Sex: A word, that is enough to drive every God-fearing, sanskaari Indian away into a dark corner to hide. And if the word has to be uttered in relation to a woman -- who has not submitted herself to life-saving matrimony -- the world should preferably end.
So no wonder, the first time most Indian women were spoken to about sex, it was in the way of a warning. Usually accounts of the plague that could befall every significant thing in this world-- starting with her own breasts to life on earth.
It has been said a zillion times, but it never gets old or irrelevant, that Indian women need not be treated as deities or 'devis'. But as flesh-and-blood humans with feelings, desires and rights in a progressive society.
Women who have battled the fear and shame associated with admitting they have sexual desires, god forbid acting on them, would also tell you how boys their age were never told about the so-called fearful consequences of having sex. Perhaps because, there weren't any.
Ten women remember the unscientific, mortifying first 'advice' they ever received on sex as youngsters. Unfortunately, these may hold true for a majority of women in the country.
1. Anisha Sharma, 28, Guwahati: One day on my way back from school, a friend called a girl 'bad'. I asked why did she call her a bad person and what had she done. She replied do you not see that she has big breasts, which means she has had sex and is a bad person. That is my earliest recollection of a conversation of any sort on sex. I was only 15 then, so obviously I believed her and decided not to do anything of that sort ever.
2. Riya Dutt*, 36, New Delhi: It was in the year 1993 and I was in the 7th grade when my English teacher told us, "Intimacy should only happen in a wedlock. It's very important."
"The first advice on sex before marriage that I ever got was when I was 16. It was: Don't."
3. Arunima Mishra, 31, New Delhi: No one really spoke about 'adult' stuff at home. So, when I started dating, must have been around 18, a cousin explained how it is like betraying my parents to have sex before my marriage. I was scared for a long time because she herself was in a relationship and must have been telling me the right thing, of course.
4. Drishti Aggarwal, 42, Pune: When I was dating my first boyfriend, a cousin told me that if i had sex before marriage my breasts and hips would get bigger and everyone would come to know that I've had sex. I must have been in my mid-teens and it was constantly at the back of my mind while dating him.
5. Richa Neog, 19, Guwahati: When I started dating a couple of years ago, I was told by a cousin not to give it easy and to make it difficult for the man, so that the experience becomes exotic eventually.
6. Jhelum Ghosh, 29, Kolkata: The first advice on sex before marriage that I ever got was when I was 16. It was: Don't.
7. Priya Dasgupta, 30, Kolkata: I was in a convent school and must have been 16 years old. During Value Education class, we were shown a childbirth video and told, "This is something that you'd only want to do with the man you love and marry." In other words, don't have sex with your boyfriend.A lot of my classmates were pukish, because they couldn't deal with it. I thought it was very funny.
"They'd spot you, and know what you're up to. We'll never find a husband for you. Or your younger sister."
8. Varsha Damani, 25, Bengaluru: I only started dating when I was 19. I had lesser experience than my friends. So, when I started dating, it became a big deal in my friend circle and everyone sought to help me navigate it. I was asked by my best friend to say no when my boyfriend expresses any type of intimacy. It is not a good thing, I was told. And it is always the guy who shows interest first, she told me. I never asked her how she knew that but felt very guilty when I wanted to reciprocate his feelings, because in my head it was not okay for a girl to behave this way.
9. Jiya Chakraborty*, 32, Kolkata: I was in eleventh standard when I went on my first date. The boy went to a college in my neighbourhood and we went to get coffee somewhere close by. One of my aunts spotted me speaking to the guy outside the cafe. Later, she cornered me and asked me if I was getting physically intimate with him. When I said no, she said I better not. And added that if I did and when people found out -- apparently they would -- they'd say my parents had pimped me to a rich boy. I was so mortified that I stopped taking the guy's calls and basically stopped hanging out with boys when no other girl was around, for a long time.
10. Pooja Kothari*, 31, Nagpur: I was always fairly open about my life with my mother. However, when I was 18-years-old, I was asked out by this cute boy, a senior from my former high school. The first exhilarating date involved having gross granitas at a coffee shop. When I returned, I thought I'd tell my mother about the date. Stupid, stupid me. First, my mother said in a calm, matter-of-fact tone that he will definitely try to get physically intimate and if I encouraged him, that would basically be the end of all our lives. When I angrily protested, she said, I should at least think about the family's honour and not hang out anywhere my relatives lived. "They'd spot you, and know what you're up to. We'll never find a husband for you. Or your younger sister," she said. Logic.
*names changed on request