The Intimacy Initiative by Tara Kaushal

The Intimacy Initiative 1/4: Talking

October 2011: Restart the fire in your marriage by following this four-point self-help plan. Step 1 is finding what's left you in lovemaking limbo—and why.

There are three parts in a marriage: you, your husband and your relationship. (No, your kids are not part of your marriage—not in the bedroom.) If the stork flew in with the babies and out with the intimacy, the problem may lie with any or all of these parts. The good news: the solution, too, lies with the two of you! Find out how six real couples crossed the marriage minefields.

Talk: one small step, one giant leap

Hit a dry spell in your marriage? Chances are, you're bang in the middle of a vicious cycle. "At the start, it was just exhaustion and pain," says Jyoti*, 29, "but soon, we were fighting so much that there was no question of resuming sex." Soon, Manav*, 34, and her were sleeping in different bedrooms. "The issues just kept piling up."

Feeling like Jyoti and Manav? Wondering how to break the cycle? Starting talking. Now.

Today: Make a date to chat

"We knew we had to end the cold war, but taking this step was the hardest part," says Manav.

So, what should you chat about?

* Yourselves: You and your sexuality are not separate beings. While you talk, you will realise that issues seemingly unrelated to your relationship are impacting it. These could be situational stuff, like exhaustion, being chained to work via a Blackberry, having a hectic social schedule or a lack of space. Or they can be emotional, like feeling unattractive after the baby weight, being depressed or feeling like you're stuck in a rut. Jyoti ended up telling Manav, "As noble as my role as a mother is, I barely feel human, let alone sexy." What's up with you?           

* Your marriage: All aspects of your relationship will impact each other. Anger, distrust and other unpleasant matters will reduce your desire for intimacy... then add the lack of intimacy to the list of issues, and you're on a downward spiral. Intimacy is both an indication and prerequisite of a happy marriage. Says Rahul*, 32, "I discovered that an off-key joke I had made about another friend's stubborn baby weight had been playing on Natasha's* mind. I love her as she is, and couldn't figure out why she was angry for months... until our talk."

Keyword: Honesty

* Make a chat date at a private, comfy place. Stay away from the crowds and time-restrictions at a restaurant or the familiarity of your bedroom. And no phones, please.

* Talk honestly and freely, and be prepared to accept feedback with an unbiased and open mind. This won't be easy, but you've got to listen! The road back in to each other's arms will be dotted with awkward conversations, painful self-reckoning, and more than a few failed attempts.

* Note the points you two raise. You may discover that the problem is as simple as a lack of time or a minor relationship tear like forgetting an anniversary—focus on the bigger picture, and they're easily solved. Or, these points may be a surprisingly brutal critique of each other and your marriage—but don't worry, finding the problem is the first step to finding the solution.

* Tough, na? Don't worry, step 1 is the hardest, I promise. Just one last tough thing, okay? Cuddle. No matter how many landmines you've stepped on, how angry you are or how bad things seem right now. After all, you are doing this programme together, so a happier marriage is what you both want...

How hard is it to chat with your spouse? Tell us how you made the first move and what are the issues you uncovered? Write in if you need help starting out...

The Intimacy Initiative 2/4: Fixing

October 2011: In step 2 of this four-point self-help plan to bring back the intimacy to your marriage, learn that if you fix the rest, the sex will follow.

As I said last time, intimacy is both an indication and prerequisite of a happy marriage. First, it's an indication. If you're okay, he's okay, the marriage is okay—chances are, you're intimate and having sex. But if there are other issues, they will show up in your bedroom—and if one or both of you are unhappy with sex, it will impact the rest of your relationship... but, we'll get to that later.

Your exercise for today is about working towards changing five of your most major issues, not including the bedroom. It's a step-by-step guide to managing your life, really, and I've given a few common problems and examples of their common-sense solutions. Your relationship is unique: you may be dealing with some or all of these issues in varying degrees, and others that are unique to you. Others' solutions are just guidelines for you to adapt to suit your life and lifestyle... Remember, your answers lie with you.

Today: Plan to achieve your goals

The idea is to break five of your most major issues into bite-sized actions and their solutions. Remember, you are the problem-solver. Here's how.

Keyword: Right goals

* What is my problem? The five you choose should include yours and his individual situational and emotional issues, and issues in your marriage not related to sex. Of course, you're looking to deal with chronic issues and their symptoms, not a one-off incident where your social-drinker husband had a peg too many. Remember—if the bigger picture is a happier marriage, decide to make up, forgive and let go of the small things. "We didn't have the time or energy for anything at all, let alone each other," says Sonal*, 32. Sounds familiar? This is perhaps the most common reason for the post-baby dry spell... sex just isn't on the schedule.

