“Sex talk among guys is mostly winks and nods, bravado and innuendo.”
— Sex: A Man’s Guide by Stefan Bechtel, Laurence Roy Stains, and Men’s Health Books.
If you’re a guy, before you read further, think about it, how many times have you had a conversation about sex beyond these limits?
Scott Gilman, a fellow writer on Medium, wrote a brilliant article on the same, ‘Men Need to Talk About Sex With Each Other’, which I highly recommend for everyone to read.
While it had a more Euro-centric focus on men’s sexuality, I hope to dig a little deeper in understanding the topic from a woman’s perspective and in an Indian context. Given the taboo and patriarchal nature of sex in the Indian society, I wanted to know why Indian men don’t talk about sex, and how that affects their sexual relationships, their sexuality, and masculinity.
What is Men’s Sex Talk?
This conversation started when I asked my partner what he talks to his friends about sex, and his answer was… they don’t?
I was curious, and I asked a few of my male friends, did a poll on Instagram, and the answers echoed the same sentiment as the first line of the article.
Most men expressed how their version of sex talk is simple, shallow, and sometimes just a plain brag.
Sex becomes a sort of achievement, and those who aren’t sexually active or do not fit into the traditional masculine image are judged and made fun of. For the same reasons, it becomes difficult for men to ask uncomfortable sexual questions, or talk about what they’re going through in their sexual life.
Where Does Culture Fit In?
Men are scrutinized to appear stoic or ‘manly’, and anyone who indulges in any emotional conversation is met with ‘What are you? A girl?’ or ‘Stop being so gay’. It starts at home with our fathers, and is cultivated at school, and is reinforced by the mainstream media. For a long time, masculinity was very superficial and was defined by the ‘angry young man’ by the iconic line ‘mard ko dard nahi hota’ (Men feel no pain).
Our traditional gender roles and cultural upbringing didn’t just suppress men’s emotions but essentially removed them. To an extent that we don’t even legally recognize men as victims of abuse because we cannot fathom such a thing could happen to a man.
Another important point that was raised by a few on the poll was of how the Indian society perceives sexually-active women. Men in heterosexual relationships prefer to keep their sexual life private to avoid their partners being objectified for their sexual choices.
While the concern is understandable, it limits the conversations to their partners only. Moreover, it becomes highly unlikely that one would immediately open up about their insecurities when they start a new relationship.
‘So, We Don’t Talk About Sex. What’s the Big Deal?’
Suppressing Deeper Issues
“Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.”
— The New York Times, author Michael Ian Black.
Women have normalized female sexuality and challenged regressive ideas on several platforms. The same cannot be said for a man. When young girls have sex for the first time, we are inclined to ask how she felt but don’t extend the same ear for the boy. Young boys share the same anxiety, feelings of nervousness, and guilt as the girl, but are less likely to ask or receive the same support or communication.
Because ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘they will always want to have sex’, right?
When we disregard basic emotions as such, we are brushing deeper issues like body image and sexual insecurities, performance anxieties, and sexual abuse under the carpet.
(Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual abuse)
Damaging Intimate Relationships
In the series, ‘Made in Heaven’, one of the episodes focuses on a newly married Indian couple. The man is impotent but has not mentioned this to the bride before their marriage. On the wedding night, he ignores his insecurity and instead blames his wife, leaving her to feel isolated.
Because sex is viewed from a very surface-level perspective and is focused on self-gain, often the partner’s feelings or pleasure can get lost in the process. Patriarchy places a ridiculous amount of pressure on men to prove their ‘mardaani’ (manhood) through their sexual performance. And when it does not fare well, women bear the brunt of it.
While many influential celebrities and men’s organizations in India, like The Alternative Story, are trying to redefine masculinity and men’s sexuality, what can we, as individuals, do?
Talk to People You Trust
If there’s a male friend or relative who you trust, talk to them about it. Start with a simple question. ‘Is this normal?’, ‘Has this ever happened to you?’, and so on. Yes, it might be awkward at first.
But they could have gone through something similar, making you feel less lonely in your worries. And by initiating the conversation, you are encouraging them to open up too!
Have a Heart-to-Heart With Your Son
If you’re a father, normalize having conversations about sex with your son. It doesn’t mean to pry on their personal life, but to teach them that having questions about their body, their sexuality, their insecurities, is okay and perfectly normal. Create a safe space where they can confide in you when something is troubling them.
As we move towards a more progressive, sex-positive India, I am hopeful of my generation to change the narrative of sex. I am hopeful that sex talk, one day, will be more than just ‘Did you tap that?’.