Romanticizing innocence, chastity and related taboos for women.

This anonymous email from a 35 year old married woman is about the discomfort she felt when she bought condoms. Why the discomfort? Maybe because it indicated that she might be involved in what the condoms were to be used for? Or that she might be involved enough to want to make it safe for herself? She is not supposed to want, think about, preferably be too ‘innocent’ to even know about sex – to be a good Indian woman.

This email reminded me of two recent books by Indian bloggers.  In ‘A Bowlful of Butterflies’ Ritu Lalit’s heroine is confused by her attraction for her young cousin, but she is not confused or ashamed that she should feel an  attraction. Honest, Practical.

“Her giddy heart had created a love story out of a simple kiss.

Okay, her first kiss, she amended the thought. She shook her head and smiled. No, Chandu, it’s not your giddy heart, it’s your unbridled lust!”

I think young Indians and their parents might want to take a look at this simply written, lighthearted book that deals with many serious issues.
Kiran Manral’s heroine thinks her husband looks ‘good enough to eat’ in his green linen shirt, but she also has mildly sinful thoughts about other men  ‘within the range of her vision’.

“But as a respectably married woman, it was unseemly to stare at a man, specially when the husband was growling at one’s arm, therefore I contented myself with pointing him out to the spouse, and saying, ‘There,  one more early bird. Do you know him?'”

Kiran Manral is also very, very funny.

“You would think a man might be curious about why he had been roused from sleep. You would think he might even be happy being roused in the middle of the dark  night, by a loving spouse all wide awake and alert.”

But I am sure even Kay Mehra and Chandu might hesitate to buy condoms.

This is Savitri’s email.

Hi IHM
I wanted you to post this on your blog and I want to know the response.

Today I went to a super market and purchased condoms. I am a female, 35 married and I have one baby. As I did this, I was so nervous that one packet dropped off the self. I ran from that place without looking back. And when I was at the billing counter, I was straining my neck to see if there was some woman at the counter. Unfortunately no!
The young chap that billed the goods  gave me one look. As it is I was feeling very uncomfortable and I started feeling all the more awkward. Luckily there were no men standing in line after me, two very young modern women and I breathed easy momentarily.

This is my body! this is my life! I have a career, a well flourished one .
Why cannot Indian woman do this task? Why is this taboo?
I feel as if I did a sin (it is 9:30 in the night and I feel awkward !!! I am worrying if I should tell the husband. He would be very upset when he knows when I went ahead and got it !!!

Let me add that my husband and I have been using barrier protection. It is not a case where he is averse to it and I went ahead. Just that he has been busy. I have been reminding him many times !! that’s it !!
Though multiple times. he has requested me to get some other protection done, I haven’t done fearing hormonal changes on my body

I would appreciate if you just post the content w/o passing user info etc

A woman not being able to buy condoms is only one symptom. There are many others, like little children not being taught about ‘good and bad touch’, victims of sexual assaults being taught to be ashamed, Moral Police getting away with harassing young couples… what’s the real issue?

93 thoughts on “Romanticizing innocence, chastity and related taboos for women.

  1. I have never considered innocence romantic – if anything innocence is dangerous, as it makes the innocent person less cautious and leads to a lot of pain. And yes, buying condoms is a HUGE embarrassment. Why, buying beer can lead to a lot of discomfort for women, even though it does have any overt sexual connections …

    Did you know that there are joint families in the country where a woman has to even dry her underclothes in a cloak and dagger fashion and where buying of sanitary pads is cloaked in secrecy?

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    • Well even guys feel embarassed sometimes when buying condoms, and not just in India. Most people use self-checkout when buying condoms. So it’s not an India-only phenomenon.

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      • Ditto. A lot of Indian women are under the illusion that it is only women who have problems with expressing their sexuality. An acquaintance of mine drove over 80 kilometers from his town in Haryana to my place in Delhi to buy a ‘family pack’ of condoms. When he went to the shop, he chickened out and blubbered, till I came to the rescue and got him his packet.