* Why? Break it down and analyse. Sonal and Anshuman*, 40, found that they could break down the 'why' into some distinct parts: a) Her mornings were busy with taking care of Antara*, and cooking for the family; b) Her commute to and from a nine-hour day at the office added another three hours; and c) Their evenings were consumed with Antara and putting her to bed. A later riser than Sonal, d) Anshuman's two-hour commute and 12-hour work-day allowed him a little time with Antara, and none with Sonal or for the gymming he loved. Saturdays were for chores and friends, Sundays were with the grandparents. "When we broke it down like this, the answers seemed so obvious!"

* What's my goal? Flight attendant Natasha, 37, discovered her problem was with the way she looked. "We'd waited quite long to have our first child," she says. "The weight refused to go, so did the acne. I didn't feel sexy, and Rahul's joke about a friend's baby weight just played on my mind." Now, finding your goal is the trickiest. As with all other goals you've managed in your life, this needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely—SMART goals—with a gentle ‘acceptance of things you cannot change’.

Natasha gave herself six months to be acne-free and lose 10 kilos, at a modest 1.5 kilos a month; Sonal and Anshuman got a reality check. "Our choices didn't reflect how important our relationship is to us. We realised that we were choosing to put kids and career above a healthy relationship," he says. They reassessed their schedules and decided to work towards an hour of "quality time" with each other and two with Antara every day, and double on weekends, without compromising their jobs. Anshuman also wanted to squeeze in three hours a week at the gym. All thought these goals were SMART ones; ones that they could attain with minor changes to their lifestyles. 

* How do I get there? By this step, your course of action should be pretty obvious. Map your plan of action to a time schedule, with quantifiable milestones to ensure you're on track. Easier if you maintain a daily planner.

"Some things were easy—I chucked my maternity undies and clothes, and bought some clothes in my new size," says Natasha. "So was the acne: I met a good dermat and followed up." Other things required persistence, like the four hours of walking a week. "Having a goal is inspiring and empowering," she says. "I changed my schedule slightly so I, not the maid, took Shail* to the park. I walked as he played." Says Rahul, "I could see her feel more in control from the get-go. Once I understood what she was working towards and how, I was as supportive as I could be."

Sonal and Anshuman had to make a bigger lifestyle change to reach their goals. "First, I realised that making tiffins and getting Antara ready for school was not 'quality time'," says Sonal. "I relinquished that to a maid, and we joined her for breakfast instead." "We also realised that long commutes were common to both our days. Neither wanted to change jobs, so we decided to move to a smaller house in a more expensive suburb midway for both," says Anshuman. "It is about prioritising, really."

On alternate nights, Anshuman, the night bird, takes up bedtime story duty, giving Sonal time to recharge for some couple time after the baby is asleep. On others, he goes to the gym, while Sonal puts Antara to bed. Every couple of weekends, Antara goes to her grandparents' homes without her parents. "Once we told our parents we were overextended, they were only too happy to babysit Antara to give us private time."

"It all seems so simple now," says Sonal. "The key is the right goals, and willpower!"

Does having this plan of action make you feel powerful? How do you see yourself achieving your goals? If you're having trouble following this step, write in for personal or community advice.

The Intimacy Initiative 3/4: Refreshing

October 2011: So, there's a problem with the sex? Step 3 of this simple four-point plan to revive the intimacy in your marriage, we tell you how to take sex from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.

I hope you've put the plan you made in step 2 into play, and are working on the situational, emotional and interpersonal issues that have impacted your intimacy. I bet your recent heart-to-heart and active problem-solving action-plan have given you and your relationship a booster shot, not only because you're working towards these life- and relationship-altering goals, but because you're feeling empowered while achieving them.

But what if the reason/one of the reasons you're not having sex—and that's showing in your relationship—is because the sex itself is, well, bad? How do you take sex from being a cause of unhappiness to its fullest potential as cement for your love and a source of joy. Read on...

Today: Clear the sex issues

So, what's wrong with the sex and how can you solve it? I discuss the most common issues, and their solutions. Modify these for your life, or find solutions to your problems though the 'what's the problem-why-what's my goal-how do I get there' system you learnt in step 2.

Keyword: It's simple

* "I'm bored," admitted Sandra*, 35, to Roy*, 37, her husband of 12 years. He was hurt... but relieved she'd said it first! Can passion survive the routine of a long-term relationship? Or must the spark fade over time? Biologically, it does, say sexual health experts, as contentment overshadows the thrill of new love. But, while it is natural to move on from the can't-keep-our-hands-off-each-other first days, a complete disinterest in sex not healthy or natural.

What's their simple solution? "We returned to the basics," says Roy. "We discovered that it was actually the basic romantic stuff that was missing—kissing, cuddling, being nude." Adds Sandra candidly, "We stopped taking each other for granted. We began dressing better, paying more attention to everyday intimacy and spending more time on foreplay. We added in some sex toys, porn and other new stuff." What's there to be shy—it's your bedroom! Sandra and Roy discovered that the more the effort they put in to the intimacy, the better the foreplay and sex... and the more the desire for it.

