Before I got married, the non-Pakistani people in my life knew to leave my body alone
. If I wanted to talk about my body and what I did with it (whether it be sex, working out, weight, etc.), it was at my discretion and usually with only my closest group of friends. In my Pakistani family and community, the only comments I ever really faced were brash – yet expected – comments about my weight made by aunties that, while referencing to my weight gain, would fill my plate up with samosas and parathas while exclaiming that I was starving myself and would lose my already too-small breasts if I starved myself too long.
I always took their comments with a grain of salt. Aunties are just so loveable and usually come from a good place, so their impudent comments on our weight had a very little effect on the younger females in my family and community.
So imagine my surprise when, as my wedding drew closer, all bets were off. Suddenly, my mother and aunties wanted to talk about sex, bearing children, masturbation, and more. This was something that caught me completely off guard because I had never even received a birds and the bees talk when I hit puberty.
While growing up, sex was never mentioned, talked about, or seen on TV (so imagine the awkwardness when we would all go to the movies together in a world without smartphones, and us younger ones had to pretend to study the back of our hands or pick lint off of our shirts as people dry humped on screen).
Also, in my late teens, my “Cosmopolitan” magazines were secretly thrown away in the trash before I had even seen them (although, in retrospect, that’s probably where they belonged in the first place… but I digress). If I were to compare the fear of sex or sex references to something utterly ridiculous, I would go so far as to say that sex was like Voldemort: a looming, dark secret that hovered around but was never named.
In fact, the most intimate thing about my body I had ever shared with my mom was the beginning of my period – and even though she explained how to use pads and perform the obligatory rituals after my period ended in order to be pure enough to pray again (another problematic subject for another time), she never explained why I was bleeding profusely from my vagina.
When my younger sisters got their periods, it was my job to explain the logistics of pads, tampons, and ritual cleansing.
It’s almost like sex, sexuality, and everything that came with them was part of a secret club that I suddenly became a part of when I got engaged.
As my wedding drew closer, I learned that apparently, it’s a cultural tradition to tease the future bride-to-be about her impending sex life.
Bhabis (wives of older cousins), aunties, and already married cousins were relentless in their teasing.
The comments came flooding in.
“Are you excited about your first night together? You are going to have so much fun!”
“Have you looked online for tips and tricks? You’ll want to make sure you please him on your wedding night.”
“You won’t get out of bed for days if you don’t have to.”
I was supposed to be the bashful, supposedly virgin bride-to-be. And my embarrassment over the comments about my body and sex life with my husband-to-be could have aided in my being mistaken for one.
Their teasing was the least of my worries, however. They were my older sisters, in a sense – teasing was warranted.
It was around this time when I learned many off-putting things as well. For example, during wedding preparations, one of my close friends asked me if I was going to wear the Pakistani bridal gown in the traditional color of red. When I replied that I would, she giggled as she told me why brides wear red on the Shaadi day.
To my dismay, I found out that red symbolized the blood to be spilled later on in the night.
And as I donned myself in the 35-pound dress that marked the end of my “still intact” virginity on our wedding day, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people out of the 300 that attended were thinking I was going to get laid that night.
Thankfully, my husband and I decided to forgo a larger walima – a celebratory feast that marks the beginning of the marriage and the consummation of it. During our small walima with just his immediate family and mine, I was happy to know that there weren’t hundreds of people thinking about the fact that I had sex the night before.
Little did I know that this would just be the tip of the iceberg that would send the Titanic containing my privacy and intimacy to its destruction.
After our wedding, it was automatically assumed that my husband and I would get pregnant relatively soon. When I experienced my first period as a married woman, both my mother and mother-in-law didn’t hide their disappointment.
Suddenly, everyone was an expert on how to get pregnant.
Upon finding out we were recently married, people would ask us when we were planning on having kids and what we were doing to accomplish this task. They never thought that we might be waiting or thinking about not having kids.
We told people who asked questions – ones that I’ve deemed to be too personal – that we were waiting to get pregnant until after our impending move 3,000 miles away to Arizona and I figured out what to do next in order to make my dreams of acquiring a Ph.D. come true.
Then the lectures would start.
Many people would often tell us if we waited until the right time, then we would never have children. They would list off things about our fertility, ages, my uterus, and his sperm as they figuratively wagged their fingers at us, reminding us that these things will deteriorate before we know it.
I’ve been talked to as if I’m a stupid child, unaware of my body and the consequences of time, actions, and more.
Since my future career plans were part of the reason as to why we were waiting, the pressure to abandon my dreams started to surmount. Comments about how it was my obligation to my husband, marriage, and family to have children over waiting for me made me feel guilty and selfish. Many people told me to kiss my dreams goodbye as soon as we decide to have children (as if that would push me to get pregnant ASAP…).
This guilt was further perpetuated when I would get lectures on my diet, weight, and smoking habits. There have been plenty of times in which a group of people have ganged up on me and have condescendingly told me to quit while asking why I smoke in their patronizing tones.
My reaction now has become the same. In the same exact tone as theirs, I ask them if they would like unsolicited advice on their sex lives, body, or diet.
“Would you like me to comment on what you do with your body when it’s none of my damn business,” has become my absolute favorite line.
And it’s because I’m sick of it.
I’m sick of women being made to think that they have to be a certain body ideal in order to find a partner. And when they do find partners, I’m sick of them being forced to put their private lives on display when it should be nobody’s business whether they want children or not.
I’m sick of women’s bodies being a subject of speculation – and no, even if it’s on the topic of reproduction, it doesn’t make it right unless these women actually want to talk about it.
I’m sick of women who want to wait – or don’t even want – to have children being made to feel guilty for it.
And I’m sick of women being made to feel guilty about their bodies when they have a hard time conceiving, while they are subjected to endless advice on how they can conceive (as if they haven’t tried everything already!).
In my experience, it seems like that, unless you’re open to talking about your sex life and body with anybody who brings it up; have an ideal body type with a great diet; are willing to give up your dreams and career; and reproduce at the perfect age (whatever that is) soon after getting married; you’re screwed.
How about we stop.