Somewhere between the G-string-clad juvenile diva of the man's fantasy and the Giorgio Armani-clad corporate czarina of her dreams, lies the Alpha Female of tomorrow. Free of the burden of her barren sexual history, she is looking fearlessly into a future teeming with sensual possibilities. Armed with a curious mix of homely family values and liberal feminist notions, she is carving out her sexual persona, telescoping that change with her emergence as a social, not just domestic, being.
Rarely understood by even the most progressive parents and barely comprehended by the boy-man who struggles to cope with her growing confidence, this single, young urban Indian woman is challenging conventional wisdom, shaking off years of conservatism. Call it kama sutra with karva chauth as the ultimate end, or multiple orgasms with the mangal sutra as the prize. Even though a majority still believes virginity is important for marriage, India Today's poll with AC Nielsen-ORG-MARG shows that one in every four of Indian women between the ages of 18 and 30 across 11 cities has had sex before marriage. The age of sexual intimacy has also declined-42 per cent had their first sexual encounter between 19 and 21, while for over a quarter of those asked, it was as early as 15-18 years. One-third of the women are open to having a sexual relationship with a person even if they are not in love with him. What's more, 60 per cent of them say sex is important in their life, in contrast to just about half of the single women surveyed in a similar exercise in 2003 which, unlike the present study, included married women.
|The India Today-AC Nielsen-ORG-MARG Sex Survey was done to understand the sexuality of the urban Indian unmarried woman-what she thinks about her sexuality, what is her idea of sex, what are her fantasies, how many of them has she actually tried out, what is the level of intimacy and sharing with her partner and what are her sexual desires. |
The survey spoke to 2,035 unmarried women in the age group of 18-30 across 11 cities-Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Patna, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Jaipur and Bangalore-in upper income categories. About 62 per cent of the respondents were graduates (general/professional) or more qualified. One third were working and 54 per cent were students.
A smaller survey of 517 unmarried men from the same cities was also carried to see how different they were from the women of their age, whether they knew what women wanted and how different their behaviour and preferences were.
Street corner sampling was used to find eligible respondents. The eligible women were invited to a central location while street corner interviews were done for men. These respondents were asked to complete a self-administered questionnaire, which were put in a ballot box by the respondents to ensure anonymity. This was the technique used in our 2004 survey of men.
Clearly, two years is a lifetime in the era of fast forward globalisation. Women have started experimenting with their bodies. Almost 50 per cent of the sexually experienced women have tried oral sex, compared with 33 per cent in the last survey. Sadly, it is a revolution without balladeers. As women learn to treat their bodies as less sacred, they do not seem able to develop a poetry which articulates this new romance. The areas of darkness are enormous-55 per cent don't know what an orgasm is and 82 per cent say they don't masturbate. Perhaps it is because women are just learning to love themselves, a difficult task for a gender that is trained in the fine art of putting others first.
If for women, sexual liberation is the first step towards selfhood, they are right on the path-as the survey shows, women who have had sex seem to become more liberal than those who have not. In an awfully mad adventure, they are learning to take the ride without the seat belt on. Pornography appears to have become more acceptable now (only 29 per cent believe it is wrong whereas 73 per cent condemned it in 2003). In 2003, 57 per cent said premarital sex is wrong and 78 per cent said they were against extramarital sex. Both figures have declined, to 46 per cent and 66 per cent respectively. Surprisingly, more women seemed open to the idea of exchanging sexual favours for a job-in 2003, 81 per cent said they wouldn't do it. That figure is now 69 per cent.
Women are becoming assertive in other ways. In 2003, 61 per cent said they would talk and sort it out if their partner was unfaithful to them, compared with just 37 per cent now. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the emotional responses of their partners: about half feel they are not sensitive to their sexual needs and more than 60 per cent still have sex without wanting to. Explaining the trends, sociologist Shiv Visvanathan says, "Women want more fun from men, and if not that, at least more men."
| GUEST COLUMN |
Radhika Chopra, Sociologist
"With Eyes Wide Open"
Women are blending what their parents told them with their desires.
A foreign couple in a bid to be "Indian" recently got married on the banks of the Pushkar Lake in Rajasthan. At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom, following their own tradition, kissed to seal their bond. There was an outcry among the gathered audience. It was clear to them that this hybrid couple was not Indian and their ways were all wrong. The kiss sealed their cultural fate.
Condemning kissing as "foreign" is arcane. For most young single urban Indian women and men, sex is really important in their lives. Venerable swadeshi ways do not rule their intimate lives. Blokes in the stockmarket who are in a constant uproar about foreign direct investment also seem to think that being Indian no longer implies being swadeshi. Non-Indian money and non-Indian business practices are ceaselessly chased as the engines of a dream future that will drive India into super serious status, giving CEOs, BPOs, Bapajis, Hellojis and God knows who else a place at the round tables of global power. But within the four walls of their homes, are all these raging bulls as committed to "foreign ways", particularly for their children? Or would they rather that their offspring swore to remain socially swadeshi and junked any thoughts of going global?
