What Lies Beneath

How not to go about a sex survey of small-town India

01 January 2013
If the latest magazine sex survey is to be believed, small town India is filled with sexually experimental and supremely satisfied men and women.
DANIEL BEREHULAK / GETTY IMAGES
If the latest magazine sex survey is to be believed, small town India is filled with sexually experimental and supremely satisfied men and women.
DANIEL BEREHULAK / GETTY IMAGES

"AMDAVAD SEXY CHHE?” This was 70-year-old Kantaben’s response to an India Today reporter who told her the magazine’s 2004 sex survey had declared her city India’s “most erotic”. But it was an expression of pride, not surprise: she told the reporter with a chuckle that when she, at 20, had married into a large joint family, she had “an insatiable appetite for sex”.

Meant to assess the sexual decadence of India’s biggest cities, the magazine’sannual survey—whose first edition in 2003 shook up the Indian English media and its readership—found in its first year that women in Ahmedabad, among the five Tier 1 cities on the list, rated the importance of sex at 4 on a scale of 5, against a national average of 3.5. In its second outing, it determined that 69 percent of men in the city were very happy with their sex lives—and 72 percent of those men believed women were as enthusiastic about sex as they were.

The magazine presented this and similar data as radical discoveries. This claim of novelty was based on what appeared to be two correlated assumptions that are common across high-profile sex surveys: first, traditional societies aren’t big on sex, and second, the trappings of modernity lead directly to individual sexual freedoms. (The survey of single Indian women the next year asked participants if working women were more likely to be sexually promiscuous.)

Snigdha Poonam  was previously  an editor at The Caravan. She has written for a number of publications, including the New York TImes, The Guardian and Granta.

Keywords: condom brands small-town India modernity Tier 2 cities statistics India Today-Nielsen Survey sex surveys
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