Women in India are expected to be wives and mothers, but do they ever really get the chance to express their womanhood beyond that?
I remember back in fifth grade classrooms my girlfriends and I would traipse in, and every week we would whisper among ourselves about the latest development in our lives. One of us started our period and another one just bought a training bra. As we all entered Woman Club, the vein of conversation among us began to change- slowly we started appreciating the skinny ten year old boys in our class, discussing in great if not entirely misunderstood detail what we would allow them to do to us. Sleepovers consisted of us filling the blanks of the sex education we received half heartedly from our parents, expressing some desire to give a blow job? ‘That’s when you kiss his… CP’ (unable to say penis, genitalia was dubbed as Center Point, the axis upon which our worlds now revolved.
Sex was everywhere now, in everything we touched, smelled, saw, heard. One day, at a roundtable of girls, someone looked up with sudden shock, horror, disgust on her face-
“Have you ever thought about your parents having sex?’ A ripple of low groans spread through the room, we all had, of course, wondered if our parents might have done the deed, but never out loud. Out loud made it real. We all agreed finally that our parents (obviously) must have done it once, quick one in-and-out, maybe more times, but only as many as the number of children they had- and then never again. We were all safe, comforted by the knowledge that our mothers had never, and would never give a blow job…
As I grew older, started cavorting around with boys, sharing kisses and other things on terraces my parents were unaware I was on, the conversation of sex became a more real one, and one I began to understand better. My mum began telling me stories of her myriad boyfriends and non-boyfriends, a liberated woman for her generation, she had crossed off an impressive number of men from her list before meeting my father. Somehow, though, modern as she was, her exploits always seemed to end there. It would be wild and heady, until the story reached her meeting the man who helped produce me- then it became a tale of the infinite love she had for her children. Of the quietness that overcame her, the vibrant woman now reined in by motherhood. Motherhood the ultimate goal, the price of which was her sexuality.
I grew up in an urban Indian city, I said words like “fuck” in my household, my parents let me wear shorts (in the day time), and still I wasn’t jarred, but rather comforted by my mother’s quiet admission that the sexual part of her life was quelled by her life as a mother. That this woman that I knew, the loving, nurturing presence, did not have some secret kink in the bedroom- one that I, a single 17 year old girl, was getting ready to develop. If I thought of my mother as sexual, I couldn’t think of her as a person
When we were 20, my best friend found out her father was having an affair, and after the scandal died down, she said to me- “well it’s not like he and ma have sex anyway, maybe he needed it.” For the first time in my life, I experienced a new sort of discomfort at the idea of parents having sex. How easy it was to accept that our fathers need sex, that they continue to need it even after the infinite joy of parenthood. And yet, in that one sentence, my friend confirmed the misogyny we have all allowed to become foundational in our image of mothers and motherhood. Not that I ever gave much thought to my father’s sex life, but when I did, it was definitely easier to digest.
As a young woman, I’m finally experiencing the rite of passage for Indian girls- questions about marriage. Aunts, grandparents, nosy aunties all hound me about when I plan to settle down, and are my parents looking for a suitable arrangement for me? Knowing my parents, they aren’t, but that doesn’t stop the external pressure. I know that my freedom is under threat, that in a few years I will be subject to raised eyebrows and concern about my “modern upbringing”, the longer I go unmarried, the more sex I can have, in a convoluted way. I am having sex now, a lot of it. And I enjoy it, a lot. And seeing my mother, the mothers of my friends, I am more and more afraid of what the future may hold. A girl maybe 3 years my senior recently had a baby, and I wonder if her husband treats her body, her breasts, her clitoris as though it were something that can and should still experience pleasure. Or if her baby owns her body now. Sometimes I think she, me, we all never owned our bodies at all.
I would like to be a mother one day, to see my child and raise her, like my mother did me. But I love my body too much to deny it sex. To deny it pleasure and physical attention. So many women are so ready to give that up for motherhood, they do not see the compromise, or the unfairness, it is simply an accepted fact that when you have a baby, your body is a mother’s body. A pristine site of breastfeeding and modesty. We accept the melancholy of missing sex one day, justify that the joy of motherhood is one that is unparalleled, worth the price of being eaten out, or bent over a desk, or having a simple romantic night. We accept that in a decade, or two, our husbands will cheat on us, because they need sex, and we will accept it because we don’t.
What needs to end is not just allowing mothers to be sexual, but accepting that motherhood and sexuality are one and the same. To be a mother, (at least a cis-het woman with a biological child), you have experienced sex and the pleasure it entails. That your child can live in a world where there is no distinction between your identity as their mother, and your place in the world as a woman and a woman with desires, deserving of pleasure.
To all the mothers out there, you deserve completeness, you deserve a body that is your own. I hope you teach your daughter that she doesn’t have to compromise on this, I hope you kiss your husbands tonight, and truly feel your womanhood. In Indian households, we barely allow ourselves to be open about sex, a slightly ajar door that shuts and bolts the day our child is born. In order for women to truly be free, they must be free of the false choice they are given when becoming mothers.