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Last Updated: Monday, 13 October, 2003, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
India sex survey arouses emotions

By Geeta Pandey
BBC correspondent in Delhi

India Today and Outlook magazines
Hot topics on magazine covers
For a country known as the land of the Kama Sutra and its ancient erotic temple carvings, India is surprisingly prudish about sex.

Most families still do not talk about it, while showing affection in public is taboo.

So when a mainstream current affairs magazine recently put a sex survey on its cover, there were a lot of red faces.

The issue of India Today carried some fairly explicit material.

I discussed it with a group of 14-year-olds. As they pored over it, they said it was introducing them to several new concepts.

Geetika Tandon wants to know what a G-spot is while Pranay Manchanda wonders why on earth anyone would want to have sex in front of a mirror.

Kabir Nath offers helpfully: "Maybe they want to see what they are doing."

Arjun Veer Khurana says that only perverts would do something like that - a comment which leads to giggles all around.

But the teenagers all agree it can only benefit them if there is openness about sex.

Alisha Banerjee says putting sex on the cover of family magazines is a good thing as it will force parents to talk to their children about the issues.


But parents are less amused.

India Today is a widely respected family magazine with editions in English, Hindi and many regional languages.

With millions of homes getting it every week, many young children had a chance to rifle through the pages before their parents saw it.

Mallika Shekhwat and Himanshu Malik
Bollywood films are getting bolder

Until the cable television revolution came about in the 1990s, most Indians learnt about sex from coy, oblique references to birds and bees in Bollywood films.

Today, raunchy music videos have taken the issue of sex into the living room and the print media is under pressure to keep pace.

Vinod Mehta is the editor of India Today's rival, Outlook magazine.

He says it is important for the media to be provocative but not offend.

"People in India are quite conservative and they get offended by what they see. Also, sex doesn't sell," he says.

"There's a false notion that stories on sex help your publication. It gives an immediate boost to sales but you do lose out on your core readers in the long run because they get offended."


And this issue of India Today does seem to have offended.

Parents say they can put their children to bed before the popular American TV series Sex and the City is shown on cable, but don't know how to deal with a respectable magazine when it suddenly carries explicit pictures on its cover.

Captain Harminder Singh and Neelu are parents to 11-year old Harleen. They say they did not buy the magazine when they saw it on the stands.

Rajni Palriwala
If children get the wrong messages, it's because the parents will not talk to them openly
Rajni Palriwala, sociologist

"It was shocking; it was quite open. The pictures were very explicit. I do talk to my daughter about sex but I felt I wasn't ready to give the magazine to her yet," Captain Singh says.

"Media have to be more careful what they are dealing with. They should not confuse the kids."

Mukesh Jain is the general secretary of the Federation of Parents' Associations in Delhi and also father to two teenage children.

He says he was appalled by the cover picture. "It's not a kind of magazine I can have in my office [or] leave alone at home. It's vulgar, it's bad, it shouldn't be shown to children."

Angry letters from readers have appeared in subsequent issues of India Today.

Of particular concern were the editions in Indian languages.

Outlook editor Mr Mehta says terms for some sexual practices often have no direct equivalent in these languages "so you have to spell them out. And they become more vulgar and descriptive when you translate them into Hindi or Tamil".

Family matter

India Today agrees it was a bold issue.

A spokeswoman for the magazine says it may have harmed the sensibilities of some conservative readers, but that it also received lots of letter from readers praising the magazine for bringing the subject out of the closet.

In India, sex is not normally discussed within families.

Rajni Palriwala, a sociologist at Delhi University, says: "There's too much hypocrisy in our society. Families sit together and watch Hindi films which are full of obscene innuendos.

"And children are not stupid, they know a lot. They know their parents have sex and if children get the wrong messages, it's because the parents will not talk to them openly about it."

Professor Palriwala says the pictures in India Today may have an element of titillation, but if putting sex on the cover of a family magazine stops it being a dirty word, it might not be such a bad idea.

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