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  2. Why not have something like mail order purchase?
    Book the condoms by email and pay by credit card.
    Get them home delivered delivered in a sealed cover
    May be Flipkart should consider this.
    I am sure they will sell more condoms than books if they decide to sell condoms too.
    They could do this for Sanitary Pads too.
    Just a thought

    Regards
    GV

    Like

    • Sorry GV sir, I do not agree with you in this particular case. This is the first time btw🙂
      If such a practice comes then all these subjects will remain taboo . Women (and Men for that matter) will always be uncomfortable. And it will only worsen. Why should there be any shame in it? And why should one complicate something which is such a part of normal life. I wont order ghee or oil or cereals from flipkart, will I ?. Its so much easier to just pick it up from the store nearby. These things are also like that. Why give it unnecessary importance.
      By the way I did not downlike the comment🙂

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      • Thank you Rahmath for your free and frank expression of disagreement.
        I also thank the two (so far) anonymous Thumbdowners.
        Please don’t be so defensive if you disagree with me!
        I am used to it and can handle it.

        I was sincere in my suggestion that Condoms could be ordered through Flipkart or any other mail order service.
        I was not being flippant at all.
        Flipkart does not restrict itself to books though I think it is best known for books.
        They also deal with a number of other products and personal and healthcare products are also part of their services. You can get trimmers, epilators, hair straighteners, hair curlers, hair dryers, shavers etc from their store. Adding Condoms or any other product like this should not be a problem for them.
        At best they may refuse to deal with small quantities unless clubbed with some other purchase so that the total value of their shipment is a certain minimum.

        I appreciate your view that it is time women are able to buy products like these freely without fear of embarrassment.
        Why just condoms, in foreign countries people are able to walk into to a shop that sells sex toys without embarrassment.
        We have a long way to go in India before we reach that stage.
        I was merely keeping in mind the actual situation today.
        Women readers of IHM’s blog are a different kind of people altogether.
        I am sure everyone of them will be able to look the salesman in the eye and ask for a a condom without embarrassment. No flipkart whipcart for them! (Celestial Rays! I loved your comment)

        However the vast majority of Indian women simply cannot do this.
        In fact, even men find it embarrassing. I know because I have myself shopped for a packet over thirty years ago and did not enjoy the experience.

        (I faintly remember a very humorous blog post by a shy young man attempting to buy a condom from a chemist who was wicked and mischievous!)

        I later took the easy way out by asking a close friend to shop for a few packets for me whenever he went condom shopping. That fellow was a hero. Nothing in life embarrassed him.

        To conclude:

        I am also not happy with this situation. I am merely recognizing reality as it stands today.
        Till we are able to reach the stage that that all of you want, we need to have an alternative.
        So a mail order scheme as an alternative would be beneficial in my opinion.

        It’s perfectly okay if most of you don’t agree with me!
        And now let me brace myself for some more down-pointing thumbs!
        Regards
        GV

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      • Well it depends. Some people may want to buy it online if they had the option.

        It’s kind of like nudity. Technically what’s wrong in going nude in public? But people don’t do that (except nudists). So while buying a condom is an ordinary everyday matter, if some people feel awkward abaout it, an online option would be a good thing.

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  3. Should we really call that hypocritical behaviour innocence?:-/

    And, once when I went to buy condom at a medical store in Mumbai (to be precise, South Mumbai) which is supposed to be even more modern in terms of thinking, I saw the man there (probably the owner of the store) feeling uncomfortable when I asked for condom. He actually hesitated quite a bit when I asked for a different brand.

    By the way, isn’t a super-market employee supposed to make sure he doesn’t make any customer feel uncomfortable?

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  4. I remember a story my sister told a long time ago. It was a time when she was studying in college. Once she went shopping with her friend and the friend bought sanitary napkins . As soon as she came out of the shop, she tore them out of the plastic ,wrapped them in a newspaper so that it won’t be seen. My sister was scandalized as it was pure unhygienic to do the same.When she asked why this is done the friend replied that guys (from the boys hostel) see them on their way back and tease them. Seething she went with her friend that day to the hostel. As usual (by the way 20 years ago). the guys were there and they started asking ‘what is in the newspaper?” My sister took out one showed them to the their face and told. ‘ Its a sanitary napkin.If you want to know more about it ask your mother or sister .they should know.They too may be using it’. Needless to say those guys did not bother the friend again.