"If you're still in love, restarting good sex is easy!" promises Sandra. "And it just gets better once you start."

* "I've never wanted sex as much as he does," says Etee*, 33, "though it's not like I don't enjoy it." It's no wonder: studies have found that testosterone, one of the hormones responsible for sexual desire, is 20-40% higher in men than women. Add our social conditioning—good girls shouldn't like sex, and certainly shouldn't be 'good' at it—and the natural dimming of lust, and your husband ends up getting the "I'm too busy" turndown one time too many. "When we fought, Sohail* would end up calling me frigid, I'd call him a maniac."

What's their simple solution? "We realigned our expectations, and try avoiding the blame-game," says Sohail, 36. "Thrice a week is reasonable for both of us, and, even at the risk of making sex 'routine', we make it a point to include it in our schedules." Beams Etee, "I'm also actively shedding my inhibitions, and we're both enjoying the sex a lot more."

* "My sex drive's even worse after the baby arrived," said new-mom Jyoti. Not surprising. In addition to the lower testosterone, your hormone levels drop to near-menopausal levels after childbirth, further dampening libido. Your body also needs time to recover childbirth.

You can start having sex once you've healed—four weeks or when your doctor says so—but if you're still not feeling the mojo six months after you've stopped breast-feeding, get your hormone levels checked. (Also, watch out for other medication: birth control pills and meds for high BP, etc can interfere with libido and performance.)

Physical changes aside, a baby can be hard on your emotions too. "Though I didn't battle postpartum depression, I did feel completely non-sexy and asexual," Jyoti adds. "Manav had to deal with other adjustments—a whole new level of responsibility and no longer being the centre of my world."

What's their simple solution? Jyoti started working on her self-esteem and body-image issues in step 2, resuming work and social life, and exercising to get the endorphins going. To bring the spark back in to their bedroom, the couple went on a holiday, sans-baby. "At first it seemed unthinkable," confirms Jyoti, "but my mother convinced me to leave the baby with her and reconnect on a holiday. Tucked away in our hillside resort, we finally broke the spell!"

Tell me how you beat the baby bedroom blues... your real-life tips can help others. Can't find a solution yourself? Write in for one-on-one or community advice.

The Intimacy Initiative 4/4: Working

October 2011: In the last step of our simple four-point plan to intimacy, we tell you the mantras to keeping the magic in your marriage...

When you were first married, the sex was easy and the lust—fuelled by the excitement of adrenaline, pleasure-enhancement of dopamine and addiction of serotonin—did most of the work. A healthy, happy marriage is always a work in progress. As contentment sets in, you have to make a special effort to retain intimacy and sex.

Today: Make an ongoing effort

"When people say their marriage is important to them, their choices should reflect that," says Neeta*, 42, who's been in a happy marriage for over 20 years. "If you remember that, it's easy to prioritise yourselves and your relationship over schedules, careers and kids—and they don't need to be mutually exclusive."

Keyword: Small steps every day

1 Find the time. Always schedule time for your marriage. With today's lifestyles, are you taking your relationship for granted? Even if you're not in the mood or are exhausted, give in to each other's pleasure needs... sometimes.

2 Work on the intimacy. Flirting, touching, kissing—these are all important ways to connect with your spouse. Keep the connection alive, even in front of the kids (within limits, of course). Kids who grow up seeing happy, expressive parents are less likely to develop complexes around love and sex. 

3 Stay sensual, stay sexual. Dressing up, a warm bath, aromatherapy are just a few ways to stimulate your senses. Why let parenthood impact your access to pleasure? Make an effort to entice your spouse, in and outside the bedroom.

4 Maintain a private, intimacy-friendly space. Even Feng Shui and Vaastu encourage you to keep your bedroom sacred and dedicated to yourselves. Babies are ready to leave your room at around three months, and teach them to knock in the night. Keep the toys and laptop out of your private space, and choose pinks and reds to encourage romance. Nikalank Jain, the brand architect at Yowoto, recommends "putting up happy photos of yourselves and your family. They help you keep perspective, even during the lows, and are visual reminders of what's important, what's achievable."  

5 Chat to stay connected. There is no simpler way to ensure you're in sync than to talk, often and freely, about the mundane and the important. For biological and social reasons, this is harder for the men, who use far fewer words than women do—but it's important. "Talk every day and you'll never grow apart," says Neeta, who's been there, done that. "You can anticipate and solve problems if you know what's happening in each other's lives."

6 Never go to bed angry. Most women need to feel close to their husbands emotionally to desire sex. Men, on the other hand, generally need to feel close physically to invest more in to relationships. You'll have seen this language barrier during fights—many women will turn down sex until the argument is over and the two are connected again; men will often initiate 'make-up sex'. "Catch-22: you need to feel the love to have sex, he needs sex to feel loving," says Neeta.

