While so many of us claim to respect the ancient traditions and teachings of India, in reality, we have moved far away from the verities that were understood and held dear during that period of brilliance in creative achievement. The commonplace approach to matters relating to human sexuality is an example. From the depth of perception and acceptance of this natural force within human beings, so many of us have moved to a Victorian belief system dating back to the period when Thomas Babington Macaulay was in charge of so much of the shaping of policies relating to the subcontinent. As the ancients knew, the male-female sexual act is among the most natural and instinctive. In the interest of the propagation of species, nature has ensured that the presence of certain chemicals in the male and female bodies, initially cause “attraction”. This leads to sexual desire, activity and culmination, which in modern times, especially, may or may not result in procreation. To a large extent, personal philosophy governs an individual’s sexuality. Unlike animals whose carnal urges are governed only by instincts, a human being’s reactions to her/his hormones are slightly more complicated.
A normal sexual encounter ought to produce physical pleasure at the very least, accompanied by an often subliminal metaphysical one too. Even though both men and women have the required physical equipment to indulge in sexual activity, it is not smooth as is the case in the world of animals. Unfortunately, most human beings are not taught to be comfortable with their most constant lifelong companion, their own body. “Exposed” parts like the face and hands are familiar in the mirror or to our own naked eyes. Glancing at fate-lines on our palms to decipher our future is an entertaining pastime. The further we move away from our faces, the less clear even simple physiognomy becomes.
In childhood, the as yet societally unconditioned human being often explores his/her privates. “Infant” erections in boys and corresponding clitoral orgasms in girls are quite common. The adult parent or caregiver usually issues a stern “no” to this activity with a perceptible change in tone, accompanied by physically removing the tiny masturbatory hand. That the resultant pleasure from those areas is “wrong” gets inculcated in the child. In this manner, the child’s sexual self-exploration is thus sought to be stopped from babyhood to adolescence. Inadvertent sexual fulfilment happens with wet dreams for boys after night-time erotic dreams. There are pre-teen and teenage boys who go through the horrific shame caused by the error that they had “peed” on their bedclothes. Such incidents had stopped after they had been toilet or potty-trained, and was an important step in their growing up. This would be considered to be a shameful and inexplicable regression into babyhood, rather than a very definitive step towards adulthood.
Lucky are those boys who are told by a sensible adult that wet dreams are a natural process of growing up. In the beautiful and sensitive novel, The Thornbirds, the young girl tearfully confides in a priest that she is dying as she thinks she is bleeding to death, each month when she has her periods. The trauma that the lack of such basic knowledge can cause is huge, as this must come before physical knowledge. Knowledge through the experience of that chemical situation called puberty is there, sooner or later. What has been horribly lacking even in this era of “modernity” is the accompanying experience. The way a person’s first sexual encounter plays out, colours a lot of his/her subsequent attitude to it. The ancients knew that the best option is to make love to a person that one is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually in sync with. However, this does not happen as often as it should! Let us look at the available choices of sexual encounters. The fairly recently practised (in terms of the long recorded but unstudied by too many) histories of India of getting two young people who are “compatible” by horoscopes, family background, culture, religion, language, etcetera, looks good in theory.
Very often two people with no prior sexual knowledge are thrown together, and it is assumed that they will literally fumble their way into pleasant consanguinity, to say the least of it. Recently, a doctor was called upon by the patriarch of a rich business family. Their son had got married to a suitable girl, nearly a year ago. There was no sign of the girl getting pregnant. This was a must in that family. A baby (preferably a son given the patriarchal overlay so often present), smiling in the first wedding anniversary photographs, would have been welcome but so far, there was no sign of such a happy event.
The doctor questioned the couple. There did not seem to be any problem. On a hunch, she decided to interview the boy and the girl separately. After some cajoling, the girl told the doctor that while her husband truly loved her (otherwise, he would have succumbed to his family’s pressure to leave the girl and get a second wife!), he would not remove his pants or underpants in front of the girl. He was obsessive about never being naked in front of his wife! Gently, the doctor questioned the boy. Why was he hesitating to make love to his beautiful wife he undoubtedly loved? After a fair amount of probing, the truth came out. The boy was a virgin. He did not have a clue as to what he should do, and how he should behave on his wedding night. Some of his friends got the bright idea of making him watch a porn film. The boy was mentally traumatised. Compared to the huge male members, with an endless capacity for performances, what he was endowed with, in his view, was tiny.
