Why Indian women cheating more is actually a good thing

Is the narrow lakshman rekha of a woman’s life no longer enough to tame her into sexual subordination?

 |  Below The Belt  |  5-minute read |   23-07-2015

It is a universally acknowledged fact that a woman in her 30s has, at least, once been propositioned by a married man. Whether men do this out of plain boredom or pent-up sexual frustration, lust for a younger woman or genuine attraction, the fact is they do.

Ever since I read about the news of hijacking of Ashley Madison – a website for cheating spouses – by a group of hackers who threatened to publish names and salacious client details unless the portal shut down, I couldn’t help but wonder if among the 2.75 lakh Indians who faced the risk of being exposed, were there more women than men? And if nude photos, kinky fetishes, real names and credit card information were to be leaked – how many Savita bhabhis (read Indian housewives and horny singles game to hook up with married men) would be exposed?

In 2013, a study conducted by America’s Journal of Marital and Family Therapy revealed that 41 per cent of marriages had one or both spouses admitting to either physical or emotional infidelity. I wonder, in India – a country that demands sanctification of marriages, placing a lot of moral importance on a woman’s sitahood and the ideal of supreme self sacrifice – what could it reveal about adultery?

Last year, a survey by Ashley Madison threw up some startling statistics – 76 per cent of Indian women and 61 per cent of men don’t even consider infidelity as a sin or immoral anymore. Responses were collected from 75,321 respondents – 80 per cent being married – across ten cities. 81 per cent of men and 68 per cent of women confessed that their affairs had a positive impact on their marriage. More than 80 per cent had had arranged marriages. The average age of those surveyed was 45 for men and 31 for women.

In fact, around the same time, when the popular extra-marital affairs "dating" website, whose slogan is: "Life is short. Have an affair", was launched in India - in February 2014 - Indian women in predominantly arranged marriages flooded it. 50,000 Indian women who primarily hailed from Delhi NCR had signed up on the first day itself, representing, as a sex, more than half of the sign-ups.

Noel Biderman, founder and CEO of Ashley Madison decoded the adulteresses' instinct: "It's not so much a seven-year itch as a three to four year itch — that first bump in monogamy being post first child. At the heart of it all, is desire. Someone who tells you that you're the greatest thing and wants to spend his life with you. Now they don't even want to look at you, touch you, talk to you. But you have economic stability — a home, kids, family. You don't want to walk away from it just because you feel less desired..." People think, "I’ll just put myself out there in an anonymous way." They want to rekindle that object of desire. You’ll often find women seeking this attention by Facebooking past lovers."

Even as kissing remains a taboo, sexual education sparse, polygamy illegal, promiscuity frowned upon and Indian couples sexually awkward with each other, our women seem to be finally coming out of the closet. They are now being sexually experimental, taking on younger lovers and even exploring bisexuality and alternate sexual practices like BDSM - making full use of their newfound economic emancipation and working woman status.

No longer satisfied in existing as a drab asexual prop – the modern Indian housewife is no more a mere showpiece in the bedroom and the kitchen – she seeks intimacy and lust equally, longing to be touched, tasted, and tantalised. The guilt and the emotional baggage associated with casual/paid/cyber sex is slowly disappearing in an age of instant hook-ups and no-strings-attached flings, mostly forged online. The quintessential desi type "laj lajja", giving way to a more Lolitaesque sexual bravado. The freedom to be, who you want, when you want, with whoever you want.

Most of our prime-time soaps too endorse extra-marital relationships, sometimes openly accepted by the wife. The trend is also abetted by the opportunity that working women and moms enjoy these days – more travel, longer late nights at work and a more personalised interaction with men, which multiplies the straying temptation for a whole new generation of women.

A 2011 study at Tilburg University in the Netherlands validates infidelity as a function of greater economic and social power that creates confidence and personal leverage for both genders. Women now use their power in ways which men have long been accustomed to – thus busting the age-old myth and cultural stereotype that only men cheat behind their spouse’s back.

Is monogamy a myth? Is the institution of arranged marriages nothing but a societal farce? Is all the women’s lib talk boiling down to equality between the sheets? Are we suffering from "infidelity overload"?

The UK Adultery Survey 2012 found that once women decide to cheat, they are significantly more likely to play the field in search of love, compared to cheating men, who report seeking sexual excitement, frustration with their marriage, and the need for an ego boost in their middle-age as being the top reasons for being unfaithful.

Closer home, an Indian woman, even if she is involved in an illicit relationship, cannot be punished for adultery and is treated as the victim, with Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code punishing a man alone for adultery - for having consensual sex with a married woman.

The wife cannot be punished even as an abettor in such cases.

Are women better cheaters?

Or do men and women cheat differently? Is an affair on the side a part and parcel of open marriages, meant to give emotional and sexual space to both partners – increasingly a trend in urban India? Will cheating ever be considered a sign of our modernism? Are more men still unfaithful to their partners than women? Should women be prosecuted equally for adultery by the IPC? Is the narrow lakshman rekha of a woman’s life no longer enough to tame her into sexual subordination?

Is her sexual dalliance the start of a sexual revolution? A broader, deeper cultural shift?

Writer

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu Sreemoyee Piu Kundu @sreemoyeekundu

The writer is an ex lifestyle editor and PR vice president, and now a full-time novelist based in Delhi. She's the author of Faraway Music, Sita's Curse and You've Got The Wrong Girl! Also, a columnist on sexuality and gender and the recipient of NDTV L'oreal Women of Worth Award in the 'Literature' category.

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