A month ago I visited my gynecologist for a routine checkup. I was experiencing some mild pain so she sent me for an ultrasound. Just before leaving, her assistant ran up to me and asked if I was married or unmarried. I had a feeling she didn’t just ask me out of curiosity.
When I told her I was unmarried, she said she’d have to book me in for the external ultrasound; i.e. the procedure supposedly meant for unmarried (read: sexually inactive) girls.
While my cramps eventually subsided, what lingered were my thoughts on her thoughts. Was she too uncomfortable to ask me about being sexually active? Did she think only married girls have sex? Should a medical procedure be aligned with social status? Or worse, should patients be denied an appropriate medical procedure because of societal perceptions of sexual status?
Having just moved back to Delhi from New York, I admit this moment acted as yet another reminder that I wasn't in Kansas anymore. That’s not to say I haven’t witnessed any changes in attitudes toward sex in my country. Especially in the last decade, and particularly when it comes to representations in media.
On the one hand, we’ve got TV shows with uncensored sex scenes and movies discussing topics like sperm donors or erectile dysfunctions. Yet we’ve still got households skipping the-birds-and-the-bees conversation and gossipy individuals playing “who done it?” over tea.
India when it comes to sex, is like a child in middle school. Her mother tells her it’s meant for married couples. Her father runs away when the topic arises. Her teacher hastily educates her about the anatomy behind it. Meanwhile, she’s shocked by what she finds on the internet, slamming her laptop shut when a loud video starts to play.
She’s still discovering and getting comfortable discussing sex, albeit still in whispers. Barring the fact that this child comes from generations who gave birth to Kamasutra and built ancient sex temples, she still doesn’t know how to quite approach it. It makes her vulnerable to media, politics, family - dangerously so, when unaccompanied by a proper education.
It takes me back to my less-than-adequate Sex Ed in junior school. So inadequate that I can’t seem to recall the details of it. I vaguely remember an anatomical diagram on a blackboard and pale-looking school teachers speaking awkwardly. I only realized what sex was when I heard a classmate (at 13) had a pregnancy scare. I wanted to help her, but I wasn’t sure how.
Consequently, while India’s regressive and progressive thoughts confront each other, the more important questions are left unanswered: Should I discuss this with my parents? How do I be safe ? What is consent?
And though I’m uncertain of the sexual fate of Indian society, I’m more than sure about the role we’ve got to play. To those fighting the progressive battle - educate where you feel it’s lacking, speak where you feel there's silence, and most importantly tell the gynecologist’s assistant that you’re happily unmarried and sexually active.