Monday, December 21, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The world has passed through multiple sexual revolutions since and India is just beginning to open up on this front. Sexual freedom is increasingly becoming a reality, especially for urban Indian men and women, and there is ample opportunity for experimentation, be it real or virtual. As our society embraces new attitudes on sex, making it challenging particularly for the youth, the fact remains that howsoever outdated and irrelevant Gandhi's thoughts may seem today, his focal point on managing one's sexual urges continues to be relevant.
All the more for people in the public glare, who have high stakes in carefully cultivated images which are often just facades. Tiger Woods is but the latest in the long string of notables from any and every country whose image has been shattered by the revelation of his sexual escapades. It was Bill Clinton before him who made headline news on the same subject. Both Clinton and Woods projected the image of ideal family men but confessed that they had erred in weak moments.
Our present ethic on fidelity in marriage can be traced to the traditions of the Catholic Church and 18th century America which "condemned sex outside marriage and exalted family solidarity". As it stands, marriage has emerged as more than a practical institution; it is a bond of trust among couples that weakens, if not breaks, with the discovery of infidelity.
The matter of suppressing sexual urges has been central to practically all religions, although virtually all religious orders have failed in trying to keep their priests and pundits celibate, as is evidenced from scandal upon scandal. [...]
The American philosopher Will Durant described sex as "our strongest instinct and greatest problem" after hunger. He strongly disapproved of the gross stimulation provided to this instinct by modern civilisation through advertisement and other means and looked upon marriage as a solution "to take our minds off sex, and become adult".
It may be forcefully argued that the traditional emphasis on suppressing the sexual urge has, on the contrary, fuelled the sex industry and, as a consequence, the trafficking of children who die young or end up as unwillingprostitutes. Legalising prostitution is one way of coming out of our denial and this thought was expressed recently by the Supreme Court.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
A Duet Need Not Be Out Of Sync
Sudhir Kakar, TOI, 5 December 2009
Modern Indian marriages are negotiating intimacy and familial communion
When asked to specify the most important change in middle-class Indian society in the last four to five decades, my answer has been, ''The changing Indian woman!'' More concretely, it is the middle-class Indian woman who i consider the driving force behind changes taking place in many areas of social life. Here, though, i will concentrate only on one such realm: marriage.
The woman's role as the prime mover of social change was made possible by two developments. One, a revision of the traditional view on the education of a daughter, which encouraged higher education for girls and thus made their participation in work life possible. Two, the growing financial needs of middle-class families, partly due to their higher consumption aspirations, which welcomed the woman's contribution to the family income.
One consequence of these developments has been the woman's higher self-esteem and potential for self-assertion which, in turn, have led her to demand greater emotional fulfilment in marriage than was the case with women of an earlier era. In other words, women today feel more entitled and are more vocal in their demand for a universal promise of marriage: intimacy, a couple's mutual enhancement of experience beyond procreative obligations and social duties, a state of being that integrates tenderness and eroticism, human depth and common values.
Even a few decades ago, the nature of Indian social reality and family life was not conducive to the fulfilment of this promise, at least in the first few years of a couple's married life. The dangers posed to the larger family by the development of intimacy in a couple were suggested by such questions as: Will the couple's growing closeness cause the husband to neglect his duties as a son? As a brother? Will the increasing intimacy of the couple turn the woman primarily into a wife rather than a daughter-in-law and inspire the husband to transfer his loyalty and affection to her rather than remaining truly a son of the house?
These were, of course, not either/or choices. However, custom, tradition and interests of other family members demanded that in the redefinition of roles and relationships initiated by marriage, the roles of husband and wife, at least in the beginning, be relegated to relative inconsequence. Today, slowly but surely, the middle-class woman is pushing the Indian family towards a greater acknowledgement, grudging or otherwise, of the importance if not yet the primacy of the marital bond, and a far greater recognition of the couple in the affairs of the larger family. The outcome of the conflict between two different principles of family organisation the importance of the parent-son and fraternal relationships on the one hand and that of the husband-wife on the other is shifting in favour of the couple as the fulcrum of family life.
This shift, however, is imposing its own distinctive strains upon Indian marriages. As middle-class disenchantment with other institutions in our society becomes rampant, there is a danger that the strains placed on the couple as a space that fulfils the quest for authentic experience may prove too much for this still-fragile institution.
For one, the couple is an emotional hothouse albeit one that also grows wondrous plants where, at different times, the spouse is required to be lover, parent, child and sibling. The demands on the partner, mostly unconscious, to fulfil these multiple roles rather than their being spread over the larger family as was the case earlier can certainly become a major source of strain in the emotional life of a young couple.
Another source of strain on the couple lies in its tendency to isolate itself from the larger family. Here, the danger is that the inevitable upsurges of aggression in the life of the couple will have no other outlet than the partners themselves, and thus cause serious damage to their intimacy. The larger family mitigates the effects of aggression by either some of its members serving as the objects of its discharge or by providing the stage where the husband and wife can be hostile towards each other in the relative safety of an intimate audience.
