June 2007: The sexual freedom afforded by The Pill has changed the gender dynamic.
Okay, so I’m a sexual being. So shoot me. I need sex, want sex, have sex and enjoy sex. And I greatly appreciate the ability to control its outcome. We the Women, long considered The Evil behind Man’s Downfall and The Prudes no longer have reasons to be the latter. (Does the inherent irony in those two perceptions strike only me? I mean, we apparently tempted Adam and made him lose his innocence, virginity and place in Eden. And we also bear the reputation of being the impediment to sexual pleasure.)
There are so many reasons why we shouldn’t be skittish about sex and should embrace it. The first thing that comes to my shallow mind is this—It’s So Much Fun! Why would you want to abstain? For what possible reason? Really, Pleasure is Positive. One reads statistics on the positives of sex all the time—how those who’ve had sex within a week before an interview do better than those who haven’t; how sex is a great workout. It releases endorphins and makes one happier. It has the potential to prevent wars and other acts of aggression. (I’m convinced great sex is all the aggressive Americans have needed all along!) Orgasms for World Peace. (Visit globalorgasm.org. Their tag line is ‘Peace through Global Ecstasy’. They celebrated December 22nd, 2006 as Synchronised Global Orgasm day. Why? ‘To effect positive change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy.’) Sex is beautiful. It is Nirvana. And why shouldn’t we enjoy it? To my mind, there are no reasons not to have sex that hold any water anymore. The breakdown of patriarchy and rigid forms of religion, women’s education, lib and financial independence have all let women be freer about our sexuality than ever before. But more than anything else, the greatest liberator of our hormonal and emotional impulses has been the Oral Contraceptive Pill (aka ‘the Pill’).
It’s true—for centuries, we’ve had no choice but to be the more cautious sex. Obviously, we were looking out for ourselves—a man’s never had to deal with the considerable social, emotional and physical consequences of unwed motherhood! Remember those funny yet latently cautioning rhymes that have done the rounds for a while now—
One night of pleasure,
Nine months of pain,
Four nights in the hospital,
And a baby to name.
This next one is way more telling and explicit—
Sex is a gamble,
Love is a game.
Boys do the screwing,
Girls take the blame.
With the Pill, it’s a prevention-is-better-than-cure deal—one can just prevent an unwanted pregnancy instead of aborting it or being a single mother—both of which are also way more acceptable now than they’ve ever been. Now, we can anxiety-lessly want and have pre-marital sex and multiple partners (ever notice how the word is ‘stud’ for a man and ‘slut’ for a woman)? Being promiscuous is a dramatic lifestyle choice and is not for everyone. But the least that can happen is that sexual pleasure can become a free-for-all. Sure, women still produce the kids. But now it can be our choice—when, where, why, with whom and most importantly, if we want kids at all. We’ve gained control over our sexual and reproductive identity—our reason for being is no longer just our fertility. The Pill has given us the power of that choice since its introduction in the early 1960s—the Morning After Pill (Emergency Contraception or EC) reinforces it. For somehow, a night of wild passion, a torn condom, a I-hate-the-way-a-condom-feels moment, a quickie on the way to work, a drink-induced mistake—all tend to leave the woman with a greater stress-hangover than the man. Any woman who’s frantically scrambled to remember her date-of-last-period and done the mental maths about ovulation-fertility-cycle while her man wallows in his post-coital bliss, puffing on his cigarette or peacefully asleep, will know exactly what I’m talking about! But hey, now it’s no problem—as long as you remember to take the EC within 72 hours, you’re home free!
Expectedly, there’s been the social-patriarchal-moral-religious backlash against these women-controlled means of hormonal contraception. Sex and reproduction have never been further apart. Women, the more sexually reticent and cautious gender, no longer need to be so. It’s no wonder then that many feminists have called the Pill the ‘equaliser’: women can now enjoy sex and sexual liberation on the same scale as men have always done.
Says my 24 year-old I-don’t-want-my-name-in-your-article friend, whose unprotected encounter with her boyfriend was followed by the EC, “Baach gayi jaan! Had I got pregnant, not only would my career have died, Mama would have got me married immediately.” Such has been the impact of women-controlled contraceptives on traditional gender roles. Women no longer have to choose between a sexual-relationship-equals-motherhood and a career.
The above-mentioned friend is not the only one who’s been saved by the knowledge that EC exists. Another friend, John (who hides his identity behind his common name) met his girlfriend, who lives in a different city, for an impromptu holiday in Darjeeling. After two days of I’m-a-virgin-you’re-a-virgin passion, I got a call from this sheepish but frantic friend asking, “Listen, we’ve done it eight times in two days… without a condom. So what do we do now?”
Of course, we all know that hormonal contraception cannot be used to justify irresponsible sex and does not offer protection against STDs and HIV/AIDS. Only condoms do that. But the Pill is a fantastic option if you intend to have regular sex with a known and committed partner. It’s just a tablet to swallow for 21 days of a 28-day cycle. And the EC is great for the ‘mistakes’.
What am I advocating? Free, guilt-free sex? Yes. I’m saying that, with the way society and medicine are right now, why should you deny yourself the easiest, simplest and most satisfying form of pleasure and entertainment? The time has come to seize the day and enjoy.
An edited version of this article appeared in Man's World in June 2007.