The Concept of Sexual Morality in India

by Sharell शारेल on July 31, 2011

in Culture Shock in India

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My husband and I were having wine and dinner at a neighbours’s house on Friday night, when the conversation turned to relationships. “Standards of morality are very different here. It’s common for people cheat and it’s not a big deal,” our neighbour (an educated Indian in his late 30s, with an engineering background) remarked.

I wasn’t surprised by his statement. In fact, it only confirmed what I’d already started thinking.

My first indication that this might be the case was when I lived in Kerala. A couple of my husband’s friends, who were in relationships with long term girlfriends, came to visit. They were keen to have a fling, “It’s okay, we’re on holiday.” They justified it to me.

My regular reading of the “Ask the Doctor” column in the Mumbai Mirror newspaper revealed more. The prospect of having an affair was a common theme. “I’m a married man, and I have the opportunity to have sex with my neighbour when her husband is often away for work. What is your advice?” Invariably, the reply neglected to mention any moral implications. Instead, it was always along the lines of, “If you think you can handle having sex with two people, be sure to use adequate protection to avoid pregnancy or infection.”

“As long as the people involved are married, it’s not so much of a problem,” my neighbour agreed. “The marriages will stay together anyway. People are often in marriages for obligation sake only, and need to look for sexual fulfillment and intimacy elsewhere. Progressive couples even have open relationships.”

My husband chimed in about the affair one of his friends, a married pharmacy owner, had just embarked on with a “sari clad aunty”. “First it was just flirting every time she walked past the shop, but now they’re having a scene”. My husband’s friend had excitedly relayed the tale to my husband.

“What? A sari clad aunty?” I was quite incredulous. “It happens when these women aren’t getting the attention they want from their husbands,” I was told. But what about the notion of Indian women being conservative, pious, and devoted no matter what?

I should also mention the unsolicited offers I get from unknown Indian men via email, who would like to have “sexy time with a housewife”. Not a white housewife. Just a housewife. They’re obviously not concerned about the immoral aspect of having sex with a married woman.

And then, there’s Emotional Atyachar (Emotional Torture), a TV show that screens on the Bindass channel. People are invited to put their partner’s fidelity to the test. The partner is set up — befriended by an attractive person who acts interested in them — and their response filmed and screened. There’s currently High Court proceedings against the show for allegedly “spreading vulgarity and demoting social and moral values of Indian society”. I must admit I’m shamefully drawn to watching it, just for the shock value of how openly and easily people lie and cheat. Yet, it’s also left me feeling sad and disappointed. It looks like young people in India are keen to embrace dating culture but not the responsibility and commitment that needs to go along with it.

Of course, many of you are most likely thinking “but what about the west”? Indians are usually in awe or disgust of the perceived idea of sexual morality in the west. After all, they see people freely having sex with whoever they please, whenever they please, in western TV serials and movies. It does happen. But when people agree to be in a committed relationship, fidelity is expected and is very important. Yes, people do cheat. But it usually comes with guilt and a heavy burden. The repercussions will usually be the end of the relationship.

India, on the other hand, prides itself on its low divorce rate. People stick together no matter what. But does this actually encourage people to look for satisfaction outside their marriages, and lead to an acceptance that it’s okay to do so? What really lays behind my neighbour’s comment about morality in India?

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© 2011, Diary of a White Indian Housewife. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.

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{ 464 comments… read them below or add one }

padma Narayanaswamy August 10, 2011 at 8:54 am

Hi friends,
I like all yur posts ,but Sharell I find sometimes I can,t find my name in the discussions . I am not contraversial.
on my part I dont think any woman whatever her national who is honest and i has ntegrity will commit infidilety. She will rather leave her husband than be unfaithful

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Manny August 10, 2011 at 9:07 am

words of wisdom from fb:

To all you single ladies who are in such a hurry to get married, here’s a quick piece of Biblical advice: Ruth patently waited for her mate Boaz. While waiting on YOUR Boaz, don’t settle for ANY of his relatives–Brokeaz, Drunkaz, Poaz, Lyinaz, Cheatinaz, Dumbaz, Lockedupaz, Lazyaz, or Marriedaz, and especially not his third cousin, Beatinyoaz! Please wait on your Boaz, and make sure he respects Yoaz.”

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Pox August 10, 2011 at 5:21 pm

As droll as ever Manny

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rvbmoney August 13, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Too funny. Best com ment ever

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Pretty in Punk April 6, 2013 at 10:56 pm

This comment deserves standing ovation. Worth the effort of reading it.

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wikitheeks August 10, 2011 at 10:41 am

Single ladies in hurry to marry? LOL. When they turn 34 perhaps. Otherwise there is too much fun in dating to settle down with just one.