Nip issues in the bud by not going to bed angry. Give some to get some, and don't be afraid or too proud to make—or accept—the first move.

I hope this programme has shown you just how easy it is to create a happy, intimate marriage. Share how it has helped you. You can also write in for one-on-one advice... I'll be happy to help you.

This series appeared on Yowoto—a now-defunct parenting website startup that I helped incubate as Editor-in-chief—in October 2011.

While I’m now a firm childless antinatalist, my politics weren’t fully formed when I took this short-lived assignment to explore the digital side of publishing (though it was never a good fit). Nonetheless, some of the articles I wrote at the time are interesting.

The Colourful Sex by Tara Kaushal

September 2007: "No," said Aman, after a 15-minute-long phone-searching session, "I don’t know a single guy who’d interest you, babe. I just realised though, I know so many fascinating women—should make it a point to call them more frequently."

"Sorry, there are just no interesting guys…. But I can give you the numbers of heaps of exciting women. You swing both ways, don’t you?" said Simran.

I pretended to work and not listen as my editor comforted some newly single, to-be-divorced woman on the phone. "There," he said as he hung up and looked at me, "there’s another remarkable woman who’s now part of the dating-mating scene. There are so many lovely, lovely women out there. No guys."

Err… what’s going on? One’s a one off; two’s a worry; and three’s a fucking national crisis!

Now, I’ve always been someone who tries to look at the positive side of things. So I’ve always thought that a skewed National Sex Ratio (also) means that there are heaps more men for us women to choose from. Maybe, maybe there are men. But where is that rare, at-the-point-of-extinction species—the Interesting Indian Man (let me specify: under the Uncleji age)?

At 24, my survey group is between my age and 34 or so (which is a stretch anyway). A ten-year age span should well compensate for the ‘women mature younger’ adage. And still, zilch. In this age bracket, in my sample group, the women are by far more engaging. I’m realising that there are such few options available to a straight, sapiosexual (‘someone who finds intelligence the most attractive sexual feature’) woman.

And now you ask what makes a person interesting. Obviously, it’s the ability to hold my interest (of course it’s my interest… what or who do you think this article is about)! Someone with many layers (like an onion—only, for the purpose of this analogy, I wish it was a more exotic vegetable)! Someone who is intelligent (I certainly don’t define intelligence by IIT-IIM-astronaut-scientist-doctor and all those titles/achievements), and can have great conversations (about as many things under the sun as possible). A combination of a thinker and a doer. Who reads, travels and has varied interests. Is either left- and right-brained, or right-brained. (I have this remarkably unfair prejudice against left-brained people. It’s elitist, I know, but I have this theory that they’re bad in bed, and fairly mechanical and boring. And art and creativity are such turn ons! Oh, we’ll get to this in another article, okay?)

Unfortunately, more often than not, the people who fit this description are women. Watch 'Sex and the City'. Okay, don’t. Just look at the interesting women I know. Arati: a lost-and-found childhood friend is in IIM Calcutta. She is as deconstructionist as I am; a voracious reader; a theatre person. She’s walking the straight and narrow, career-wise, because she wants the money to be able to do what she wants to do at 35. Neha: works with Star News and makes films, writes on music and reads Spivak in her free time. Tanya. Shriyansi. The list is endless.

The other day, M ("I’ll get killed, babe!" A filmmaker.) and I were discussing the circle of people we grew up with. How most of the guys have ended up way-below consideration level: one-dimensional and invariably in the Merchant Navy or in call centres, while the girls are really multifaceted: psychiatrists, researchers, writers (yours truly), filmmakers, designers. And while we were congratulating ourselves and patting each other on the back, neither of us realised how this was just a microcosm of a trend that would prevent us from ever meeting interesting men!

The other day, I met someone who is a senior editor with one of the leading national dailies. And he pointed out that the crop of young editors was predominantly female. And it’s true for the book publishing industry as well. Almost all the independent, unique publishing houses are run by women.

This leads me to the reasons for this phenomenon. Why is it that young women are more interesting than young men? Why? I don’t know. I can only speculate.

Perhaps it’s because of sport. Playing sport is one thing. Spending hours mindlessly watching men in cars (that look horribly cramped and uncomfortable) go around a track (like some merry-go-round thing gone horribly wrong)… just seems like a colossal waste of time. Not to mention test matches. Oh no! Five days of watching cricketers try to do their job while you consistently ignore your own. Or… gosh, I could go on.

Or it’s the gizmo craziness. How many women do you see who are gizmo-gaga? Addicted to their X-Boxes and Gameboys?

Or it’s the hormones. Women don’t waste half as much time as men do watching random porn on the internet or masturbating.