    And i think that is the right attitude. I used to be embarrassed first but now i think, Why???? This is the normal thing. There is no shame in my attitude when i go to buy them. After two three times , the opposite person’s attitude changes too.

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  5. The issue is that we are a society that refuses to grow up.. a society that refuses to flaunt maturity.
    As a young girl, it used to feel weird asking for sanitary napkins at medical shops – it was always picked up from departmental store aisles. . Now, with departmental stores not in the vicinity, asking for them no longer feels that weird – not after the first time. Nothing would, once it isn’t taboo in our own minds and once we start doing it. And once people start doing all this “taboo” stuff without hesitation, the perception that it is “taboo” is bound to change too!
    Romanticizing “innocence” happens cos the “not-so-innocent” do not “come out”. We can’t expect the society to grow up without confidently flaunting our maturity to the world.. “Romantic innocence” will change to “ignorance” with strength in numbers.

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  6. Reminds me of a funny story. When I was 22years old me and a friend were traveling to the UK for the first time for studies. She was to stay with her husband, I decided to move in with my boyfriend. One day we decided that since we bought stuff in India in bulk to carry with us, we should also buy condoms as they would definitely be cheaper in India.
    So off we went to a pharmacy, all smug and grown up and I asked for 2 packets of condoms. My friend argued that 2 packets is not bulk and went on to analyse the optimum number – in front of the pharmacist(a man). I too discussed with her and we arrived at a number and I told the man how many we finally want. He was shocked at our guts and smirking. The woman at the till was shocked and turned beet red shooting daggers at us with her eyes. 
    My friend and I just realised that we had bought condoms like buying notebooks for the semester after analysing how much we’ll need. We left the pharmacy giggling about their reaction.
    In the years that have followed, this incident has brought many laughs for us and our partners. Now that I think about it, we were not at all ashamed back then. I guess if you are old enough to have sex, you are old enough to buy condoms.

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    • The first time my husband and I went back to India, we too bought condoms in bulk. There we were standing at the counter of a busy pharmacy discussing about how many of each type we should buy. “give one more of this one, 2 of that, no, not that, the other one…” It wasn’t till we were home and packing our suitcases that we wondered what the pharmacist would have thought about us!🙂

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  7. I’m a secret admirer of your blog and couldn’t stop myself from commenting after reading this. I remember getting such looks when I had gone to buy i-pill from a medical store. The guy looked at me as if he was saying, “How ‘daring and dirty’ of you.” Well, I was paying him for it, what was his problem? I wish such stores didn’t have shopkeepers. They should have an autobilling counter.

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  8. I don’t have a pseudo-name here and writing with full identity. And yes, I had often gone to stores to get tampons / sanitary napkins for my wife. And I had faced the stare from man / ladies (usually at Health & glow) at the billing counter. I do winch a little inside but I do it bravely and confidently reminding myself always that this is as simple as buying medicine or any other necessity what is the big deal. I’m often offerred condoms in wrapped newspaper at pharmacist and guess what, at times I would just tore that way put the thing in pocket and come! Often their attitude don’t let you buy the one you want because the guy usually doesn’t let you see😛..

    Yes, a lot of it needs to change, and it applies everywhere. There is a of taboo about the menstrual cycle too and I have seen girls/sister actually making it all the more conspicuous by doing is shy shy or in a clandestine way.

    Being a (too) curious & observant kid I was once I asked my mom, why do you get so much cotton in the house, I never seen it being used at all. My mom’s quick reply was that you all keeping getting hurt round the clock, it get used.. it was much later in life I realized (the slow way) what was it for. And my younger brother never new what sanitary napkins were or what the carefree ads were? ( I wonder if he still does, though now a days that some of the Ads show the napkins itself)

    I think it is all related to making sex a taboo in India despite having one of the largest population..

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    • @Anil, At least no one told you that its (Carefree) a type of biscuit. A child who was told so, started crying for Carefree biscuit while out shopping.😛 I told my own sons what they were for even before they exhibited any curiosity. So they knew.

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      • @Shail: LOL,carefree biscuit!! One of my cousin was told that they are a kind of blotting paper, to absorb the ink. One of my friends’ younger brother saw sanitary pads in her wardrobe and asked what is it for, so she told him if you have high blood- pressure, you put it inside your shoes and then wear your shoes, it keeps your BP in control. That shut the little boy up but once when their grandmother was having BP, ran the boy in her sister’s room, got the pad out of the cupboard and gave it to his dadi.😀 It still makes me laugh.

