Below The Belt
Single women from urban India are no longer afraid to have one-nights stands and affairs
[Book extract] If sex is available easily, there’s nothing wrong in a woman lusting after it, not waiting for emotional connect.
- Total Shares
I haven’t had sex in an embarrassingly long time, and it’s not because I turned frigid after 35 or something, or that my physical desires are any less potent than when I was in my early 20s. It’s just that I probably belong to a generation where casual sex is morally uncomfortable and while making out is fun and as a married friend swears, the only cure I truly need for my raging insomnia, ironically, I’ve only been able to enjoy the experience with men I’ve been romantically involved with.
Sex is an extension of emotions — a vote of trust for me. But as fellow single women often joke, species such as us belong to an ancient dinosaur era, because now, more than ever, a lot more single women in India aren’t inhibited by the premise and promise of marriage or a lasting commitment to demand physical gratification, just for themselves.
Sleeping around isn’t a cardinal sin
So even as society continues to pressurise single women to marry and despite a lot of us being trapped in the “is it too early to get intimate?” existential dilemma, there’s a clear generational and socio-cultural shift — single women are increasingly uninhibited about getting sex on their own terms. In fact, a singleton’s growing sexual freedom and experimentation, is today, in many ways, a reflection of her personal empowerment and liberation — where she’s not necessarily waiting to be pleasured or pining away for an elusive ring on her finger.
The emergence of online dating, fuss-free hook ups, networking communities that meet over flirtatious and fun social events, financial independence of urban, professional singles who live alone or with liberated, free-thinking roommates as opposed to conservative, ageing parents, along with the heady influx of social media where relationships tend to be uncomplicated, minus the pressure of “forever”, have unanimously contributed to a delicious anonymity. And a culture of no-strings-attached free mixing, sometimes leading to sexual bliss between two consenting adults. One-night stands are now more of a personal choice that one isn’t quite judging. The guilt, thus, of what was once regarded as illicit behaviour is more likely to be viewed as a licence to lead life on one’s own terms.
36-year-old event manager Purabi Sawant (name changed on request), based in Hyderabad, who openly admits to “sleeping around and loving it”, relates the reason for sex emerging out of the closet to more women remaining single by choice, well beyond their 20s and defying age-old conditioning taught to us as little girls that sex is something that should occur purely post-marriage, being necessarily linked to love and making babies. The idea of sin is naturally synonymous with infidelity, and having sex outside a committed relationship is treated as dirty and against our cultural prudishness. However, according to Purabi, in the present climate of open-minded mixing, with more men and women working night shifts together and travelling out on work, the onslaught of mobile dating apps and websites has turned the idea of a woman looking for just sex, into a gender-neutral physical urge that is her choice as much as it is for the opposite sex.
Having recently had a one-night stand with a younger man she met at a do organised by a dating website, she’s categorical that if sex is available easily, there’s nothing wrong in a woman lusting after it, equally and unapologetically, not waiting around to first check out the quintessential emotional connect. Most times, Purabi is the first to leave the next morning and not the guy, as she can’t bear to see him any longer, and with her physical needs having been satiated, she’s clear that the man in bed is not someone with whom she can see herself having a cerebral conversation, or a second date later. “Why waste time?” being her mantra. “The whole notion of waking up next to the man or him cuddling after sex is a construct of mushy, western romantic movies, chick lit and Mills & Boon novels that stereotype women as sexually needy and clingy emotional creatures, when in reality, sometimes, it’s me matter-of-factly asking the guy to leave my apartment, even refusing to serve him a cup of coffee. Sex is more transactional today, and with more single women owning up to this reality—hopefully, we will be saved a helluva lot of heartbreak in waiting for the prototypical Mr Right!” she adds defiantly.
Known to dress up provocatively, Purabi has often been the bane of sleazy office gossip and slut-shaming in her colony too, thanks to her frenzied social life, late-night drop backs, partying in her apartment with loud music, free-flowing drinks and men staying over. However, she feels that the tag of “slut” that is unfairly attached only to a single woman society perceives as “fast”, and therefore assumes will never want to settle down and have kids, is something that members of our sex also do to each other. Purabi, on the other hand, often looks at her married women friends and feels sorry —to be stuck with snoring, pot-bellied men and bawling kids and painfully demanding in-laws. For her, causal sex offers a lot more variety and zilch emotional baggage where she owns both her physical and mental space. “I am in complete control — of my body, my desires, my time and my side of the bed I chose to sleep on,” she sums up with confidence.
