Don’t rely on surveys in glossies or information from your friend or the Internet to analyse your sex life.

Every time a popular magazine publishes a survey of sexual attitudes and practices across the nation, I brace myself. Almost invariably, I am swamped by e-mails, telephone calls, consultations and social conversations, all of them having to do with questions pertaining to sex and sexuality, asked in a variety of ways, ranging from uncontained anxiety to feigned nonchalance. The underlying concern is always the same. Am I sexually okay? For a nation that’s frustratingly Victorian when it comes to issues concerning sex, it’s extraordinary how we lap up anything about the subject that appears in print, television and the Internet, as long as it purports to be scientifically authoritative.

I am not going to debate the merits and demerits of understanding sexual ‘normality’ of Indians through a survey of samples of people in different cities in the country, but what I have found is that these polls sometimes end up playing havoc with peoples’ sex lives. For instance, if the majority of, say, male respondents from one city have reported that they surf pornography for at least a few hours every week, wives and girlfriends in that city often tend to become unnecessarily more edgy and vigilant resulting in entirely avoidable fights. Or when a couple finds that the frequency of their sexual activity falls below the national average, they get spooked and put a lot of pressure on themselves to have sex more often. Unfortunately, they do so not because they want to, but because they feel they should. They realise only much later that sex by calculator is neither enjoyable nor sustainable.

Each of us has an intrinsic sexual rhythm. Some of us have higher levels of circulating sex hormones, as a result of which we may have a higher libido. Some of us may have a lower level of circulating sex hormones and, therefore, lower libidos. But merely because both partners have different libidos doesn’t really mean that there is a serious problem in evidence. What it does mean is that both partners have to tune into each other’s sexual rhythms and do their best to be as responsive as is possible, without being judgemental of each other’s libidos or lack thereof.

A sexual issue can be said to exist only when distress or discomfort is experienced by either or both partners. If both are comfortable with their sex lives, then there is absolutely no need to worry. But if one partner feels sexually neglected, then we need to get our heads around this and do something about it. In other words, don’t break your head over whether your sex life is normal or not based on what your glossy or your friend or the Internet tells you. If you’re happy with it, even if you are not having as much sex as the rest of the country claims to be having, you’re doing fine. However, if you do feel the need for more sex in your marriage, but have set aside your needs because you don’t want to upset your partner who doesn’t seem to want it as much as you do, then learn to talk about it before it becomes an explosive matter. Today, there are a variety of professional interventions precisely tailored to the requirements of such situations.

The bottom line is that we need to learn to talk to our partners about sex and sexuality with comfort. This is something we don’t do particularly well as a nation. Even urban Indians have a lot of ambivalence when it comes to sex. For one thing, we are generally poorly informed. This doesn’t surprise me because we receive most of our sexual instruction from porn sites on the Internet and, as is well known, such sites were never designed to serve anyone’s educational needs. However, there’s no point railing against pornography, unless we are comfortable enough with sex to provide meaningful sex education for our children. For another, many of us still think of sex as a biological need, and not as an expression of love between two people engaged in an intimate relationship. As a result, sex is often considered a key performance area and the reluctance to talk about it stems from the fear of one’s performance being ‘appraised’ by one’s partner. However, couples who aren’t embarrassed talking about their sex lives and what they would like from each other seem to enjoy a much greater degree of sexual congruence than those who hem and haw or giggle their ways around such a conversation.

Without doubt, sex is a very important part of any intimate relationship. However, we do tend to either overvalue it or undervalue it. To create a balance in our minds, it might be useful to expand our vocabularies so that we may talk about our sexual lives and remember that a performance-orientation when it comes to sex is the biggest romance killer. However, if we think of sex as a mutually satisfying method of expressing our love for each other, then we’ll probably realise that the more we learn to tune into each other, the more likely it is that our sex lives are ‘normal’, regardless of what that survey says.

E-mail: vijay@vijaynagaswami.com