Growing up, I didn’t have that many rules in my household. My parents had three conditions: do well in school, be a kind person, and be strong and opinionated. This made for an uncomplicated and extremely exciting childhood, and the only thing that I lacked was a sibling. However, my exceptionally open parents made it easy to be best friends with them at home. My mom especially has been privy to almost every detail about my life, with the only exception being — sex.
Sex is often viewed as a taboo in South Asian cultures, especially for womxn. While our three waves of feminism have pushed for female sexual liberation across the world, India is still adopting this mentality as the new generation embraces more elements from Western culture. My home is no different. In fact, the closest my family has come to talking about sex was our awkward car ride home from the movie theaters after we watched Baywatch (for the Priyanka Chopra representation of course). So you can imagine my mom’s surprise when I uttered the following words:
“Mama, have you ever used a vibrator?”
Now as a disclaimer, I think it’s important to say that while I didn’t really want to know the answer, I did feel like it was an important conversation to have. Engaging in self pleasure as a female is a touchy subject no matter what country you’re from, but as a child of relatively open Indian immigrants, not being able to talk about sex made me feel disconnected from my mother. I kept wondering — If we can talk about everything else, why not this?
My decision to ask my mom what she regarded as a rather vulgar question was centered around my belief that female self pleasure should be normalized in the way that it is for men. In the Cosmopolitan article “14 Women Share Their Honest Masturbating Habits,” a group of womxn were asked how often they masturbate per week, and the responses ranged anywhere from once to fourteen times. So if this something a lot of womxn have the instinct to do, and if mothers have the societal role of guiding their daughters through the uncomfortable subjects in life, then why should the ethnicity or cultural background of my mother change that?
The conversation that stemmed from this question was probably the most open discussion I have ever had with my mom. While it was an uncomfortable and bumpy road to navigate, it made me feel closer to her. I got her insight on how Indian culture influences female sex drive, for some acting as a hinderance and for others propelling the fight for liberation. I also got the chance to share my perspective and experience on the subject matter. While it wasn’t easy for her to hear, we were able to get through it with some awkward smiles and shared laughs. I was scared to have this discussion, but it made me realize that at the end of the day, we all have different experiences with sex. Sharing those experiences can help us become more comfortable and human around one another.
Now if I can only convince her to let me buy a vibrator without dad finding out.