Married men not strictly off the block
In a sexually evolving social milieu that is celebrating free choices for single women, married men, too, aren’t totally off the market, and are often considered just as eligible as any other single man. Over the years, I have met a lot of single women, some in their mid-30s, openly dating married men. They harbour no guilt, nor view themselves as the quintessential “other woman/souten/mistress”, both parties clear most of the times that there’s no obligation to leave the legally married wife and kids. Some indulge in plain fun on the side — unbridled physical intimacy, romantic getaways with cell phones switched off and sex at any given time of the day or night, just about anywhere, while others commit to a lasting emotional connect — maybe a missing link in the man’s claustrophobic, arranged marriage or one that has grown deadweight over time, sometimes post the arrival of children. Also, with marriage as an institution gradually ceasing to be a goal in India, thanks to a latent cynicism in the face of skyrocketing divorce rates, more ambitious, career-oriented women who prefer being choosy, and with more late marriages and live-ins in vogue, it’s not just the opposite sex who singularly carry the tag of ‘commitment-phobic’.
Or as a friend in the corporate sector puts it bluntly, “Most men in India in the 35-plus age bracket are much-married with kids or are gay! So how long does a single woman keep waiting? I have cobwebs down there. I can either get the big, fat dream wedding that I now feel is not meant to be or hot sex in a swanky hotel room and just get on with my life. And honestly, I’d rather go with the flow than end up a dried old maid, with simply my fancy dildo and the TV remote for company!”
Status Single, by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu; Amaryllis Publishing House
Trapped between causal dating and legitimised marriage are emerging a new brood of single women, openly taking their singlehood in their own hands or going with what they get, sans attaching the typical societal stigma to an interested suitor, never mind if he comes with a wedding band firmly attached, or his wife’s picture as his Facebook profile photo.
So, are we single women actually running out of choices? Or is the moral fabric of our culture transforming itself to bridge the increasing loneliness that stares us in the face, despite the crowd of virtual friendships and frenzied professional lives? Why are eyebrows not raised any more when a girlfriend confesses to a steamy one-night stand with her boss on an overseas trip, or why is the perception of the “other woman” in Bollywood no longer one of the slutty, wasted, homewrecker, an unstable, drunk, morally deviant single woman, in yesteryear movies like Arth, for instance? How come almost all television serials today revel in the one man and two women formula — the wife, and the mistress?
Priyashi Sen Chowdhury, 38, a divorcee now dating her married colleague, 10 years her senior and twice divorced, feels that maybe everyone is commitment-phobic at some level, and the millennials no longer harbour hope of being with that one true love for eternity, that she jokingly calls the “saat janmo ka saath”. “Today most people’s motto is live and let live. While I know my boyfriend is never going to leave his wife and family, he’s there when I need him. I’m single and he fills a space, physically and mentally, which is like a breath of fresh air. I also don’t intend to walk down the aisle again, so this arrangement works for me just perfectly,” she claims pragmatically.
What’s interesting is the manner in which single women, even those who never married before, seem to be equally at ease with dating and sex with married men.
41-year-old Pramada Vasudevan (name changed on request), a Mumbai-based investment banker, currently planning her bi-annual sex vacation with her partner, also a married colleague, is bindaas about her love life for the past 8 years. She says, “My family knows — and while my parents naturally don’t approve and have called me a messed-up homewrecker, I know I did nothing to rock his boat. Besides, at 40, I have seen the whole tamasha of arranged marriages and single men who, in this country, are probably just getting hitched to lose their virginity. We keep breaking up intermittently, but then coming back — because physically he’s so good and makes me hungry to have him all over again, besides emotionally also understanding me and my moods! Anyway, it’s damn tiring to get on these dating sites and open up to complete strangers and keep test-driving on our chemistry. At my age, dating is kinda boring and been there, done that!
“Some of my friends, when they discovered that I was having an affair with a married man, distanced themselves — and these were, of course, from the married fraternity, who are probably aware of their own husbands looking outside for fun. Fidelity is a myth today and so after trying to make our friendships work, I realised I was being seen as a potential threat, so I said to hell with it. A lot of my single friends, however, are more liberated, and non-interfering and as long as I am fulfilled — how is my personal life anyone else’s liability? I’d rather sleep with and date a hot married guy than a boring, middle-aged divorced man with kids and a helluva lot of emotional baggage or some loser still left behind at the bottom of the matrimonial food chain.”
(Republished with publisher's permission)