Learning about sex, flirting, and searching for romance are some of the ways the internet and sexuality cross paths for young women in Mumbai, according to the findings of a major study from India’s largest city.
In India, internet use has skyrocketed among the under 25s, and at 27 percent, the state of Maharashtra including Mumbai has more female users than anywhere else in the country. But up until this study there hasn’t been a whole lot of information on how the internet affects their sexual health and sexuality.
So researchers surveyed 150 young adults aged 18 to 25 from different parts of Mumbai and interviewed another 31 to look at their online habits. The work was part of the EROTICS study which looked at sexuality, the internet, and the rights of those who use it in five countries around the world.
Searching for romance
Sixty percent of Indians think the internet’s a great spot to meet that special someone – that’s more than in any other country. So it’s no surprise that finding casual romance by social networking and searching for a spouse on matrimonial sites are very popular online activities for young Mumbai women.
Everyone seems to know someone who met their husband on a matrimonial site – whether the match worked out wonderfully, or not quite – and almost all of the women interviewed said they’d visited the most popular, Shaadi.com, even if it was only to satisfy their curiosity.
Flirting with a stranger
For some, filling out their profile is a family affair, and it’s not uncommon for clashes to arise between traditional values and modern realities, for example when it comes to how a woman dresses in the picture she uploads.
Young women looking for casual relationships are more likely to turn to social networking sites like Facebook or Orkut. There’s something exciting and flattering about flirting with a stranger who’s sent you a friend request, they confide, and in posting sexy profile pics, whether it’s wearing tight-fitting jeans or posing like a Bollywood star. Plus, there’s the very real hope that a connection online could turn into a friendship, or something more, in real life (see box).
Learning about sex
Pornography is a heated topic when it comes to sex and the net, but for these young women, it’s no big deal, with less than half seeing it as harmful. And it’s definitely not only guys who are into it – women watch porn too, they say, they’re just more secretive about it, bringing it up with their girlfriends at kitty parties or sleepovers.
Blue videos are seen as something that can spice things up in an intimate relationship. But for many women they’re also a way to learn what sex is all about. As one put it, “You don’t want to look like a fool in front of your husband on your wedding night.”
In fact, the internet is one of the main sources for answers to questions on sexuality and sexual health for young Mumbai women
“There are some things they don’t teach you about and which you need to find out about,” an 18 year old explained in one of the interviews.
“Like one of my friends, for example, did some stuff with her boyfriend and she wanted to know how to use emergency contraception – you know, those ads you see for the i-pill. So we went to the internet and looked for it. A lot of people look online for these things, where else will they go? You can’t ask friends, as they will spread it around. You don’t trust anybody in these things.”
It’s the anonymous and unregulated nature of the internet and the fact that it’s pretty much unlimited in terms of information that makes it possible for young women to think about sexual health and sexuality in ways they might not be able to offline, say the study’s authors.
Five steps to finding a date online
Young women who use social networking sites to find romantic partners say these steps lead to a date, and make sure they stay safe.
1. Make sure he’s who he says he is by checking out his online Facebook or Orkut profile first.2. Exchange emails to get to know him, but don’t give any personal information yet.3. Is there a connection? Keep up the emails to be sure you two are compatible.4. Chatting over the phone is the logical next step.5. If everything’s gone well, meet up to see if there’s real-life chemistry. (But first, don’t miss these safety tips!)
Additional photo: screenshot Shaadi.com/Love Matters