Is the middle-class Indian woman's increasing emphasis on intimacy as a sine qua non (a condition) of married life overblown? I will answer by saying that the movement towards the couple is indeed desirable, a necessary corrective to the excessive 'familism' as i would call the traditional ideology governing intimate relationships. We need to be on our guard, however, that this movement does not cross over to an extreme that is defined by a complete disregard of other family ties.
Whereas we may welcome the modern Indian woman's wish to constitute a two-person universe with her husband, we must also caution against the couple's tendency to become a fortress that shuts out all other relationships. The couple needs to remain vigilant that intimacy does not degenerate into a mutual ego-boosting enterprise; that it does not become a joint self-centredness which is the bane of not just a few European and North American marriages. The writer is a psychoanalyst and novelist.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
Married (Happily) With Issues Elizabeth Weil
Do you fear the snakes in your own marriage? Are you clearer about your job as a parent than your job as a spouse? Share your thoughts NYTimes.com: December 1, 2009 (Page 10 of 10)
Monogamy is one of the most basic concepts of modern marriage. It is also its most confounding. In psychoanalytic thought, the template for monogamy is forged in infancy, a baby with its mother. Marriage is considered to be a mainline back to this relationship, its direct heir. But there is a crucial problem: as infants we are monogamous with our mothers, but our mothers are not monogamous with us. That first monogamy — that template — is much less pure than we allow. “So when we think about monogamy, we think about it as though we are still children and not adults as well,” Adam Phillips notes. [...]
In “Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time,” Stephen A. Mitchell, a psychoanalyst, presents a strong case for the idea that those thoughts you might have about your spouse or your sex life being predictable or boring — that’s just an “elaborate fantasy,” a reflection of your need to see your partner as safe and knowable, so you don’t have to freak out over the possibility that he could veer off in an unforeseen direction, away from you.
Inspired by Mitchell, I decided to try a thought exercise: to think, while we were making love, that Dan was not predictable in the least. Before this, Dan and I were having regular sex, in every sense: a couple of times a week, not terribly inventive. As in many areas of our lives, we’d found a stable point that well enough satisfied our desires, and we just stayed there.
But now I imagined Dan as a free actor, capable of doing anything at any time and paradoxically, by telling myself I did not know what to expect, I wanted to move toward him, to uncover the mystery. For years, of course, I felt I knew Dan well, worried that lessening the little distance between us could lead to collapse. Now I was having the same sweaty feelings I had in my 20s, when I would let my psyche ooze into that of a new lover at the start of an affair.
A better marriage meant more passionate sex, this went without saying. But by now I noticed a pattern: improving my marriage in one area often caused problems in another. More intimacy meant less autonomy. More passion meant less stability. I spent a lot of time feeling bad about this, particularly the fact that better sex made me retreat.
There’s a school of thought that views sex as a metaphor for marriage. Its proponents write rational-minded books like Patricia Love and Jo Robinson’s “Hot Monogamy,” in which they argue, “When couples share their thoughts and emotions freely throughout the day, they create between them a high degree of trust and emotional connection, which gives them the freedom to explore their sexuality more fully.”
But there’s this opposing school: sex — even sex in marriage — requires barriers and uncertainty, and we are fools to imagine otherwise. “Romantic love, at the start of this century, is cause for embarrassment,” Cristina Nehring moans in “A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century.” She berates the conventional marital set-up: two spouses, one house, one bedroom. She’s aghast at those who strive for equality. “It is precisely equality that destroys our libidos, equality that bores men and women alike.” I can only imagine what scorn she’d feel for hypercompanionate idiots like us.
Still, I agreed with Nehring’s argument that we need “to rediscover the right to impose distances, the right to remain strangers.” Could my postcoital flitting away be a means to re-establish erotic distance? An appealing thought but not the whole truth. [...]
In psychiatry, the term “good-enough mother” describes the parent who loves her child well enough for him to grow into an emotionally healthy adult. The goal is mental health, defined as the fortitude and flexibility to live one’s own life — not happiness. This is a crucial distinction. Similarly the “good-enough marriage” is characterized by its capacity to allow spouses to keep growing, to afford them the strength and bravery required to face the world.
In the end, I settled on this vision of marriage, felt the logic of applying myself to it. Maybe the perversity we all feel in the idea of striving at marriage — the reason so few of us do it — stems from a misapprehension of the proper goal.
In the early years, we take our marriages to be vehicles for wish fulfillment: we get the mate, maybe even a house, an end to loneliness, some kids. But to keep expecting our marriages to fulfill our desires — to bring us the unending happiness or passion or intimacy or stability we crave — and to measure our unions by their capacity to satisfy those longings, is naïve, even demeaning. Of course we strain against marriage; it’s a bound canvas, a yoke.
Over the months Dan and I applied ourselves to our marriage, we struggled, we bridled, we jockeyed for position. Dan grew enraged at me; I pulled away from him. I learned things about myself and my relationship with Dan I had worked hard not to know. But as I watched Dan sleep — his beef-heart recipe earmarked, his power lift planned — I felt more committed than ever. I also felt our project could begin in earnest: we could demand of ourselves, and each other, the courage and patience to grow. « Previous Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Elizabeth Weil, a contributing writer, is working on a memoir about marriage improvement called “No Cheating, No Dying.”