Not being into all these things frees up so much time, doesn’t it? To develop as people. Read. Pursue various interests. Grow.

Or it’s because women can multitask. And do all the above but achieve so much more alongside.

Or it’s because women, as a rule, are exposed to so much more colour and so many more layers in life than men generally are. Women’s clothes and make-up display and require so much more thought and imagination than men’s. As children, women are exposed to the arts, creativity and colour much more than men are. Activities that are considered, in a traditional sense, ‘feminine’—dancing, making rangolis, arranging flowers, going for art classes—all push the development of the right brain, the creative side. As opposed to traditionally ‘masculine’ activities—sport and well, sport.

Or it’s because the world women face and negotiate is way more intricate and complicated than the world men see and deal with. In every sphere, including the sexual, life is more emotionally, socially and physically complex for women than it is for men.

I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. Maybe I’ve generalised too much. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m an intellectual lesbian. You may disagree with this analysis. You may think it’s lopsided. You may know many interesting men in this age bracket. Hell, you may be one yourself. Oh wow! Show yourself! I’m just waiting for somebody, anybody, a man-body, to please, please prove me wrong!

An edited version of this article appeared in Man's World in September 2007.

I have been proved wrong many times since, by the spouse and my myriad male friends. 

Aunty Climax by Tara Kaushal

September 2007: I answer questions on sex and interpersonal relationships as the witty Aunty Climax.

I had my first sexual encounter one day, many years ago, with a much older, married woman. Now, many women and much experience later, I realise that she had a yeast infection. And no matter how much I enjoy performing oral sex, every time I go down on a woman, I just cannot get the smell and taste of Aunty Reena out of my head. What do I do?

Now, here’s what I suggest you do—make a concerted effort to move on. You are a rare guy who enjoys performing oral sex—don’t deny yourself and your partner the pleasure. So this Aunty Reena—how do you know she had a yeast infection? Was there discharge and a foul smell? Well, I’m guessing so. Think of it this way—now that you know what a yeast infection smells like, you’ll be able to tell whether the woman you’re with has one or not much before your tongue gets involved. And once you’re secure in the knowledge that you have the ability to gauge hygiene beforehand, you’ll soon get over the fear of having another foul encounter.

I am a woman from a very traditional family. I had what is popularly known as a love-cum-arranged marriage eight months ago. We have not had sex. Not ever. My mother-in-law frowns on privacy and intimacy between us. But even when we are alone, I’ve tried initiating but he gets uncomfortable. I am not unattractive. And no, he is not gay. I’m on the verge of taking steps that will rock the boat fairly seriously. Should I?

This is not normal. First off, I’m assuming you are a 100% sure that your husband isn’t gay. Secondly, have you tried talking to him? What does he say? Eight months without the urge to have sex with a woman who sleeps in the same bed is too long to be justified by excuses such as exhaustion/work/lack of privacy. The two of you need to see a therapist. Now. Convince him through love and/or tell him that the stigma associated with seeing a therapist is less than that of getting the families involved in your problems and their reasons. If nothing works, leave. Today more than ever before, women have the right to a sex life and pleasure. You know that or you wouldn’t have written in, right? 

I am a 23-year-old guy. I dislike having sex with women. Correction: real women. Since I discovered my dad’s stash of porn when I was 12, I’ve become an addict. I watch/read/breathe/sleep porn. I find real women boring. They don’t look as good and aren’t as hot in bed. So how do I take my life from here?

Naomi Wolf, a famous, iconic feminist author, has a theory that she puts forth in her article 'The Porn Myth'. She believes porn dampens male libido with respect to real women who are flawed and well, ‘real’. That’s what’s happened to you. So unless you want to grow old in an empty bed with no companion or offspring, you’ll have to wean yourself off porn. And form realistic associations and expectations of flesh-and-blood women. Remember, porn stars too have chums and bad-hair days—they just aren’t shown to you! Like Wolf says, "If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on", and if you correlate arousal with unrealistic fantastic porn images, you won’t get aroused with less. Get it?

An edited version of this column appeared in Man’s World in September 2007. I wrote this column for six months or so, but can only find a few pieces.

Aunty Climax by Tara Kaushal

August 2007: I answer questions on sex and interpersonal relationships as the witty Aunty Climax.

I’m a bachelor. My boss is a woman. Now, there is a link between these two statements. She always keeps saying stuff like, “Ah, last night was wonderful”, “Hubby’s finally fixed his back problem”, especially when I’m around or, more importantly, when no one else is. And then she asks me about my sex life which, I’m afraid, is not particularly happening these days. Quick question: is she hinting at something? Or is this just one of those things women like to talk to their subordinates about?