        I came to know what they are used for only when I actually got my periods, exactly 10 minutes before I was leaving for school, I wish I knew about them before it happened,.

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    • One of my friends used to think that since girls don’t have some of the ahem ‘equipment’ that guys have, it’s like having a pipe with no tap. So the pipe will leak all day. And hence they need to wear pads🙂.

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  9. I find it very funny that the public face of the moral police in India – which so stridently decries any vaguely sexual expression from women – consists largely of young males who (if they are anything like most young people I know) would probably give an arm and a leg to be seen as attractive by the opposite sex.

    It’s also a bit of an irony that a society in which sex is such a massively taboo subject has one of the highest fertility rates in the world. Those kids do come from somewhere, don’t they?

    Attitudes towards sex in India today remind me of the prudish nuns that appear in Charles Dickens’ novels. This, despite a very rich heritage of rulers and cultural norms that actually managed to elevate footloose orgies to the level of high art.

    As far as the condom thing is concerned, I think it’s just another manifestation of the “slut-shaming” culture. How dare a woman acknowledge the existence of something as yucky as sex! Never mind that she’s expected to bear a couple of grandkids (fair skinned males preferred) for her MIL within two years of marriage.

    It’s about time we acknowledged that sex is fun. It’s not a necessary evil. It’s something we actively seek because. We’re hardwired to enjoy it, for god’s sake! Why deny such a basic fact? Why lie about it? Why make it a taboo to state this fact in public forum? Why try to bury it under layers of feverish prudery?

    Sex is normal.
    Enjoying sex is normal. For women too.

    And contraception is probably the best invention since sliced bread.

    There, I said it.

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    • //”Those kids do come from somewhere, don’t they?”//

      Of course they do. But the trouble is some people don’t see eye to eye with the rest of the world on this matter.😛 Like some politician is supposed to have said in a speech he gave ‘against sex education in schools’: “Where is the need to teach all this in school? My wife and I, we spread a white sheet on the floor … (now now, don’t let your imagination run riot!) “…and we prayed. That’s how we got our children.”
      No I am not kidding. This was written by a blogger who attended the meeting, a few years back. The guy couldn’t stop laughing at what he had heard.

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  10. Obligatory joke follows. IHM can you please put the content below in italics?

    – – –
    A girl asks her boyfriend to come over Friday night and have dinner with her parents. Since this is such a big event, the girl tells him that after dinner, she would like to have sex with him for the first time.

    The boy is ecstatic, but he has never had sex before, so he takes a trip to the pharmacy to get some condoms. The pharmacist helps the boy for about half an hour. He tells the boy everything there is to know about condoms and sex. At the register, the pharmacist asks the boy how many condoms he’d like to buy a 3-pack, 10-pack or family pack. The boy insists on the family pack because he thinks he will be rather busy, it being his first time and all.

    That night, the boy shows up at the girls parents house and meets his girlfriend at the door. “Oh, I’m so excited for you to meet my parents! Come on in!”

    The boy goes inside and is taken to the dinner table where the girl’s parents are seated. The boy quickly offers to say grace and bows his head. A minute passes, and the boy is still deep in prayer, with his head down 10 minutes pass, and still no movement from the boy.

    Finally, after 20 minutes with his head down, the girlfriend leans over and whispers to the boyfriend, “I had no idea you were this religious.”

    The boy turns, and whispers back, “I had no idea your father was a pharmacist!”
    – – –

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  11. I think men get disapproving looks too from pharmacists. Okay, maybe not disapproving…but kind of sizing them up. If I happen to be around when my husband is asking for them at the pharmacy, they size me up too. I don’t wear any symbols of marriage like thaali, ring, kumkum etc, so they either leer or look suspicious. Apparently, only the last time, when my husband bought condoms as well as diapers did the pharmacist not give him a second glance😛

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  12. India’s become a hotbed of std’s but common sense here isn’t common.. condoms remain the ONLY known solution, they should be readily available.

    just do it. get em, use em embarrassed or not, its worth more than lifelong shit.

