How I grew up talking about sex in Pakistan

The life of a woman, especially a married woman, hardly gets the value that it deserves in our society.

 |  3-minute read |   04-06-2016
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"Why don't you write on relationships?" I was once asked. It immediately took me back to my college days when we would talk about relationships in hushed tones. Talking about issues like sex and relationships has always been taboo in our society.

Once when I was in school, I had got hold of a book on sex and relationships. I feared my mother won't let me read it. But I was pleasantly surprised when ammi smiled at me when she came to know about my possession of the book, and said, "It is okay if you want to read this book, but remember, you should discuss with me because you are quite young and cannot understand the issues that have been written in the book."

But while reading the book, as ammi had expected, I could not comprehend what a sexual relationship meant. So I decided to ask her about it, but blame it on my innocence that I asked her loudly, which annoyed one of the elders.

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I was told off: "Don't you realise when to ask what?" But ammi consoled me. She smiled. It was a reassuring smile. She would discuss it later, she said.

burqa_060316101114.jpg There is an inequality that obtains in society between men and women in terms of the scope to decide on a relationship. 

She explained why my question had angered the elder. "In our society, speaking about 'relationships' is awkward, and any mention of 'sex' is considered vulgar. You would be labelled as badtameez (impudent) if you do it. That's why such issues are not discussed, even if they are discussed, people can't express their feelings openly," she said.

What I realise now after all these years is that not only is taboo to speak on relationships and sex, the life of a woman, especially a married woman, hardly gets the value that it deserves in our society.

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"I am married and have children. Nobody ever asks if I am happy or satisfied with my husband," said Leela (name changed), and her eyes welled up with tears.

"The husband is always a free man and he can have a relationship with another woman because one woman is not enough for him. I do not mind if he wants to get married a second time. I am not bound to live with him. But why am I blamed for a failed relationship? I am not going ahead and having another relationship, or marrying someone else," she said.

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"Don't I have feelings? Bit I have had to kill them for the sake of my family, Leela added. I listened to her silently and realised our society needs to discuss the problems that beset marriage and relationships, and discuss them openly.

"We have serious issues in our relationship but people cannot express them. The Western media can write about sex life, you can't," said Mustafa (name changed). "I am not satisfied with my wife but I understand that she has as much of a problem as I have. If you are not happy with each other, how can you enjoy life?" he asked.

"A man is comparatively free in our society," I countered.

"Yes, you are right. We can, but it is not always the right path. Whether you are rich or poor, everybody has problems in their relationships," Mustafa said.

The inequality that obtains in our society between men and women in terms of the scope to decide on a relationship was evident when a village woman narrated how her husband decided not to go along with the relationship, saying it was his family that had pressurised him into the marriage. "I gave him permission to move ahead," she said.

We need to, therefore, discuss these problems and discuss them openly. Sex and relationships can't be taboo topics anymore. Unless we do that, our women will continue to suffer silently.


Veengas Veengas @veengasj

She is a journalist based in Karachi. She has worked on political, human rights and minority issues and works at regional and English newspapers.

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