Quick answer: yes, she is. Loud and clear. Normal women (not those, like yours truly here, who write sex columns), especially those who are married, rarely talk about sex, especially not with men who are subordinates. Unless they want some. I suspect that her nights are not consistently as wonderful as she’d like them to be and that the husband’s back problem still gets in the way. Now, here’s the question: what do you want to do about this? Spice up your sex life with the boss-lady? There are pros and cons. You’ll have to be good—she wants some good loving and she’s your boss. She’ll always be in control—which may be a good thing, depending on how you see it. There better not be any passion-induced quickies in the office. You can’t get caught. And you can’t ever be to one to stop the sexationship, unless you leave the job. The great thing is, if you’re good in bed in general and to her in particular you’ll get chosen to accompany her on company-sponsored trips, get that out-of-turn promotion and be the regular career-gigolo. Choose.

I’m like Donna’s boyfriend in ‘That 70s Show’. No one, including me, knows how I scored her. She is definitely the ‘catch’ in the relationship. We’re both fairly powerful personalities but she has a better career, earns three times as much as I do, is gorgeous, better educated, great in bed… the works. But in bed, she heckles, taunts and hurts me until I retaliate: and that’s when she’s satisfied. Can you explain this behaviour to me?

Oh, my childhood friend Sam went through the same thing. After many days of seeing him scratched, bruised and black-eyed, I sat him down to ask him what was going on. I say to you what I said to him, those many years ago: this isn’t going to go away. If you’re okay with the way things are going to be, go ahead. If you’re seriously uncomfortable, walk out. Here’s why—when the famous psychiatrist Maslow studied dominance behaviour in human females, he found that sex and dominance were closely related. Your woman seems to fit right into the high-dominance category. She likes you, a high-dominance man and expects you to be rough, athletic and unsentimental. Maslow’s most interesting theory was that all women preferred men who were more dominant than themselves. Your girlfriend’s provoking you to a higher level of dominance and enjoys the resultant sexual equation.

I have a three inch you-know-what. I can satisfy women, can’t I? I want to increase the size of my penis and be as well endowed as the men in the porn films. I also think I have the potential to be a porn star. What are the avenues I could take?

There is this bizarre theory doing the rounds that women aren’t visually turned on. They are. So while, technically, a three-incher is good enough (women are sensitive only for the first couple of inches in their vaginas and all that blah), there are things you’ll have to learn to make up for the visual if not physical disappointment. Kiss like a dream (not too much tongue, saliva or teeth). Learn the fine art of cunnilingus—perfect it. Learn to locate and work the G-spot. As far as your career aspirations go—what can I say? I can be extremely condescending and say, “I admire your confidence.” Or I could just be honest and say, “Isn’t happening honey.” I don’t recommend penis-enhancement surgery and you just don’t have what it takes.

An edited version of this column appeared in Man’s World in August 2007. I wrote this column for six months or so, but can only find a few pieces.

Bloody Mary by Tara Kaushal

July 2007: No, I’m not talking about the tomato and vodka drink. I’m not even talking about virgin blood. What am I talking about then? The menstrual cycle.

Chums. Periods. Whatever you want to call them. (I recommend you lift that dropped jaw and close your mouth. Quickly. As they say in Hindi, “Makkhi ghus jayegi.”) Yup, I’m talking about those horribly wet days of the month that half the world’s population endure for about 30 years of a lifetime. That’s a lot—whether or not you do the maths!

So what can I tell you about ‘the curse’ (the Victorian word for it is so damn apt)!? That they’re no fun and that we’d all rather do without them—barring a few women who feel their periods make them feel ‘feminine’ and ‘sensual’ (freaks!) and those who say they make no difference to everyday life (another unusual category). And that, for between two and 10 days before they hit (yes, that’s the word—wham!), a woman feels the claws of PMS dig deep, very deep (PMS=Pre-Menstrual or Passing-Madness Syndrome). Your back and tummy hurt; you’re crabby and depressed; you bloat up; you get pimples. Add that’s just the physiological bit. There’s also the discomfort of a pad or a tampon; the fear of staining; the slight limitation on physical activity because of it. (Example? No swimming.) Yeah, it’s terrible when you actually think about it.

The ironic thing is, no matter how much of our lives we gain control over—through intellect, morality, art or whatever—such a huge part of us is still controlled by our primeval hormones and reproductive function. It can be rather depressing when you look at it like that—so don’t!

My parents were very open about the chum thing. Very. My mom discussed hers with me since the time I was really young. And I had a doggess, so when she got in heat, I was told the why and the what. So I knew why they’d come, I knew when they’d come. When mine started, at age 11, my parents made a big, big deal about it—I was taken out to dinner and the whole world was told. There was much excitement and cake-cutting. Yet, I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach (that joined the cramps to make quite a classic ache!) as I felt my childhood come to an abrupt halt. And I was damn embarrassed, in spite of how much I had been told and reassured about the fact that they were a normal part of life.

