Usha Sharma (name changed on request) has been married for 12 years. She’s 35 and has been trying for children for over five years – a ritual that she confesses has taken the excitement and intimacy out of her relationship with her banker beau, making sex dull, always on schedule, accompanied by boring doctor visits and bitter pills and a timetable like the precision of physical chemistry.
The boredom of constant travelling that she has to undergo as a busy marketing professional coupled with the rigours of life in Mumbai has taken a toll on her as a person too. “All around me, women are having affairs. They are so bored with the static and stagnant nature of their marriages or the lack of an emotional and physical connection, post-kids,’ says Usha who bumped into a man five years her junior at an overseas marketing conference a year back.
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“It was an instant attraction. And I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I had stopped feeling this rush with my husband since years and even though ours had been a love marriage, over time and especially since our mother-in-law moved in – it was pretty much just responsibilities and the rigmarole of balancing work and life.”
She adds, “We got talking at lunch, and were from the same MBA college and had a lot in common. We exchanged numbers and post-lunch, we couldn’t keep our fingers off the phone. We decided to meet for drinks and one thing led to another and we had a night of just fabulous sex.” She says of their night together: “It was like fireworks and apart from the most stimulating conversation, it was like being desired for being a woman – something I had forgotten with my hubby. I could tell Sparsh (name changed) what I wanted in bed and we weren’t afraid of pushing our boundaries.”
But, says Usha, both of them were clear that they weren’t interested in taking this long term and giving it the label of a relationship. “We never added each other on social media, and I blocked him the minute I got back home. It was a one-night stand, but God knows I needed it. I have no regrets and haven’t told my husband either…and while I miss Sparsh, I won’t break my marriage just for some great sex.”
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Unlike a lot of Indian women who have raised on a morally puritanical diet of pati parmeshwar and sati savitri, Usha probably unveils one of the other aspects of modern Indian marriages – one that involves cheating partners and zero emotional baggage or excess guilt. In Usha’s case, she is clear that her fling has helped her overcome her sexual inertia.
In 2014, Ashley Madison, a global dating website for those who are married or already in a relationship was launched in India and conducted a survey that startlingly revealed that 76% of Indian women and 61% of men don’t think that infidelity is a sin or is immoral. What’s more, 81% of men and 68% of women claimed that their affair has had a positive effect on their marriage. “We have around 2.75 lakh Indian users without doing any marketing,” says Christoph Kreamer, European communications director, AshleyMadison.com. The dating service makes it clear that it doesn’t promote extra-marital hook-ups but hopes to enable married Indians who are seeking ‘safe and discreet online opportunities to have affairs like their peers in the US and Japan.’
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In a fast-paced digital world, where intimacy is about giving in to physical urges and getting rid of boredom in conventional relationships, Pradeep Nair (name changed on request), a 45-year-old married man says a one-night stand is like a breath of fresh air. “In India, a lot of marriages these days are open, and people are quite accepting of morality is a personal choice. Also dating apps and WhatsApp and other free chat services have made it easier to hookup. I had casual sex with a woman I met on Facebook and once both of us were clear that it was just hormones, there was no pressure to take it to the next level,” he admits.
One can’t help but wonder if a one-night stand can be forgiven in a marriage and if there is truly any guarantee that it will not escalate into a full-blown affair that will corrode a long-standing relationship. Also, let’s face it, adultery; be it in our society or our scriptures are always atoned as a cardinal sin – something that also calls for legal punishment if caught red-handed. And yet, can sex be just that – pleasure, with permission in some cases – and not necessarily be burdened with the label of promiscuity?