Sex and Marriage

“MARRIAGE AND PISTOL LICENSE” office sign, Dekalb County, Georgia (United States) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So recently, some female author, trying to flog her book, sponsored a debate on premarital sex. Briefly, she asked, Yes or No.
Of course the usual pseudo social activists were quick to jump in with both feet condemning with many references to cultural heritage, some faux religious mumbo jumbo and a overall sense of outrage at the topic itself.

Some compared “Indian” culture to “Western” culture, holding that the Indian cultural heritage does not countenance such goings on and what may be acceptable in the decadent “West” would not and should not make it’s ugly way into India. (The female author is Indian and the book is aimed squarely at Indians..).

To these people I asked:

1. Define “Indian” culture. Would they say that the culture of the northern people is the same as that of those in the south, the east and west of the same country? Would it be the same for each of the 20 odd states? Check out how some of the tribes in India feel about this.

2. Define “Western” culture. Would they say that the culture in the USA, Canada and ALL of Europe can be classified under the same set of beliefs? What about Australia and New Zealand? They ignored the rest of Asia. You can draw your own conclusions from this.

Of course, answer came there none. They shuffled their virtual feet, muttered under their breath, sent private emails to each other roundly criticizing this heathen, this uncultured sell out to “Western” culture. ( I don’t know they did, I’m making a fairly educated guess based on my experience in this world. ) Some brazened it out, challenging me with “I’ll believe whatever I want to believe, so who are you to tell me what I should do”.

I hadn’t really told anyone what to do. I had simply stated what I felt. At the end of this post, I will tell them what they should do.

Amongst the sane responses, came this blog, with the blogger doing a good job of analyzing the premise. He says “So what exactly is the institution of marriage at a fundamental level? It is a pledge of a monogamous relationship between two persons. So by the very definition, any extraneous relationship can be considered an antithesis to this institution. The obvious question would be how a pact can be violated before its formalization.”

I agree with that. He goes  to say, “Well, technically the argument holds. But it can be considered a violation of the spirit of the marriage vow. If a person intends to be bound by the vow and views it to be possessed of intrinsic value, then he or she would probably not feel the need to violate it.”

I disagree. If an unmarried 18 or 19 year old has a sexual relationship, by this thinking then s/he should not have done it because

1. marriage is still ahead of her/ him

2. such an act violates a vow that has not yet been taken

#2 above cannot be swept under the carpet as a mere “technicality”. How can someone be in violation of a promise they have not made? This is legally untenable and morally wrong to so bind a person. I also feel that he mixed “pre” marital sex into “extra” marital sex. Also, what if the person did not at that time intend to be bound by a vow of marriage. People do change their minds.

As far as marriages go, they should be monogamous pacts, but marriages exist only within a social construct. I agree that two people, once they have made their vows, may feel bound by them to a degree they did not before the vows. See couples who live together for a period before they get married, in fact check out some who did not live together before they went around the ceremonial bonfire.

However, the vows taken do not guarantee fidelity. Some enter into a marriage as a social expectation, a filial duty. The vows some take are meaningless to them, lost as they are in a religious ceremony and conducted in a language they do not understand and which no one bothers to explain to them. In such a situation it comes down to this: someone, other than the couple itself, bestows upon them their blessing and permission to have sex.

As the PeevedPunjabi says it “I fed the neighbors a dinner so they would get off my back and I could live with the woman of my choice without them feeling outraged”.

So we ask ourselves, what then is marriage?

A legal marriage confers legal rights and responsibilities. In some cultures, “common law” or “deemed” marriages confer the same rights without formal legal, religious or ritualistic sanction. It becomes a contract and both parties have some legal recourse. So far so good. The problem exists in the social construct within which we try to place this contract; a construct that is further muddied by religious beliefs. Witness the challenge to same-sex marriages.

Marriages are a crutch for some, a promise to some, an affirmation of their love, a formal declaration of their intent, a sacred belief, a vow to whichever god they believe in. For some it is a triumph, such as gay couples who have and continue to press for their contracts to also be labelled “marriage”. All these are totally acceptable reasons, with none of them trumping the other.

Some people do not need to make a formal declaration, some do, either out of conformity and convention or deeply held belief. Of those who do make a formal statement, some break their promise. Of those who don’t, some remain faithful.

None of this helps to solidify, without any reservation, the institution of marriage. If marriage itself is a personal belief, then to put it into a social expectation, driven by other’s, not the couple’s, need, will continue to bring on discussions such as this; discussions that have no clear answer and remain neither academic, degenerating into name-calling and cultural / religious red herrings, nor useful.

