Saturday, September 17, 2005

Outlook wags a finger at women?

The cover of Outlook India's latest issue screams "Women buy men for sex" as if no one knows that or it's a new trend. The story and its tone are predictable.

But as a sort of disclaimer/apologia for it's story and findings, there's an accompanying, rambling, fence-sitter article by Jaslok Hospital's (Mumbai), neuropsychiatrist Dr. Rajesh Parikh, and here's an extract:

"One unintended consequence of such research and of its interpretation and dissemination on a wider platform such as a newsmagazine is that individuals tend to use it to validate their own behaviour. We are, after all, amongst the most social and imitative of animal species. The awareness of a trend sometimes causes it to feed itself and swell into tsunami proportions.

Kinsey's data triggered research that helped reduce the stigmatisation of homosexual behaviour. In a span of half a century, homosexuality went from being criminal to a mental disorder to deviational behaviour to a form of sexual variation and finally being accepted as normal. Such are the enormous consequences of researching human behaviour."

Words that can be interpreted for and against homosexuality, wouldn't you say?

Anyway, there are somewhat positive aspects to the cover story. Although the survey does not talk about homosexuality, there is a piece by the author of The Last Song of Dusk, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, where he argues that Section 377, which criminalizes homosexuality (and "unnatural sex", i.e., anal and oral sex by anyone) is all about power play:

"Section 377 needs to go for several reasons. Because we don't want the government in our pants. Because it interferes with the tasks of aids outreach workers. And because it is anti-democratic. In a nation where democracy is reduced to an item number, a law forbidding a particular sexual liberty is patently inhuman and shockingly regressive."

The other thing: I did a quick 'analysis' of the survey results and found that 57% of all respondents claimed to always have safe sex although half of all respondents also say that they do sometimes the "break the rules" of sex. And 2% of all resp. say they know more than 10 bisexuals with 35% of total resp. saying that they know one or more bisexuals. And guess what, 31% women would have sex with someone other than their spouse or a sex worker if their spouse were to refuse to give them oral sex!

Another fact to note is that the cover story has photos by Anita Khemka. According to the magazine her "oeuvre has largely been defined by social documentary work; people living with HIV, the mentally challenged, child labour etc. Her current work dealing with alternative sexuality has been made into a German film, Between the Lines: India's Third Gender, which opened at the recent Locarno Film Festival."

Talking about surveys, blogger Andrew Sullivan posted recently (15 Sept.) about the results of a survey by the American CDC:

WE ARE ALL SODOMITES NOW: The latest data on American sexual behavior and identity from the CDC has some interesting nuggets. Money quote: "90 percent [of adult males aged 15 - 44] have had oral sex with a female, and 40 percent, anal sex with a female." If sodomy is defined as non-procreative sexual intercourse (and that is the basic definition), then it is now practiced by 90 percent of heterosexuals. So on what rational moral basis do we discriminate against gays - who, according to the CDC, make up around 3 percent of the population?

Meanwhile, mixed news on the safer sex front: Among men 15-44 years of age who had at least one sexual partner in the last 12 months, 39 percent used a condom at their most recent sex. Among never married males, this figure was 65 percent, compared with 24 percent of married males. Among males who had ever had sexual contact with another male, 91 percent used a condom at their last sex, compared with 36 percent of men who never had sex with another male.Of course, this requires honesty on the party of survey respondents. But it's encouraging nonetheless, with gay men understandably far safer than straight men in their sex lives.

(End of Sullivan's post)

An aside: As an ex-Marwar staffer, I couldn't help noticing that both Shanghvi and Khemka are usually Maru last names. (Dr.Parikh are you Marwari, as well?)