Wednesday, February 08, 2006
SEX(Y) IN THE (INDIAN) CITY
This would not go over in Mysore....
From Today's Chicago Tribune:
Some say India displays new openness about sex.
Others aren't so sure.
By Kim Barker
Tribune foreign correspondent
February 8 2006
NEW DELHI -- The two hosts wear shiny suits and advise men how to juggle more than one chick. They joke about test-driving women and perhaps choosing one "with bigger airbags." Babes in leather suggestively caress the latest mobile phones.
This is "The Man's World Show," a TV production that made its debut in mid-January. In the West, the show would be dismissed as a lame rip-off of testosterone TV. But in India, "The Man's World Show" is part of a revolution in the way Indians approach the topic of sex -- or at least, in the way the urban elite talk about sex.
What is happening now, at least for India's moneyed younger class, is a cultural shift akin to what happened in the 1950s and the 1960s in the United States. The topic of sex is coming out from behind closed doors and drawn shades.
Proclaiming "Hello boys!" and "Sizzling!," the first Indian edition of British laddie-mag Maxim hit the stands in late December -- the same week that Viagra arrived in the public marketplace. Not to be outdone, Playboy is planning to come to India, though its pin-up girls will have to be strategically draped to conform to the country's obscenity laws.
Even the most mainstream newspapers and magazines seem crowded with references to sex -- from advice on one-night stands to the latest shocking pornographic video clip sent instantly from mobile phone to mobile phone.
"Sex is no longer a taboo," says Shray Kamboj, 18, a law student in New Delhi. "People feel free to talk about their fantasies."
Granted, this revolution is happening for only a small number of Indians -- young go-getters in cities. Their parents are not included; neither are the millions of India's villagers mired in poverty. The result is a growing gap between affluent, urban young people who embrace the idea of sexuality and a prevailing society that still idealizes virgins; between a country struggling with an AIDS epidemic and the refusal by many men to even contemplate the use of condoms.
Even 10 years ago, couples would not scandalize society by holding hands in public.
Here, most high schools -- urban and rural -- do not teach sex education. An actress from southern Tamil Nadu state recently caused a huge controversy -- and was accused of insulting Tamil women's morals -- when she publicly advocated safe sex before marriage.
It has taken India centuries to get to this point. Ancient erotic sculptures and paintings depict multiarmed gods engaging in orgies, but India grew into a conservative, even repressed society.
Blame the Mughal emperors, blame the Victorian-era colonial English, blame tradition, blame conservative aunties. The result is this: Most marriages are arranged. Most men demand virgin brides. Obscenity laws outlaw nude pictures. Movie censors cut out anything resembling sex.
Even 10 years ago, couples would not scandalize society by holding hands in public. Bollywood movies showed sexy women, but they hesitated to show couples actually kissing. Instead, kisses were hinted at by bending flowers or flying birds.
But life in India has changed for the young elite, largely spurred by the economic liberalization policies of 1991 that led to an influx of Western companies, products and culture.
Satellite TV arrived, along with Indian MTV, and movies reflected the changing times. In 2003, the movie "Khwahish," or "Desire," grabbed headlines for its record-breaking 17 smooches sprinkled through a plotless storyline.
Now, Web sites rank Bollywood's hottest on-screen kisses -- although some movie stars vow never to hurt their images by engaging in such behavior.
Last year, India Today, a major news weekly, conducted a "Sex and the Single Woman" poll for its September issue, a bookend to the previous year's "What Men Want: Exploring the libido of the Indian male."
Propelled by the hot economy, young, educated Indians have found good jobs, moved out of their parents' homes and are experimenting with life on their own terms.
They flock to the bars and nightclubs that have multiplied in major cities and feature the pounding music of Bollywood hits, the Black Eyed Peas and inexplicably, Bryan Adams, particularly "Summer of '69." An increasing number of young people have postponed marriage -- but not sex. The India Today poll revealed one in four Indian women between 18 and 30 in 11 cities had sex before marriage. One in three women said she was open to having a sexual relationship even if she was not in love.
Young people are "breeding like rabbits, for God's sakes," says Sunil Mehra, the editor of the new Maxim in India.
Perhaps that's an exaggeration. Still, though it's certainly watered down by Western standards, Maxim's new India edition, Mehra says, is designed for men -- it is 20 percent about women and 80 percent about "what populates a man's universe."
But Indian society is a complicated world that has not come to terms with seemingly new openness about sex.
Saurabh Balwani, 18, a friend of Kamboj, says he is a virgin but he's open to the idea of having sex before marriage. His future wife should not be.
"It's just like that -- I prefer virgins," says Balwani over lunch at a McDonald's.
"It's so stupid," Kamboj responds. "You can't even tell who's a virgin."
Two tables away, a pair of female college students talk openly about sex.
Aparna Kapoor and Radhika Gupta, both 19, say they are no longer virgins, although Gupta says she won't introduce her boyfriends to her parents -- her elders are too conservative for that.
She also says she doesn't worry about the value Indian men traditionally place on choosing an untouched bride.
"Eventually, there won't be any virgins left," Gupta says.
Copyright © 2006, The Chicago Tribune