“Madam”, he blurted out to the sympathetic doctor, “Wahaan kuchch hai hi nahin! (I do not have anything down there).” It took a couple of sessions of confidence-building through counselling by the doctor before the beaming couple told her that the wife was pregnant! This was a story that ended well. But one can only imagine the crushing self-esteem of the boy and the bewilderment of the girl whose husband refused to be “intimate” with her. A year of their life was spent because the bridegroom was given an unreal standard of physical size and sexual capacity to sustain intercourse.
There are children who have been traumatised for life by adults who have caught them indulging in the evil “sin” of masturbation. Strong, moral men and good girls do not masturbate, they are scolded by the neo-Victorians who believe themselves to be the exemplars of tradition. Masturbation is for girls who run after many men, and for pathetic boys who cannot get any woman to bed them! This becomes written in golden letters as the way of right conduct.
Some teachings tout the idea of the “sin” of procreation. Our ancestors millennia ago were clear that life on earth was to be enjoyed—but in a dharmic, rather than hedonistic way. Thus, the extremely explicit carvings in our temples which were the acme of learning and aesthetics, as well as the dictum “Shiva Shakthyaa yuktho/Yadi bhavathi Shaktha prabhavithum”. These opening lines of Shri Adi Shankaracharya’s Soundarya Lahari point out the relevance of the physical body and the importance of a male-female union.
It was quite common in ancient times for girls to be initiated into sexuality, very gently by much older men, who were experienced in pleasuring the girl and through that, teaching her to pleasure him. The same was applicable to the boys who were introduced to a world of sensuality by expert ganikas. To reduce these older men and women to the level of gigolos and prostitutes was to deny the truth of physical pleasure. Most of the time, such tutors were extremely well-versed in poetry, science, music, art and economics. They brought a whole new meaning to the word “seduction”. This was the forte of the Thevar Adiyal, now corrupted to thevadichi. This meant she who was at the feet of the Thevar, or God. They were respected and feted, and more often than not, were the repositories of knowledge of Indian art forms, which were taught by word of mouth rather than by written texts. To label them as “immoral” and ban them, in a bid to “save” them, ironically had the effect of pushing them into the very prostitution such do-gooders were keen to avoid!
Most often than not, marriage was to ensure the survival of the family. The spouses were chosen to have an official relationship. It was part of the social milieu that the “other” relationships would endure post-marriage. The rights and duties of spouses and lovers were clearly demarcated, with no overlap. Everyone knew their place in society with both duties and privileges assiduously adhered to. Breakups were rare as the monotony of the same pair was not there. In fact, bonds became stronger as the burden of “enjoyment” was not proscribed to one.
During those bygone times, if one was not lucky enough to be initiated into physical pleasure by a more experienced person, one had to familiarise oneself with one’s own body. For example, whether the male nipple is as erogenous as a female one. Or, what a clitoris is. Such questions about one’s own body had to be looked into and answered. An individual had to be aware of what made one sexually replete. With that knowledge, one had to learn about the partner’s body and give maximum pleasure to him/her. The ancients took it as axiomatic that only when the partner is satisfied did one feel completely happy.
Biologically and physically, both men and women react to sex in different ways. The penis and the scrotal sacs are very evident and easily notable. The dark, mysterious world of a woman’s pubis is very different. There is only a thin membrane that separates the faecal passage from the vagina. The urine comes out literally from a spot. Very much like the area between the scrotum and the anus in a man, there is a much shorter area of “no activity” between the female urinary outlet and the clitoris. This area is covered by two flaps of skin, with no special sensitivity. It is almost designed to confuse the poor male and very often the females themselves. Right in front is the clitoris, erroneously compared to a mini or a female version of a penis. It is a fact that a woman takes much longer to have an orgasm. But unlike a man, her orgasms are multiple. Once seminal ejaculation is over, the male requires some time and space to be aroused again.
Ancient wisdom was that knowledge and tenderness in sexual behaviour can have extremely far-reaching effects not only on the physical but also the psychical reactions of a person. It was even recorded that it took a man of incredible patience, love and kindness to make a sexually traumatised female learn that her body, too, could be used to give and receive pleasure, instead of being an instrument of hurt. In the expert hands of a confidential ganika, a guileless virgin grew not only to be a skilful lover but a person who saw sexuality as a way to the Divine. It is this ancient inclusivity that made a sage Vatsyayana expound his treatise on sexuality, the Kamasutra. Like science, the human body can be used as a prison in flesh or as a passage to total ecstasy, where the body, mind, heart and soul unite to create completeness of joy, laid out by the Creator for us. It is our choice whether we follow the rigid cage of Victorian beliefs or the much more accepting, much more forgiving, teachings that are embedded in the doctrines of the ancients in this most ancient of civilisations.