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  13. Sad but true. Our society likes to pretend these things do not exist but where do all these kids pop up from?
    They want to pretend sex does not exist and then they want you to sleep with some guy chosen by parents.
    I believe it is also the shop keepers fault who make you acutely uncomfy when you buy these things. Easiest is to keep a straight face and not know these people..

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  14. I have always felt that if we women stopped being ashamed of things that we actually needn’t be, we will definitely make some progress. Look at how we are told the lawyers will shame us with their questions if we go to court over molestation/rape etc. They will ask where you were touched, what the man did to you and you are supposed to die of shame. WTH. Why should we? Why must we be ashamed of naming body parts or what has happened? Our shame then becomes a tool for us to avoid naming culprits or taking them to court. I have always maintained, ‘if girls are taught not to be ashamed (of things they needn’t be shamed of), no one can get the better of them by shaming’

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    • Reminds me of “The Vagina Monologues” . One should watch this .. both men & women.. seriously..

      Also, I remember reading in Conversation with God – that we should stop being ashamed of talking about our sexual organs and create so much guilt around it. Applies for both male & female parts. Why even as for kids – we usual funny names for it and never treat it as any other part of the body..

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  15. We buy condoms online from du***.com. Not because we are embarrassed to go and buy it from the shop, but because the particular brand is not available here. My husband and I went to multiple shops in the locality asking for our brand. I got several sly looks from the shop keeper, I wasn’t embarrassed, I was angry. May be it did show on my face, they did not smirk for long!!

    I think this embarrassment is there everywhere. Once I was in a european supermarket, and two white guys (above 25 yrs) were having a long discussion on which condom to buy, then they saw me standing near by and went all pink and shy, it was funny..:)

    I guess the real issue is suppression of women and control. The age old belief that only a chaste woman is a good woman restricts her from expressing and enjoying her sexuality and thus controlling her!

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    • //”The age old belief that only a chaste woman is a good woman restricts her from expressing and enjoying her sexuality”//
      Every Bollywood (mainstream) and regional films have the women chiding and turning away the advances of the husband as if sex, physical intimacy etc is only the need felt by man and something that a chaste woman ‘gives’ out of her generosity and love for him. The age old belief at work..

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  16. I remember buying the kamasutra as a gag gift for my friend at the airport. I was all giggly and sending pics to the others in the group via bbm, telling them abt what i was up to and all.
    I chose a few other things to buy and went up to the cash counter to pay.
    When the guy behind the counter saw what book I was buying, he started grinning like a Cheshire cat. There was another man behind me at the counter and he was looking at me all disapprovingly AND leering at me the same time. I didn’t care about either of them.
    They don’t know me. They don’t get to judge me. I merely just paid for my purchases and went away.

    I think it’s more about how we react to these situations than anything else. The woman is buying condoms.. which means she probably has sex. Big deal! The other people judging should just get a life. And if YOU have that attitude.. their judging looks will not affect you. Good luck!

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  17. The epics have it too. Dasaratha performed a pooja and the Gods offered his wives something and they bore children? How is it scientifically possible? I think they were test-tube babies😀

    A friend of mine (a catholic) in school thought that God would bless the catholic parents with children and only hindus would have a ‘suhaag raat’, she attributes this thought to bollywood.

    My boyfriend has been and still buys condoms for his best friend ’cause he is too shy to buy it himself.

    Everybody knows everything. Kids today know a lot more than what a lot of us did at their age. But it is still a taboo. Unless the attitude of people towards it changes, it’ll still remain one.

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  18. This reminds me of the times I had to buy sanitary pads when I was in hostel and felt vaguely ashamed. We used to make sure none of our male classmates was at the shop before ‘whispering’ to the shop uncle what we wanted. And he used to always wrap it in a brown paper bag. No transparent plastic bag for something so shameful. Thankfully things have changed now (though I guess not for everyone). My husband does most of the grocery, so buying both condoms and sanitary pads is his job mostly. But I like the fact that we can both buy both things without feeling ashamed. Contraception is the responsibility of both, be it pills or condoms or anything else.