The other extreme is parents who don’t tell their girls what to expect at all. A friend of mine, who is a teacher, describes how this little kid was discovered missing after school. During a massive child hunt, she was found sobbing in the loo, where she had been since her lunch break, because she thought she was sick and was scared to bits about the bleeding.

Different cultures deal with the menstrual cycle in different ways. Much like girl children in Africa are taught to look forward to their ‘Initiation Ceremony’, that just happens to involve female circumcision (no, periods aren’t that bad!), some cultures make a big deal about the first period (excitement beats the anxiety)? My maid in Chennai, Devi took a huge loan from me for the celebration when her daughter hit puberty.

Another sad thing about chums is that they only naturally stop for two reasons—you’re either pregnant (a discovery that causes much anxiety to most of the women I know—who are unmarried and sexually active) or menopausal. Menopause, like puberty, comes with many, many problems of its own. Really, it’s pretty much a lose-lose situation, na? Chums embarrass and hurt you when they make an appearance when you’re 11/12/13/14; trouble you for a couple of days before they make an appearance every month; irritate you even further for the 3/4 days that they visit you in the month; and give you hot flushes and a lot of other things when they finally retreat for ever. Whew!

Are you thinking what I am—why did Eve eat that damn apple?

There is one positive about periods though—it makes for great sex. I know this probably grosses you out no end (the thought of sex during periods grosses a lot of women out, so I’m not surprised you’re utterly scandalised)! Well, here’s why it’s so great: the natural activity that’s occurring down there (that has nothing to do with your skills, honey!) makes your woman wetter and therefore more aroused than she usually is. And yeah, it’s messy, but hey, so are most things in life. And are you really going to let a little mess come in the way of sex for so many, many days (in case you did do the maths up there)?

So, I suggest you follow the ‘Chum Etiquette for the Modern Man’—
1) As you now know how horrible periods really are, at every stage, be nice to and understanding of your woman. I recommend this always, but especially during her time of the month.
2) Get over your clean Barbie-doll prejudice. Start having sex during her periods—trust me, it’s great. You can thank me later.

An edited version of this article appeared in Man's World in July 2007.

I Thank You This Day for My Daily Pill… by Tara Kaushal

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 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.

The ManHunt by Tara Kaushal

June 2007: My experience of being single in my twenties.

So I’ve just recently become single again after many years of being committed in some form or another. And my hormones are driving me up the wall. I am on the ManHunt. Capital M, capital H. I’m in the ‘All is fair in love and lust’ Zone. I’m pulling out all the stops. The make-up kit is back out, dusted and ready-to-use. The pub-visiting and party-hopping days, abandoned when I was about 20, are here again. Contact lenses, long forsaken for the ease-of-use of spectacles, are being worn again. My two cute doggesses and one gorgeous dog are being paraded everywhere, as showstoppers and conversations starters. I’ve been walking into the Versova Barista (for reasons apparent only to me!) and walking out after sashaying to the counter and back, a dramatic flick of the head thrown in for good measure. The weight-loss-and-dermatologist beauty plan is in full swing. Relationships put you in a complacent, relaxed zone that I’m now officially out of: I’ve taken to wearing uncomfortable and pinchy frilly lace underwear, hiding my comfortable cottons in my cupboard—relics of a different lifestyle.

I have been ruthless in my quest. My MSN ‘Personal Message’ reads—‘Beautiful. Brilliant. 24. Single. Why?’, in the hope that someone on my list of contacts will bite the bait or sense the pain and set me up. I’ve been badgering my friends to go through their phone books and locate suitable boys. Besides the beauty and brains and all that, they are to inform every guy who shows potential of my USP—I am a cheap date. I don’t drink and barely eat. Now, you would think I’d be flooded with calls and numbers. No. My friends say that I have too many criteria—each presents one or two measly names after much thought and soul-searching. My friend Sahil, on hearing my demands, said they were so elaborate and exacting that I’d never find a guy to fuck, let alone live Happily-Ever-After with. Which is a really unfair thing to say—I’m not being choosey. At all.

I’ve even considered getting myself a profile on Now, wouldn’t that be fun: 24-year-old bohemian dilettante who writes for a living seeks a non-matrimonial alliance with a man who must fulfill all the following criteria. The guy must—

a)      Be taller than I am in heels—so over 6 feet
b)      Be clean-shaven
c)      Smell beautiful
d)      Be dark-skinned
e)      Be right-brained: very, very creative
f)       Not live with parents
g)      Not be an engineer, doctor, MBA, CA or any other corporate type
h)      Not be a wannabe model/actor type
i)       Love dogs
j)       Love dancing
k)      Love music
l)       Love reading
m)     Love the sea
n)      Be feminist and unconventional
o)      Be good in bed (this bit I’m willing to find out for myself, thank you)
Religion, caste (what’s that?), income, family and social standing (and all that shit) no bar.