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Pox August 10, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Meanwhile your eggs slowly get cooked into oblivion.

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prithviraj33 August 10, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Haha so true. So many women in the west are depressed, lonely and unhappy in their 30′s.

Its really ridiculous to argue with biology, but if anyones up to the task its wikiskank.

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wikitheeks August 11, 2011 at 1:26 am

@Anuj re: Mohit/Sangh Parivar: “They do not have the will or the capability to reciprocate the chaos unleashed by the muslim groups.”

You will notice on another thread Mohit is defending the cultural take-over of niqabis in European countries and by extension, India as well.

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Mohit Gupta August 11, 2011 at 2:10 am

So you want to suggest that , suppose for a one minute , if a person belongs to ‘Sangh-Parivar’ , he must hate Muslims and should back-out whenever the issue of ‘freedom of Muslims’ is raised !

Don’t exaggerate things. Muslims are not taking over Europe culturally.In fact they can’t.They are all busy and engaged in their traditional home-land of Middle-East , South-East Asia and North Africa.There presence in Europe is the effect of of ‘economic liberalism’ and Faulty strategic moves of Nato.Muslims have not invaded any European country after world-war-II like America/UK/Europe have invaded Iraq , Afghanistan and have made Military base in Saudi , Kuwait and many other Asian countries.

You don’t want these muslims in Europe/America.Ok , the recall all the Nato/American/European forces from all the Muslim Countries first.That would be fair and just.

Actually the issue is very simple that what France has done is the act of ‘Political-Arrogance’ and defies any law and logic of freedom of its own citizens.

And Mr Sarzoky is no better than those ignorant and arrogant officials of some Institutes in India which have put a ban on jeans and consistently suggest women the kind of clothes they should wear.

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wikitheeks August 11, 2011 at 6:50 am

@Prashanth, “There are probably thousands of Indian men pushing their 30′s, who’s maturity in handling relationships is equivalent to a 13 year old, in the western countries.”

Could be in the millions.

“Most of ‘em feel that freedom from expectations or social pressure, only after marriage, as it is at this time, they feel like real grown-ups and out of their parents clutches.”

In a joint family household the man never comes out from under his parents’ clutches nor does the bahu come out from the clutches of her in-laws.

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Abdullah K. August 11, 2011 at 10:31 pm

@ Sharell:
That was an interesting piece, your ‘fire into the fuel’ link. I’d add my two cents to the topic – it is not just Indian men but married Indian women of the same class are equally open to affairs. Since the women who do it are more discreet and the men don’t write blogs about these married women, it never comes out in the open.
 
My personal take on that would be what prashanth suggested. Most of these Indians are from a generation where they got married off as soon as they finished their education. The were pushed into marriage (usually arranged) before they had the chance to enjoy life and develop the maturity to understand what they want from relationships. Once they realised that wedded life isn’t all bliss, they felt cheated and grew more pragmatic and more open to enjoying the life that they missed.

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Sharell August 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm

That explanation definitely does make sense, and is quite unfortunate really. And yes, for every willing man, there must be a willing woman somewhere. ;-)

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veeeeeh August 12, 2011 at 12:35 am

Yes, I agree that if your life style is simple and you have not much expectations form your life, the Indian societal pressure and family pressure driven defined relationships works very well. One is quickly pushed into marriage and then into parenthood after marriage.

The whole purpose of life becomes carrying the burden of family on one’s shoulder and the man expects others to be obligated for his sole dedication to the family. The roles are defined by the societal expectations.

But these simple approach to family and ones predefined roles are being slowly shaken by the young women who have now started going for work.

The man’s life is not focused on the sustenance of basic needs of the family and life anymore. His perspective towards life style and relationship is slowly transforming.

The relationship between man and woman is complicated and the dynamics between them has changed by the events of social changes and more empowerment to women.

The equation between man and woman is also under pressure with increased urbanization.

Lets wait and see how society evolves in India. Only weak men need societal controls to control their women.

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Mohit gupta August 12, 2011 at 3:29 am

All the people I meet in real and virtual world ,who are critical of some of India’s some social and cultural traits in , have nothing to offer as solution which is relevant to India.Instead what they want is that India should completely give up its traditional outlook and adopt everything western in every place and issue.

If India completely adopt western cultural and social traits then why will it be called India? What would be the relevance of India as a country , which has withstand all the challenges nature , invaders and corrupt politicians have thrown to it since time immemorial.

Its no surprise that those advice are the result of their recent experiences with foreign countries/Peoples.But it also shows that instead of any innovative and original tools , they just want to ‘Copy and Paste’ western social engineering to India.It won’t work.Because ‘East’ can never be ‘West’.If this was possible it would have happened in the period when India was colonized by Europeans.