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  19. Oh, I ogle at guys, while hanging onto my own husband’s arm!!! I do it ALL THE TIME!!😀😀😀
    And I even tell my hubby….oh look that’s a yummy looking guy….and pls let me know in case you see someone better so that I can ogle at him also.😉 Oh the shame of it, let me go hang my head…. or better yet, bury my head in the sand!!😆 Oh damn, I don’t even sound apologetic:mrgreen: How much worse can it get???😆

    Forget the 35 year old’s plight, I’ve heard this from my bro also. From A GUY. He has also said that the store guy gave him a smirk when my bro was going to buy condoms. My bro was like🙄 when will this change?? To be able to buy protection for oneself and for one’s partner without having the world trying to hide its smirk?😐

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  20. So I have never gone and asked for condoms but I’ve bought them along with a bunch of other stuff when buying groceries. And quite frankly, I don’t remember if the guy at the counter smirked or stared or judged – it didn’t matter to me. But this casual attitude took time to develop – for the longest time, only my husband (then boyfriend) would go ask for condoms in the medical shop while I waited in the car outside! And the first time, even he bought a lot of random medicines and stuff we didn’t need so that it would appear that the condoms were just an afterthought!

    When I think of how my mother and aunt and other female relatives made such a big hoohaa about sanitary pads, I don’t know whether I should laugh or get annoyed. First, when one goes and buys it in the shop, it has to be wrapped in a brown bag. And then it has to be hidden away in one corner of the cupboard and taken out stealthily (ideally, none of the male members in the house should even be aware of the existence of pads in the house, leave alone know that we use them!). And the worst part was the disposal – instead of simply wrapping used pads in thick paper and throwing them in the dustbin just like other trash, we would have to walk to the corporation dustbin at the end of the road and stealthily chuck it in!!!!!

    And I religiously followed these rules as long as I was home. It was only afterwards that it struck me how ridiculous they were.

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  22. I wonder when we will allow adulthood to flourish in our country??????
    Everyone seems to be infantilized by society at large- we seem to be a nation of innocent fools,
    where we are proud of out ancient history, which includes the Kamasutra, and yet exist as though there isn’t any such thing as sex. All one point something billion of us products of immaculate conception:(

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  25. The express grocery store near my house has a Srilankan staff. Very kind gentleman. I happened to pop a bottle of Cider into my basket one day. When I went to the till, he looked at me in SHOCK. He even asked me ‘You Drink????’ I didn’t know what to answer!!!

    I don’t think this is an ‘Indian’ attitude, but a largely Asian one, where men are allowed to freely booze/party/have fun, but women are expected to be conservative and dumb. I am certain this attitude is changing, but we are a long long way from where we should ideally be… equality!

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  26. Buying condoms was a severe cause of embarassement for myself too initially… being a Medical Rep and all Chemists knowing me in town… It would make me drives kms to find a chemist who didnt know me…. Thankfully I have gotten over it.

    It is just that our social conditioning I guess… till date my wife has never bought it… guess she would also attract the same looks and stuff….

    Unfortunate but true..

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  38. Oh, you won’t believe this! I have seen my Mom’s Hindi women’s magazines and there are so many queries from women who want to try out stuff during sex or simply want to enjoy sex or want ore sex than they are actually happening. Most (almost all) of the questions have a common theme. The woman feels if she shows that she has ‘too much knowledge’ about sex then her husband will think it is because of her having been in sexual relationship(s) earlier (because otherwise women are not supposed to know anything about sex), and that will in all probability be the end of the marriage (because then she is not a ‘pure’ and ‘chaste’ wife). So basically what the woman wants to know is how she can communicate her desires to her husband without her sounding like she knows about them and without the desires sounding like desires. Can you believe that? Crazy is the world we live in!

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  43. I thought the article was a surreal tale. However, it was just an impression. The Indian cultural aspect of the old days was lost forever. The reality of Indian women, taboos, prejudices, discrimination and abuse suffered by them can be almost called a horror movie.
    Where is the love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerancy between men and women?
    I’m sad to know about this.

    Like

  44. Pingback: The video is speaking against the acceptance of rape, acid attacks, honor killings, forced marriages etc that are viewed as normal ‘Consequences’ for women. | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  45. Pingback: Does it hurt the first time you have sex? | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  46. Pingback: Going to the terrace | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  47. Pingback: An email: “Even after marriage, he shows absolutely zero interest in me. It’s been SEVEN years.” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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