SONGSOPTOK: Is the subject of sex taboo in your own personal family and friends circle? Do you talk freely about sex with your partner / children / friends? If no, why? If yes, what exactly do you talk about? Take this as an academic exercise, and do explain.

SUNIL: In any society suffering a Victorian hangover in the new millennium, sex is perceived a cultural taboo. A contradiction of sorts. In market economy, when porn is  available online and marketing/selling sexualized, and fashion and mainstream TV and cinema eroticised, this comes as a something odd. In present, traces of past linger. With  adult and bold content circulating freely  in the cyberspace and teens’s easy access access to  such a digital erotica on smart phones,  the very notion of treating sex as taboo loses its meaning. Middle-class India is no different. We might love the subject but hesitate to discuss it freely in familiar/familial settings for the sake of propriety. Even USA is no exception. It is a no-discussion topic or, at least, not a regular dinner-table point for family talk. I call it the great contradiction of the globalised world. It is there; yet, not there. With partners also, such a talk as an educational aid or stimulant is sorely missing in bedrooms of the high-rises. As compared with middle-class stiffness, low-income families are known to be more forthright. Fact remains despite the popularity of the F-word in public speech as an inoffensive word, we know little about its real process; the joy and pain of the coitus,  its celebration and denouncement; its reproductive and aesthetic roles in human civilization.. Although not an expert or historian documenting the mores, I share my observations as a keen observer of human scene . We lead a sanitised family life and ignore such a basic instinct for  preservation and reproduction of the race. We are hypocrites and continue to function as the Victorian offspring---kind of anachronism. The subject makes us collectively uncomfortable. The general ignorance is shocking. It leads to the thriving sex industry led by charlatans posing as professionals. In a cutting-edge culture and info overload, this blanking out of a healthy discussion is regretable. Sex education is as crucial as the general one. The society has to move out of such a mindset for a scientific understanding and awareness of this primordial urge.

SONGSOPTOK: In the society you live in, is the subject of sex a taboo? If yes, how do you explain it? Is it because of the religion that is practiced in your country? Or is because of your culture, or even the beliefs of the political parties in power?

SUNIL: Already explained. Religion is a  body of rites only. In the Hindu  religion, I do not find any such caveat. Political parties cannot impose their moral order on a pluralistic polity for long. All these are individual choices. Each has to eat the forbidden fruit and discover the results thereafter. More something as a taboo, more  chances of its discovery by the curious. So, any state, political, religious policing is bound to fail.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that the society today is more permissive compared to the time you were growing up? Do you think it is a good thing? Please let us have your detailed opinion.

SUNIL: If you inherit a consumerist culture where spending and pleasure are valorized, such permissiveness is bound to be there only. In a commoditized culture, everything is for sale. For some, it is a way of life; for some, perhaps, an extravaganza. So such binaries are to be there and frugal vs. permissiveness debate to be continual. A lot depends on the individual and their value-system. Restraint or indulgence? That is the moral dilemma. Each generation pontificates and assumes holier-than-thou attitude. Fact remains, such practices prevail in every generation. Scales might vary.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that a permissive society is dangerous for teenagers, both girls and boys? Or is it on the contrary a good thing since it demystifies sexual acts and makes them look at it as something mundane and normal? Is that a good or a bad thing?

SUNIL:  Anything excessive is bad. Any indulgence. In open societies, teen pregnancies; and casual, unprotected sex are worrisome trends. Single mothers are end product of such societies. Divorce rates are rising. Dysfunctional family and crime are other fallout. Some restraint or control by self is imperative for any society that claims to be ethical and empathic.

SONGSOPTOK: History tells us that sex was not taboo in ancient societies. What, in your opinion, is the genesis of this attitude? Do you think that the rise of patriarchal societies all over the world is the main reason, where man gradually started looking upon the woman as his own property? Or is it mainly religious, where woman was treated as the root of all evils?

SUNIL: Our forefathers were open in such matters. They celebrated body and its functions. Later on, the state apparatuses like church and clergy came to impose a monochromatic and sterner view and lifestyle over the cowering populace. Capitalism and patriarchy exercised greater control over women. Religion as an ideology was pressed into service by the ideologues for such a worldview.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you believe sexual attitudes and acts to be normal like all other bodily functions or do you think that there is a special significance to sexual acts? In other words, do sexual acts need to be couched in special sentiments and sanctified by the institution of marriage? What is your own experience? What is the experience of people close to you?

SUNIL: As said earlier, it is normal and should not be proscribed. In India, in certain communities, puberty among young females is cause for joy and celebration. It indicates life force. Hence, the sacred rites in early forms of society. Marriage is beyond sex. It is scared. That is why in every culture, state and religious sanctions are attached to marriage as a practice. If trifled, it is bound to disintegrate. The figure of the Kamadeva underlines the role of sex in human civilization. It is a union of bodies and soul, not mere  crude coupling.

SONGSOPTOK: In your opinion, does the taboo about sex give rise to repressive societies where men and women feel obliged to curb their natural instincts and take recourse to abuse, rape or incest?

SUNIL: This is untenable view. In primitive or tribal societies, rapes are are. These things happen in dysfunctional societies where hedonism is supreme value and law is lax. A culture lacking high moral order. Where predators roam freely. Where justice system falters and fails to deliver. Where everybody is disposable, expendable. The weak are then assaulted.

SONGSOPTOK: This brings us to the issue of violence against women in different societies, where women and girls are abused and raped on a regular basis by members of their own families. Do you think that the taboo about sex is the main reason for such behavior? Would a change in attitudes actually make a difference to the position of women in such societies?

SUNIL: In a culture of objectification, you have to stop such a process, perception, labeling. If moral order collapses and community sheds its feelings for empathy and shock, and, becomes shameless, such crimes go on. Change the law. The ways of seeing and feeling. Treat women healthily. Make rape punishable as a heinous crime or murder. Incest is abhorrent. Even beasts do not do that. More empowerment of women is required. We have to be pro-active.

SONGSOPTOK: Have media in general and Internet in particular played a role in either enhancing or diminishing the taboo about sex? In what way?

SUNIL: In our society, the globalised one, there is no taboo left. Criminals are not afraid. Morality is gone. Sex sells. You have to find out a different moral order, different ethics---and a punitive system geared to meet such a shameless society. Internet circulates the content only. It is humans that make such content. Choices must begin with us.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that ultimately sex is all about power and domination, both for men and women? Why? What is your personal experience?

SUNIL: In a way. Foucault has amply demonstrated that. Family is a replica of the society, of the power pyramid. Women and kids are the subalterns. It is pervasive---in office, home, public spaces, media. Once you realize this, in personal life, you tend to be respectful and better.

Mumbai-based, Sunil Sharma writes prose and poetry, apart from doing literary journalism and freelancing. A senior academic, he has been published in some of the leading international journals and anthologies. Sunil has got three collections of poetry, one collection of short fiction, one novel and co-edited five books of poetry, short fiction and literary criticism.  Recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award---2012.  Another notable achievement is his select poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree-2015. He edits English section of the monthly Setu, a bilingual journal from Pittsburgh, USA:

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope we shall have your continued support.
Aparajita Sen


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