When I first moved into the city as a 19-year-old from the very insulated world of the tea gardens back in Assam, I was fully aware of my “new adult” status. I was keen on shaking off the shackles of my small-town adolescent years and greeting the glitz and glamour that accompanied adulthood. Like a little kid lost in a convenience store for the first time, I wanted to lick and taste and try everything. What I had initially believed to be an individual eccentricity was actually quite banal. Speaking to several people, I heard a lot of variations on this same idea. One of them said: “I don’t want to miss out on anything, I want to have random meaningless flings, experiment with both sexes, drink and dance and just be free to be whoever I want to be.” And so, like many other new adults, I spent an entire year traipsing around bars and nightclubs, determined to take it all in.
Now most people believe that sex is always something fuzzy, beautiful or steamy, something right out of a Britney Spears video. It’s not. It can be grimy and weird and sometimes even a little boring. The misconception is only natural though, considering that in our culture, real sex talk is such a no-no that, for most people, sex is exactly what you see in pornographic films. I actually remember sitting through a sex education class back in school in which abstinence was preached, followed by a commentary on the moral wrongfulness of sex. All this while, images of rotting and festering penises hovered about the giant slide show on display for our edification (although the message was rather distorted considering the final slide displayed pictures of skimpily clad 20-somethings with a giant “Thank You” scrawled across the screen).
This culture of don’t-ask-don’t-tell makes it natural that an initiation into the “adult world” would comprise a string of sexual misadventures or broken expectations, a boulevard littered with disappointments. But personally I’ve found that these sexual misadventures can be uplifting in their own way, cathartic even. A particularly intuitive college student that I spoke to was actively and openly engaged in what can only be called a “love triangle” with both boys in the know. Yet neither she nor the boys (or their friends) saw this as evidence of promiscuity or thought this morally wrong in any way. When I asked her about it, she said, “Both of them give me entirely different things and appeal to different parts of my personality. And right now, I want to be free to explore who I am and what I want from a relationship.” For her, college, sex, relationships and personal discovery were all inextricably interlinked. Not so for another college student engaged in a similar situation, who, however, looked at the “love triangle” under an entirely different light. She claimed that it had been a period of “moral confusion” for her, a period when she was trying to assert herself and her identity without being held down by traditional moral norms, but what she discovered is that “although morality isn’t fixed, human feelings are real and I couldn’t play with them anymore.”
While the heady years of early adulthood are a time of sexual experimentation and exploration for many, for many others, it is a time of sexual awakening. One of the first friends I made upon entering the city was born and brought up in a conservative Christian background. Shocked by my escapades, she swore an oath that by the end of two years she would make me find God and worship the Religion of Christ. Well, it has been two years now and I’m proud to say that the only religion she now worships is the Religion of the Clitoris.
When speaking of marriage, almost everyone in their late teens or early 20s that I spoke to had different ideas. Some would choose the faux-rebellious path and say that it was a sham. Some would get dreamy and create surreal scenarios of drinking tea on a porch step. Some would say, “It’s alright long as it’s an open relationship”, and some would plainly state that they don’t give it much thought; it was too remote. Dr VK Wadia, a Delhi-based sexologist I spoke to, confirmed this when he said that marriage isn’t something our generation is really concerned with at the moment.
Dr Wadia said that of all the patients who consult him for advice, about 30% are within the 17-25 age bracket and about 70% of them have had sex by the time they’re 20. “In fact,” he said, “the other day I met this 20-year-old boy who said he wanted to preserve his virginity till he got married, and that really shocked me.” When I asked him what concerns his young patients did generally have, he replied that most of their concerns had to do with HIV or STDs.
Psychologist Dr Sameer Parekh suggested that there are various reasons for this shift, such as technology and globalisation which allow everyone around the world to be exposed to similar forms of entertainment, information and so on. This allows us to pick out whatever it is that appeals most to us. It also has something to do with the emergence of the nuclear family.
Today, we feel entirely comfortable sharing the most intimate and private details of our lives. This culture of over-sharing often comes under attack but I see it as the ultimate assertion of the freedom of speech, for to bottle up real experiences would be akin to flirting with self-censorship. Sex is no longer seen as something immoral, not necessarily. It is seen as an important part of your self-discovery and I’m proud to say that my generation has a role to play in this attitude shift.