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Emerlander August 12, 2011 at 10:58 pm

You write so many thought provoking articles! :D So anyway, someone suggested it could be because many Indians are pushed into marriage soon before they really know what they want. It’s a valid point. I’ve seen 2 or 3 surveys (in India Today) and in all of them about 30-40 percent of those surveyed say porn is ok. But the surveys didn’t mention if they’re married or not. And I saw one survey (it was on Yahoo news) where employees were asked if it’s ok to have sex with boss to climb up the ladder. 33% said it’s ok to do that. So I think 30-40 percent of Indians wouldn’t have got married if they didnt have the social pressure. They would have stayed single and having non-serious relationships from time to time, I suppose.

I always think about the ‘other cheaters’. You know, the people who want to be faithful but end up cheating. I wonder what is their percentage. Surely, they’ll control their silly temptations better if they’re taught how to? I dont know if there’re any lessons on that. But there has to be something. I’m quite conscious about who I become friends with and the sort of websites I regularly visit. It works for me. But it’ll be a bit more complicated for those stuck at office and tempted by a dodgy colleague, I guess.

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Siddhartha kumar August 17, 2011 at 4:24 am

No sex please, we are Indians !! :mrgreen:

I know quite a few “happily married ” Indian men here in San Francisco who cheat on their Indian wives with american women. Needless, to say, most of them never even reveal to the poor love struck american gals that they are married!! in some cases, the Indian wives are even aware and look the other way for fear of rocking the boat.

But, of course if the married Indian woman were to have an affair especially with a foreigner, hell hath no fury an Indian man scorned !!

There is a lot of hypocrisy in Indian society about married men having affairs as opposed to married Indian women having affairs.

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Abdullah K. August 17, 2011 at 11:48 am

I guess it would be because of the stereotype that men have affairs just for sex (and still love their wives) while women cheat for emotional satisfaction (and hate their husbands).

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Sharlene September 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Two thoughts, I don’t think people enter into marriage expecting an affair will take place, as you don’t typically expect it to happen in the west. Sounds like India is closer to the west than what either India or the west gives India credit for. Funnily enough, I had an argument with one of my family members (19 year old Indian growing up in the USA) about how India is unlikely any different in terms of fidelity than what the west is. My main point was there wouldn’t be a pandemic of HIV in India if people weren’t getting jiggy with it (having sex) with different people!

Second thought on the divorce, I wouldn’t trust India’s statistics as far as I could through an elephant. I have asked around about the divorce rate my future mother in law about how many couples divorce, and she thought it was 50%, just most people have a difficult time getting it done legally etc.

One difference exists between India and the west, and that is the amount we talk about things! The west was like India once… Really we are more alike than we give it credit in my opinion.

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Pox September 24, 2011 at 3:16 pm

“One difference exists between India and the west, and that is the amount we talk about things! The west was like India once”

If you mean the US specifically , the biggest factor was the no-fault divorce decision by the supreme court in 1973.The floodgates just opened after that landmark.That devalued marriage more than anything else over there.Also the movie Kramer vs Kramer was influential..

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Pox September 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Correction ..that should be- the process started in 70s , 1973 was a landmark for legalising abortion.

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Shaan September 25, 2011 at 1:20 am

Standards of morality in India differ from region to region and even within a region between different categories of people. Your friend’s comments or questionable surveys like India Today survey cannot be taken as indicative of a country wide phenomenon. As you are aware there are cultural and societal differences between the various regions of India.

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Amit March 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm

This makes me really sad. I think what you wrote is true. I grew up confused because the implicit moral values clashed with the explicit values in our culture.

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beepbeep123 April 25, 2012 at 5:16 am

Here is the sad reality folks. I don’t think the institute of marriage, moralities or any of societal pressures will be around in the near future. The amount of divorcee’s are going through the roof. India doesn’t disclose because personally I think its just like an R rated movie, nobody really wants it all in the open? Or be compared to the USA/ CANADA??? I think there will be more common law partnerships and marriages will be in the decline. More and more people are standing up and saying enough is enough, and are leaving. Some women who are pressured by family, or obligations such as kids choose to stay just for their sake but I believe marriage will be very seldom done seeing where everything is now, and in which directions its heading!!!

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Florida August 16, 2012 at 3:22 am

The only thing I can add to this is from personal interactions. My partner’s family is made of of interesting cultural differences. On his father’s side his grandfather practiced polygamy. His father was not faithful to his wife, and he is abusive, though they are still…miserably… married. On his mother’s side of the 4 siblings, 3 married for love while his mother (the only daughter) was arranged. 2 of his uncles married traditionally while the youngest uncle married a Russian lady without the family’s knowledge until after the fact. I myself am a divorcee, and my own mother is remarried, and my biological father is on his 5th wife. While I have a lot of issues with Western practices. Such as the fact that there is such an open promotion of sexual behavior, I do have this to say: I do not think one culture is better or worse then the other.