Now tell me, logically, whether these basics are too much to ask for? This can hardly be called 'expecting too much'. Anyway, I’ve been on a few dates over the last few weeks. A few stray men—none of whom would have got even 50% on the criteria test above. What were my friends thinking? What was I thinking? For alliterative purposes, I’ve classified them as the following—

Mr Date: There have been two ‘Mr Dates’. The perfect gentlemen. Came to pick me up on time, with flowers and all. Took me out. To a ‘right’ restaurant. Opened the door. Made polite, non-sexual, non-flirtatious conversation at the table. Discussed the weather, President (dimwit) Bush and all the right things. Thoroughly disapproved of my wrestling for the cheque or suggesting that we go Dutch (this part I didn’t mind so much)! Dropped me home. Walked me to the door. At a decent time. Must have taken a cue from my incessant yawning.

You may have even forgotten that I’ve been talking about two different men with whom I went on two separate dates. I could almost hear them flipping the pages of date-etiquette books in their respective heads. Thank you, good night, bye-bye. All you get is a peck on the cheek.

Mr Hate: The other extreme was this angst-ridden man I went out with once. Just once. And I lived at my shrink’s for a whole week after. Took many steps back in therapy. A creative-type—a wannabe film director. Decent looking. Intelligent. Lovely long hair. Goatee. But the conversation—that was another thing entirely. Talked 19 to the dozen. Which is great. But think whine and vinegar. As acerbic as acerbic gets. I listened to his rant against the world for two whole hours. My eyes were trying to decide whether to be glazed-over or teary.

Thank you, nice to meet you. I value my sanity too much to be with you. And there is good in the world. Go smell some flowers. Get some spirituality or something.

Mr Late: Being late is my prerogative. Fuck feminism and equality. I’ve gleaned my ideas of romance from the romance genre and The Archies! I remember one story in particular. Betty Cooper has been waiting all day for Archie to call. And when he does call, she tells her mother that she won’t pick up immediately so he doesn’t know she’s been waiting. And there’s this other time where Veronica gives Betty advice on how to play hard-to-get. Being late and making the guy wait topped the list. So when the guy arrives late, it disorients me and disrupts my well-laid-out plan of action.

Mr Late was to meet me at 8. At 7.50, I got a message informing me that he was leaving home. Which is in Bandra. I stay in Versova. Even those of you who own a helicopter (which he didn’t) know that 10 minutes doesn’t get you from Bandra to Versova, no matter what. When he finally arrived at 9, I was in bed. Thank you and goodnight. No, sorry, I’ve changed my mind. Yes, I am a real bitch.

Mr Fate: My parents met on a road. On Breach Candy. The dog my dad was walking jumped on my mom and dropped the apples she’d been carrying. And I’ve lived burdened with those bizarrely unrealistic expectations of romance since I was a little girl. So when something romantic and filmy happens between a guy and me, I have violins going off in my head. I imagine Happily-Ever-After. The words, 'This was meant to be and 'Janam-janam ka saath' and all that.

So imagine what must have run through my head when I met a guy I’d had a crush on when I was 12, and had been thinking about recently, at an obscure bookstore in Bandra on a Tuesday afternoon. And imagine what must have run through my head when, over coffee half-an-hour later, he showed me pictures of his wife and newborn daughter. 

Mr Rate: Mr Rate is rich. That’s all I knew about him when I agreed to go on this blind date. Though money is not part of my criteria, it works in the absence of many other things on the list. This rich man lived and breathed money. All he did was discuss money, ask for rates and analyse costs. I saw it, I sensed it. On our date, I was so acutely aware of his value-for-money policy that I couldn’t get myself to waste anything that was served to us—not even the toothpick.

As I recover from the havoc the toothpick has caused going down my digestive track, I’m fairly certain Mr Rate won’t foot or even share my hospital bill.

Mr Mate: So there was the ‘model-type’. A type I’d specifically put an embargo on. I cannot imagine myself with a man whose t-shirts are tighter than mine are, who is more narcissistic than I am. And I’m fairly convinced that male models are as daft as their female counterparts are portrayed as being.

Within 30 seconds of our set-up phone conversation, I’d realised that there was really no point going on the date. All I’d do was get bored. Attempting to understand the Jat-accented English. Attempting to find some brain in all that brawn. So when he showed up, I just cut out the preliminaries. It was fun. Yes baby, yesss, yessss…

So I’ve done Mr Date, Mr Hate, Mr Late, Mr Fate, Mr Rate and Mr Mate. Now all I’m really waiting for is Mr Great. Any leads?

An edited version of this article appeared in Man's World in June 2007. 

I LOLed when I read it again to upload—the friend Sahil who I mention in the article was Mr Great all along. We got together 15-or-so months after this article was published, and have been together since.