Everyone seems to have an opinion about what going global means for that all important lot-"The Youth of India". They're wooed as consumers, admonished as spoilt brats, marked out as the numerically dominant face of a dramatic new demographic profile. Advertisers who claim to have a finger on the social pulse of modern Indian society have planted Shah Rukh Khan in a bath tub with rose petals because they are certain there are young women who'd like to see him naked, and in their tubs. They are right. Young single women do fantasise about film stars and The Khan in foam is likely to go down well.
But parents whose daughters and sons are single, working and between the ages of 18 and 30, and who fear the fantasies of their children, should hold the gripe and tears. True, there is a seismic shift in kissing norms and sexual experiences that has emerged from broadening horizons-more travel, movies, TV channels-a cultural foreign direct investment if you will. But equally, young women in small towns or large metros who have already had their first "serious" relationship by the time they are 18 don't think highly of premarital sex and are only willing to consider it if they feel a commitment to the relationship or to their partners. According to the India Today-AC Nielsen-ORG-MARG survey, girls in their late adolescence will have kissed and held hands well before they were married but they are unlikely to jump into bed with the nearest available man. The really interesting thing about these young women though is their view on what sex means to them. For most sex is really important in their lives. But well over half also said that being in love was necessary to having sex. The great thing is that they felt as entitled to sexual pleasure as men, and aren't willing to grant a man the sole privilege of pleasure. Pyar main yeh naya twist.
Most of them preferred prolonged sexual encounters to quickies but also thought that marriage and long term relationships were desirable. So even though 49 per cent of the women in Hyderabad, 42 per cent in Mumbai and 35 per cent in Delhi said they found nothing objectionable in a live-in relationship, they didn't think of it as an end in itself. They clearly felt it should lead to marriage. And while a high proportion still felt that a woman should remain a virgin till she married they weren't willing to grant "extra licence" to their potential husbands-as far as they were concerned a man should also not have had sex before marrying them.
It's quite evident that young women think about sex with their eyes wide open and their minds uncluttered by preconception. The naïve and gullible virgin on her first marital night is passé. Big city and small town girls are clear that their partners should use condoms, and they couldn't care less about the argument that condoms decrease pleasure. There's a healthy fear of aids and only a minuscule percentage (8) said they didn't know about it. They have thought about the boundaries they would like to draw and what's acceptable. They have no compunction in saying that oral sex is all right because it means that women won't get pregnant or that it's not the same as having intercourse.
They will also be able to tell you right away what part of a man's anatomy they find sexy-face and eyes-exploding the usual Hollywood myth of broad chests and butts in denim satisfying a woman's fantasy. Modern Indian women have clear sexual preferences and aren't afraid of expressing them. Single women in Hyderabad love to look at themselves in the mirror while having sex, though young girls in Bangalore, Kolkata and Lucknow are more conservative and rush off to bathe after a bout of sex, no doubt imitating their suchchi bai aunties in purification rituals.
The biggest problem that young women face in their bid to be sexual revolutionaries is that urban public spaces are still extremely violent and a kissing couple in a park is likely to be stared at, catcalled and harassed for money or even sexually threatened. Since many of the girls don't share their thoughts or experiences about sex with their parents-in fact, many don't even tell their parents that they date-their own homes are not spaces in which they can safely meet their boyfriends. So between a world going global and a family seeking to remain static traditionalists, at least with regard to its daughters' desires, a young urban woman in 2005 has to scuttle between utmost secrecy and daring experimentation to figure out her sexual identity.
Fortunately, young single men also seem to be more progressive. Premarital sex is coupled with commitment and extramarital sex is not okay. Half of these men think love is an essential ingredient in a sexual relationship and like their female peers expect a live-in relation to lead to marriage. They're less convinced about the necessity of their own virginity before marriage and a tad traditional in expecting a girl to be a virgin when she marries. But that a woman is entitled to sexual pleasure in bed is endorsed by a majority of young men, so women can heave a thankful sigh that they won't be faced with a slam-bam-thank you ma'am lover who pulls on his Jockeys and strolls away after a bout in bed.
A society whose women are sexually confident is a civilised place. Middle class India hasn't quite got there yet. Ingesting a foreign world wholescale is not the view of young single urban women; if anything their pyar ki kahani is a creative post-modern process that blends what their parents told them and what they'd really like to know-and do.
Will the emerging sexual desire teach the urban singleton to cherish her body and soul or will it only end up in abuse? That is a secret that only the women know. As they chart their own maps, new roadblocks will come up. There will be attempts to chase them back into their domestic goddess prison, with stories of single women running out of men to mate with, as feminist Susan Faludi pointed out happened in 1980s America. There will be attempts to paint them as the New Men, focused on money and power in an increasingly retail culture. Indeed, in Candace Bushnell's new pulp novel, Lipstick Jungle, success has become the new sex. If not that, the culture of women cutting or starving themselves, already evident in the profusion of makeover parlours, will spread. Will it force women to conform to a body stereotype, especially with the media projecting women in an increasingly glamorous fashion, while also reducing their body weight by half?
The challenge for these young women, with their inherent caution and their apparent modernism, will be to balance the two. There are pointers in this survey at least. If looking good is important for women, they are demanding it of their men too. It is writer Naomi Wolf's version of having-it-all feminism. Or as sociologist Nishi Mitra explains, as earning members of society, women feel they have the right to demand satisfaction. A sexual relationship is the first way of demonstrating this.