I think they both have their benefits and their consequences. While the benefit of Western societal standards is the fact that women are empowered to stand up and speak out against abuse without the fear of being blamed for things that are not their fault. Like in my case, where as my partner’s mother stated “well she probably did something to make him hit her.” Regardless, no one should be hitting someone else because they do or say something that is found to be unpleasant. Especially when that someone is pregnant. Also marriages here that do last are most always (but not always the case) happy ones (not perfect, but happy) take both my sets of parents. While my father is on his 5th wife they have been together for nearly 20 years… granted only married for 7. And my mother has been with and ecstatically married to her husband for 12years. It may have taken them awhile, but they both are engaged in faithful, happy, functional relationships. where as in Eastern society rape and abuse is generally not spoke about because it’s the women’s fault, and it’s frowned upon for the women to speak up and speak out, and they are pressured not only to marry people they may or may not like, but do to society pressured to stay with them no matter what happens.

On the flipside, in the Eastern society, marriage is more about commitment and working things out, and it’s very family oriented, as opposed to the Western culture where I fear there is more of this philosophy of “Well if I am unhappy for any reason, I can find someone else.” and it’s more about the individual wants, regardless of the family and who else it affects. I fear that due to the Western’s use of sexual innuendo’s for commercial campaigning in music, tv, car ads, even worse shampoo ads it’s devastating the institution of marriage.

In my own philosophy I believe both societies have lost good focus on gender roles. While I am “old school” in my view’s that a woman’s role is the house and family, and the man’s role is the work and to provide. I do not believe that these role’s should be enforced with rigid practices that do not allow some freedom for the self. I stay up for my partner until he get’s home from work and eat dinner with him, because I want to and I like seeing him not because I am a bad woman if I don’t. I like serving him food and drinks because I like making him feel like he’s important to me and I care about him, not because it’s expected of me by society. And in return he helps me with the house if I get sick, he stay’s with my son so I can visit with family or friends, not because I ask him, but because he cares for me and wants me to understand he respects me and I too work hard and should be allowed some courtesy. We each have our own financial freedom, but we still communicate. Marriage should not be based on need. I don’t need my partner to provide for me, he doesn’t need me to cook and clean for him. We do it for each other because we respect and enjoy each other.

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Ak August 31, 2012 at 7:29 am

Sharell
I am going to assume that you grew up in western country and I must say that your observation is correct – but the challeneg is that your observationi is only limited to what eyes can see… meaning you are not experiencing it – only seeing it. Sometime what you see is limited.. same as experinece of ‘god’ – what you see is limited but your experince and level of understanding would be different based on your upbringing.

Generally I have observed that west operates in a “black and white” mode vs east (Indians) live in various forms of gray. Lot of times its difficult to explain those various ‘grey’ shaeds. You have to experinec it.

There are lot of shades of grey reagarding sexual morality in india. its not as easy, open and clear as in west. Its also evolving – while ther was a time when we wrote Kamasutra – or built sex temples like Khajuraho but over a period of time values changed and pressures chnaged and we turned to be a conservative society – but internally we were still indians.. just suerficially trying to be a conservative society to stick to moral values laid by others. Over a a period that also changed and we got influenced by current western culture… but we are still trying to understand it and absorb it. (one more thing – Indian society has survived for so long because we absorb and lev thru the shades of grey).
Lot of Indian husbands go and have sex outside there marriage – because as Indian man intutively 1. we differentiate between sex and love/family. We also intutively know if our wives be ok with it or not – (my wife is ok with it and we both enjoy sexual freedom) but some women who are not ok or show they are not ok are again at two levels – one who are really not ok and one who are ok at very presonal level – not at social level but at very personal level. Most indian men who are having sex out side (not many are by the way) are having both those points in there favor.

More later…

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Sharell शारेल August 31, 2012 at 10:46 am

Very interesting and insightful comment, thanks so much AK. And yes, you’re right, the Indian “shades of grey” are very confusing to the western mind. ;-)

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Jack Point June 15, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Think its a case of Victorian morals, brought by the British and adopted by society.

Underneath the surface anything goes, as long as its not visible.

If the repressed sexuality were allowed to flower freely, perhaps women would not be harassed as much? Sex education should be compulsory and include the proper treatment of women.

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Kartik Venugopal September 14, 2013 at 11:15 am

One of my friends from australia miles slept with 2000 women. Thats morally shameful. I too think about sex with white women in the same way as many whites. Only thing australia does not accept that I have no idea. I have learned to control it. But I am trying to marry a white gal too but I am unable to find them in pune or mumbai

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