Dating, love affairs...and even pre-marital sex is no longer taboo amongst today’s teenagers. Not even in conservative cities. True, one may not see many boys and girls openly holding hands on the main roads or kissing in parked cars but many affairs are conducted on the sly...without the knowledge of parents. Parental disapproval and society’s contempt often drives friendship and romance with the opposite sex underground! Boys and girls from even traditional families are dating but secrecy is the name of the game.
Rohit, 18, is having a secret love affair. He comes from a conservative Gujarati family as does his 16-year old girlfriend. ‘No one knows,’ he confesses, ‘but we think that’s exciting.’ They usually seek out deserted move halls or unknown cafes while both their parents’ are under the impression that they are out in a group. Their group covers for them. Love letters and cards are exchanged through common friends, and calls are made from cells.
This lack of closeness, of belonging and warmth, often pushes teenagers into the warmth of sexual relationships. Dr S.K. Som, a psychiatrist, says, ‘First of all, there is nothing wrong or abnormal in teenagers having love affairs or going steady. In fact, love is natural, given the circumstances.’ However, less time is devoted to children than before and in nuclear families, there are often no substitute parents either. Further, there is a lot about sex in the media today. All this tempts teens to experiment. Sometimes it can go very wrong. ‘It is only when romantic relationships lead to problems like unwanted pregnancies, early marriages, eloping or emotional disturbances, that it can become problematic. Mostly I have seen parents worry far more than necessary,’ he says. Dr Som has counselled both boys and girls disturbed by broken love affairs.
In contrast, Dr Jayant Kumar Chakravarty, a child specialist, advocates greater restriction on free mixing. ‘Teenagers want to experiment without thinking of the consequences,’ he says. If parents are worried about their kids, then they should make sure that the lines of communication with their child is kept open.
Take the case of Mahesh. Sixteen years old and desperately in love with a girl, he completely changed his attitude after a chat with his girlfriend's mother. She called him over and explained to him the futility of his love and the fact that there was no future in the relationship. What she did not do however was ridicule his desires which she felt were quite normal for his age. After a long chat with the broadminded lady, Mahesh decided to stop pressurising the girl to commit herself to him and he left the house a much happier person. He admits that he could never have had a talk with his own parents.
As far as teenage ethics go (at least amongst middle and upper classes) dating and being in love are acceptable, even desirable behaviour. Holding hands, kissing, petting is accepted too. In fact, teenagers with boyfriends and girlfriends are the butt of envy. If a teenager does not have either romance or sex in his or her life, there could be many reasons for it - but it is certainly not peer pressure. He or she may be introverted, afraid of being caught, lack opportunity or may be busy with studies. It is also a mistake for parents to think that sexual maturing has not taken place - that teenagers are not ready physically. In fact, girls are conscious of their sexuality from the age of 12. They inspect themselves intently in mirrors, taken pains over their appearance, and observe boys with interest. Boy look at girl’s bodies and become conscious of their own.
We have to remember that in ancient times children married early. While this is not desirable, possible or practical now, we cannot halt the sexual rebellion amongst the young. No matter how much parents rave and rant about the evils of western influences, and the decline of Indian culture, the facts are that the desire to interact and romance the opposite sex is natural and has always existed in India! By denying the existence of such natural feelings parents are alienating their children.
(The above article was published in The Telegraph, Calcutta.)
Note: Although the names of the teenagers are pseudonyms (the Telegraph allowed me that leeway for this piece) all the statements and backgrounds of the people interviewed are true.
I did not include an important interview due to a lack of space (restrictions of the number of words in a newspaper article) - that of an eighty-year-old gentleman. He told me that too much fuss was being made about premarital sex. It was not a modern affliction, he said, it existed in his day and age too. He lost his virginity at age 17 he said, several years before marriage and it wasn't with a prostitute. This was the first time he was confessing it to anyone though. The only change now (he told me) is that sex has been dragged out into the open and youngsters do not pretend its wrong. This is a good thing according to him because it could be the beginning of the end of hypocrisy.
I interviewed many more families, but all of them could not be accommodated here (and in any case many said the similar things as the others).
The photo used is a free photo.