoy women’s company, let alone learn to have sex with them? As the blogger says, most marriages in Indian society exists without any love or respect for each other. They tolerate each other just to avoid being vilified by the society. It is a sad indictment, considering that a divorce probably is a better option than just to exists and tolerate each other without any love or respect for each other.
  • Bhadra
    29.10.12 03:18 PM
    Excellent article.
  • feluda
    29.10.12 01:25 PM
    good article. i think there needs to be some kind of middle ground between the west, and traditional indian values. a lot of indians think it has to be one or the other, which is too extreme imo.

    "Perhaps the ‘pervyness’ of men in India can be partly attributed to the cultural intolerance of contact with the opposite sex until the wedding night."

    the pervyness of indian men is probably because of how even men in indian society feel there are certain things they are not allowed to express.

    i partly blame it on the british' victorian attitude to sex that they inflicted on indians.

    i think youre right that a lot of people in unhappy marriages feel they have no other option, but it can also mean that very indian notion of finding a different kind of love for your partner, one that might not be the western love ideal but is perhaps more about companionship. tbh, im not sure the western love ideal is any more perfect or less prone to later unhappiness, though it does give a couple a certain foundation to build on later, which meeting someone with the sole aim/agreement of getting married doesnt always have.
  • Roy
    29.10.12 09:19 AM
    So many times I have seen people naming Kamasutra to justify sex before marriage but I think this was created for couples to enjoy sex after marriage. Dating was never accepted in our culture and sex before marriage has always been a big NO NO.
    I can understand the plight of NRI kids in western society when they see their western school mates enjoy dating and sex and Indian parents don't allow it for their kids but pls don't justify it in india.
    But I know the times are changing our young G is getting influenced by those cultures and dating and sexual intimacy before marriage are becoming a common thing especially in metros.
    So by 2030 something when this current generation will become dad and mom then they may accept this as they themselves did that.
    As far as acceptance of divorce is concerned, I hope we never become used to that unless the situation is real bad. Supreme Court has already made the norms for Hindu divorce easier and family tend to support if the couple is having really big issues. Changes are never accepted easily, especially these changes in Indian society will come with time.
  • Anurag
    29.10.12 05:08 AM
    This might be a good place to begin the dialogue :)

Leave a comment