Every teenager with the onset of adolescence goes through the phases of bodily self-discovery and that was the case with me too. This process of self-discovery where we find pubic hairs on our body, titillation caused by the touching of the genital parts, and basic ideas about sex, pregnancy, masturbation and eventually love are things that herald our maturity. The myth of the birds and the bees is broken and we realise that no flying storks have dropped us into this world. It does create a sort of existential crisis which is mitigated in the mind only through the mediation of the body. We go from the stage of feeling ‘yuck’ to the stage of feeling ‘yay’.
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What we’re taught in school
The biology class does help and in my school, which was a Christian missionary school, Father Abello, who conducted a life guidance class, told us about how in the process of abortion the foetus is mercilessly dismembered and that’s why it doesn’t have religious sanction. Now I know better about the different stages of embryonic development. But it does require a bit of imagination for a pre-Internet adolescent to comprehend all of it and such was my case too.
The whole idea that my existence in this world is brought about by two people coming together in the intimate union of sex as a component of love appears at first revolting. Especially since it concerns my parents whom I start seeing in a new light. But then pragmatics step in and I’m reconciled to it. I discover that getting pregnant is something more than just two people sleeping together.
The pain of pregnancy
But then the whole idea of pregnancy is also nothing short of a miracle, especially given the pain involved. How can a newborn baby come out of the small vaginal opening? What excruciating agony it must have caused! And then I realise why my mother keeps saying what pain she had to endure to beget me. Recently when a female friend became pregnant I felt helpless that I couldn’t reduce her pain by sharing it. When a friend advocated surrogacy I could understand her. Perhaps the myths and celebrations surrounding pregnancy that society has developed are all to do with helping women withstand this unavoidable painful process through euphoric gestures.
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Nudity is no shame
Allied with the discoveries of sex and pregnancy comes the discovery that nudity in private isn’t something to be abhorred and my body not something I should feel ashamed about. The carnal pleasures of the body are as much part of human life as the cerebral pleasures of the mind. And masturbation isn’t something that should make one feel guilty.
For me, growing up in pre-Internet days, movies and books helped. From English August to Rockford and from Madam Bovary to On Chesil Beach, movies and books respectively brought an understanding that allayed my guilt. I wasn’t doing something criminal and pleasing one’s body shouldn’t make one feel guilty.
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Love is above all
Now what sanctifies all these apparently revolting phenomena? It is love. Behind all these discoveries lies the discovery of love. All these are components of love. Love is not just puppy love. It’s a balm that makes an apparently abhorrent sexual act an act of pleasure without guilt. One has to love oneself and love others too. Thereby we accept a kind of reversal: when we’re born we first have relationships with certain people whom we start loving later. But after adolescence we first start loving and then enter into relationships with people.
So adolescence is a kind of rebirth, because it made me realise why love is so important in our lives. Without love, this reversal, this gaining of maturity cannot occur. Moreover, as I discovered my body, I found that my identity is intrinsic to my body, as it is to my thoughts and memories. And it’s love that bonds the body and the mind into an everlasting relationship. Falling in love is necessary.