Marriage is a social convention, it is not an expectation. Conventions change over time. The act of sex is biological; to make it an act sanctioned by social convention is not just futile, but emotionally crippling to some because of the guilt, shame, public humiliation and worse, death in some cases. It is immoral and unethical. The same people holding out for public condemnation of pre and extra marital sex come out just as strongly against the “honour killings”. I give no creedence to such people because they spend their lives being outraged, without considering how closely their beliefs match the ones held by the objects of their outrage. Frankly, I am outraged that they are outraged.

The other aspect of this exercise, this societal prioritization of a personal affirmation, is the feeling that something should be done to make people conform to a code of behavior. Now, that is perfectly acceptable when we are talking about personal property and bodily harm. We do not and should not condone theft or murder. In these cases, however, there is the element of harm caused to someone. If I have my wallet stolen, it causes me loss, if someone hits me it cause me pain.

What is the harm done to the next door neighbors when a couple live together without “marriage”? What is the harm done to anyone?

When you can explain that – come talk to me.

< Some of you are wondering why this post was not written by the Slo-Man or the PeevedPunjabi, the two writers normally entrusted with this kind of thing. The answer is simple. I, the LastWord feel so strongly about it that at our daily blogger scrum, I overruled their objections and took it  upon myself. >

Here is what I think:

People have absolutely no fucking business even discussing whether some one should or should not have sex, before, during or after marriage, as long as they are two (or more ) consenting adults.

Get a freaking life! 

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  1. fairypankti

    I totally agree with you. Sex and marriage are the kind of decisions that should be taken solely by the involved couple. It’s none of others’ business. Why should I care if A & B decides live in “sin”? 😛

    1. TheLastWord

      Yep! But the world is full of busy bodies who love to poke their noses into others affairs.

  2. chsuresh63

    Just as a logical point – a pact cannot be violated before it is entered into – but, if it is a tacit assumption by the parties entering into the contract that the other party has not had any premarital sex and it is well-known that such shall be the assumption, THEN the pact, when entered into, is ab initio being violated, unless the information is specifically given to the other party so that an informed consent or negation can be made. A lot of social contracts are entered into based on tacit assumptions fostered by Society and, thus, it is a deceit practiced on the other individual not if premarital sex is indulged in but if he/she is not informed of it before. Where the assumptions have changed, there is no real problem.
    As for WHETHER Society should be at all involved in these things, much can be argued one way or the other. Ours has been a Society where family used to mean a lot more than the nuclear family – with all its attendant duties. In other words, if a sister’s children are orphaned it was expected that the brother would be responsible for their welfare from then on – and things like that. When you depend on others as a safety net THEN you can hardly cavil if they enter your personal life and its decisions. Again – when THAT dependence is not exercised, exerted or, indeed, if Society absolves the family from the responsibility in such cases, there is no real need for Society to enter into individual choices or judge them.
    There are a lot of inter-related rights, duties and responsibilities in any Society. A lot of them are unfair; and a lot of rights are claimed even when the duties and responsibilities are eschewed. THAT, though, is a knife that cuts both ways. Much like a brother may exert his right to choose the groom of his sister but walk away from the responsibilities of his nephews, a daughter may spit in the face of her parents and choose to live together with someone but walk right back and expect them to support her as a single mother. If you truly choose total independence, all choices can be yours. If you will choose interdependence, then you may need to pay heed to the people around you. True, there can be people who support your freedom and, yet, stay ready to support you in case you need it later. But THEY are rare; indeed, as rare as someone who would forgo his own choice in order to keep his parents happy 🙂
    The point of all that was not a diatribe against sexual freedom. The point is that most people who ask for the freedom are not willing to take on the complete responsibility for their choices. The choice should be yours, yes, but the responsibility for the outcome of the choice is yours as well. As long as that is understood, no-one should question your choices.

  3. Preeti

    Agree with your take. People should not be thrusting their morals or preferences on others.
    At the same time, we don’t live in a social vacuum, and I agree with Suresh above that with freedom comes responsibility. Just as one party reserves the right to make their own sexual choices, they should respect the right of the second party to make an informed choice. Thus, in my opinion, disclosures should be made before taking the relationship to the next level. I don’t mean that one should give full details about how many partners, when, where, how, etc. but I think just enough information should be shared so that the other party can make an informed decision. If you cannot talk frankly with them about your life philosophies, then in my opinion, there is a fundamental problem with the relationship.
    My $0.02.