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APARAJITA SEN

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 10/15/2016 |




Now that I have started writing the editorial for this issue, I am a bit doubtful about the veracity of our theme – ‘SEX – THE PRIMORDIAL TABOO.’ Is sex really THE primordial taboo for all humans or just for the Christians? This led me to recheck the story about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We all know the story- how Adam, created in the image of God, had the right to everything except that of eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The rebellion by Adam and Eve led to the ‘fall of Man’ and “when Adam sinned, human nature was thenceforth transformed” (Augustine of Hippo). The ‘original sin’, therefore, was disobeying God, and not the subsequent sexual act that recreated humans. “Adam's sin is transmitted by concupiscence” said Augustine of Hippo (4th century AD). The use of the term concupiscence - a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason – is rather interesting. So the act of disobedience by Adam is transformed into something totally different. The original sin is transmitted through the act of procreation and hence sexual intercourse. This, according to Augustine, consists of the guilt of Adam which all humans inherit.

While all other major religions – Hinduism, Islam and Judaism have well defined codes guiding sexual relationships, always within the framework of marriage, there does not seem to be any taboo about sex and sexuality in the ancient scripts. Though ‘Yetzer Hara’- meaning evil inclination – is a central concept of Judaism, it is different from the Christian notion. The Yetzer Hara is man's misuse of things the physical body needs to survive. Thus, the need for food becomes gluttony; the need for procreation becomes sexual abuse... Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian or Mesopotamian civilizations seemed to have regarded sex as natural and inevitable.

Primordial or not, all topics relating to sex still seem to be taboo in today’s world. Those who answered our questionnaire this month tend to think so, albeit to varying degrees. As a rule, we don’t have a problem about discussing sex with our partners, but not with the world in general. It definitely does not seem to be a topic of conversation either within the family or with friends, especially when both sexes are present. As far as our children are concerned, it is chiefly for the purpose of educating them and making them responsible. There appears to be a consensus that whatever the origin of these taboos, they are definitely aimed to subjugate women and make them toe the lines drawn by male dominated societies.

The society I grew up in was not kind to girls, irrespective of the social class. Numerous rules and regulations restricted not only our movements but our natural development. It was women who ruled in the family and ensured the grooming of young girls. All their fears and superstitions and beliefs were transmitted to the future generation. Through them we learnt to be ashamed of our womanhood, hiding our developing figures as decreed or cringing when we had our periods. They taught us to be wary of any man outside the immediate family circle, effectively making most of us social misfits later in life when it became inevitable to interact with men. Interestingly enough, the male members of the family were not under any suspicion, and often abused young girls. Groomed to be secretive and somewhat ashamed of their bodies, very few actually spoke about such practices.

Today the international press is buzzing with the revelations of Jessica Leeds who has publicly accused Donald Trump of sexual assault way back in the 1980s. Asked why she did not complain about this when it happened, she reportedly said that it was because she blamed herself for the incident, as the society was wont to do at that time. Nothing much has changed since – even today women who are victims of rape or sexual harassment are blamed for being the ‘source of temptation’ to hapless males with over developed libidos.

It is true that the society today is allegedly more permissive. I would like to clarify the word ‘permissive’ because it seems to have bothered some of those who answered our questionnaire this month. I use the word permissive as a synonym for liberal; a permissive society is one “in which there is a great amount of freedom of behavior, especially sexual freedom” (Cambridge dictionary). This does not mean that anything and everything is permitted in a permissive society – it just means that there is a greater freedom of choice and more tolerance. However, sex remains a very private affair if not a taboo even in the most permissive societies. What has really changed, I think, is the level of awareness in the younger generation. Today they are more informed about the responsibilities and risks associated with sexual rapport, less naïve than their parents’ generation about sexual abuse, more vocal about their problems and needs. Marriage as an institution is becoming less and less important, as is sexual fidelity to a certain extent. They are much more tolerant, as a rule, towards sexual preferences of individuals and less judgmental than their elders. Maybe the taboo will gradually disappear over time. Maybe not, because as history has demonstrated time and time again, progressive ideas and attitudes often provoke an opposite reaction of societal regression. The USA is a case in point, as demonstrated by the current Presidential debates between the two candidates.

‘Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power’ said Oscar Wilde. Maybe that is the real reason why it continues to be a taboo, perpetuated by those in power. Who would willingly give up the key to that secret chest?  
Aparajita Sen

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