Coerced Sex Among Young Wives in India
A recent survey confirms general perceptions of the way sex is practiced in most Indian families. Nearly half of young wives in the Indian states of Gujarat (in the west) and West Bengal (in the east) experience unwanted sex: 12% frequently and another 32% occasionally, according to "Consent and Coercion: Examining Unwanted Sex Among Married Young Women in India," which appears in the September 2007 issue of International Family Planning Perspectives.
Using survey data and in-depth interviews with 1,644 young married women, authors K.G. Santhya of the Population Council and others identify factors that predict a woman's likelihood of experiencing unwanted sex with her husband. They find that wealthier women, women who knew their husbands before they got married and women whose husbands support them during family conflicts are less likely than their peers to experience unwanted sex.
Frequent coerced sex is more likely to occur among recently married young women than among pregnant women or new mothers, suggesting that the pressure to have a first child leaves some young married women especially vulnerable to sexual coercion. In addition, the more circumstances in which a woman believes it is justifiable for a husband to beat his wife, the more likely she is to experience unwanted sex. Young women with lower levels of education are also at greater risk than their more educated peers, the survey says.
Attitudinal change necessary to put an end to coerced Sex- Dr.Reddy
Reacting to the findings, Dr.D.Narayana Reddy, a renowned sexologist based in Chennai, said that while he had not come across the survey himself and hence could not comment on the reliability of the findings, coerced sex was almost inevitable given the patriarchal culture widely prevalent in India.
"The male is made to believe that he is somehow a prized being right through. He has the first claim on all good things of life, good food, good dress and good education. So pampered is he that when he steps into the bedroom, he thinks he has the right of passage! He never waits to find out whether his spouse wants sex, whether she is in a mood for that or what her physical condition is. He needs sex and he must get it. And when it is denied, he flies into a rage," Dr.Reddy told Medindia.
And worse most women tend to internalize the male attitude to sex. 'When they want it, we can't hold back. We have to co-operate, whatever our own problems.' That is how women in an average Indian household seem to behave, and the legacy was passed on from generation to generation.
Dr.Reddy feels such a me-first attitude on the part of males cuts across education, caste and wealth.
However the silver lining in the cloud is that increasingly women have begun to challenge such traditional values.
Going for jobs, contributing to the family kitty and exposure to the outside world have all helped Indian women assert themselves, though this is happening on a small scale, perhaps an essentially urban phenomenon.
Still such a change is coming about, and it is heartening. The male can no more take his partner for granted and should be ready to face resistance. He may have to lay off too, if necessary.
And he has to be concerned with fulfilling the sexual needs of his spouse too and realize sex cannot be a one way traffic. Dr.Reddy also agrees that there should be programmes aimed at counseling newly wed young males against seeking to coerce their spouses into sex.
But he is skeptical whether such programmes by themselves would yield desired results. "A wholesale attitudinal change is called for if Indian women are to enjoy sex and not view it as some fealty owed. Man has to stop strutting around as if he is the master of everything he surveys, even if within the household. 'She's my wife, she's my chattel, she's my anything' - that kind of attitude should go. But that's easier said than done. Ours being a society still steeped in patriarchal traditions, targeted programmes here or there will not work. A massive educational campaign is required for the purpose. The media has a very big role to play in this. But having said that, let me also repeat that such changes are brought about only over a period of time, consequent on far-reaching socio-economic transformation," Dr.Reddy said.
A couple of days ago a condom-manufacturing firm had claimed that according to a survey conducted by it, Indians were among the most satisfied lot in the world when it came to sex.
Asked about the claims, the Chennai expert shot back - "Do you know that a similar survey conducted by the very same firm last year said Indians fared very badly? How come such a dramatic change in the space of a year? It's absolute rubbish. Their methodology is all deficient and their findings should be discarded as used condoms are ..."