In most of the cultures, sex before marriage was tabooed historically; however, today it is an accepted norm in almost all Western societies. The act of fornication; sex between two unmarried persons and adultery; sex where either of the two or both partners are married, for all practical purposes is no more a cognizable offense.
Abstinence-only sex education, promoting sexual abstinence until marriage and comprehensive sex education, which in addition also envisages use of contraceptives, are quite in vogue in the West today.
According to a 2001 UNICEF survey, in 10 out of 12 developed nations with available data, more than two third of young people have had sexual intercourse while still in their teens. We here in Pakistan like many other Muslim countries, barring Turkey and Azerbaijan consider it not only sinful; it is also a crime under the Pakistan Penal Code.
The concept of “zina” has strong religious/moral connotations as in all the four Sunni and two Shia schools of thought, both premarital as well as extramarital sex, constitutes “zina”. In Islam, “zina” is prescribed for both Muslim and non-Muslim, married or un-married men and women if they indulge in intercourse without wedlock. However, to prove that the offense has been committed is extremely difficult, as it requires four respectable and practicing Muslims who have “clearly” seen the penetration.
Although a number of surveys have been conducted in the West on the prevalence of premarital sex, no data is available in Pakistan. We do not know about the incidence of premarital sex for two reasons. One, no serious effort has ever been made to conduct an objective survey on sexual practices. Second, the area is too sensitive and carries its risks for the one revealing the information, particularly the fair sex. At best we can make a calculated guess.
Sex is a strong human drive which serves the function of ensuring the continuity of the human species. However, the evolution of pleasure centers in the brain has also made it an act which is performed not only for reproduction but also for seeking pleasure. Sexual development begins early in life. Despite having no awareness about the intricacies of sex, the preadolescents do get ample opportunities to interact with the opposite sex and curiously engage in exploring each others’ physical features, rather secretively; under a bed or behind a door. Many of the preadolescents are also exposed to situations where they observe their parents or some older people indulging in “strange” rather “shameful” behavior. At adolescence, the psychological curiosity is supplemented by visible changes in the physical features which further deepen the quest to delve into the realm of sexuality. The psychological correlates of love and romance further enhance the strife to engage in love play while information on sex is desperately sought from whatever available sources; from a close acquaintance to the internet.
At this stage, the male adolescent frequently experiences a strong urge to engage in a sexual relationship with a female; she generally happens to be a neighbor or a close blood relation. The female, on the other hand has much greater inhibitions, as a sexual act can result in not only loss of virginity; it also entails chances of pregnancy which may prove disastrous. However, availability of contraceptives and birth control methods has considerably relaxed the stiff attitudes towards premarital sex.
Presently, almost every male and female adolescent is aware of the availability of methods to avert a pregnancy. Moreover, the availability of prostitutes has further opened ways and means for males to engage in sexual activity before marriage. Hence it can be conjectured, to be on the lower side, that at least 35 to 40 percent of Pakistan’s male population has experienced sexual intercourse before marriage. On the other hand we can safely assume that 15 to 20 percent of females have had sexual intercourse before marriage, though female sexuality is significantly repressed in our society. We can further speculate that around 30 percent males and 20 percent females do engage in a sexual activity before marriage with a partner of the same sex.
Despite fears and apprehensions, the fantasies and pleasures attached to sexual activity are too strong to inhibit the powerful drive.
In rural settings where women work in fields along with their men folk, the chances of getting involved with a member of the opposite sex are ample. A suitable place in the cornfields or behind the bush is not difficult to find, hence despite societal taboos the incidence of premarital sex is not uncommon. Often we read the news of a young lonely female at home when a young male intruded in the house to “commit” a sex crime. It is much later that it is found that it was a consensual relationship, but when caught the girl would lay the entire blame on the “unwanted intruder”. In our old cities where roofs are attached with a small wall in between, it is easier to develop a relationship with the girl next door. And meet her later, at a park or a restaurant. Although the main problem remains that of finding a suitable private place, occasionally the “baithak” or business premises of a close friend is available. Another phenomenon has also appeared in our cities; a number of families from the lower middle class provide accommodation to couples who prefer not to go to a hotel or a guest house where a certain amount of risk always persists.
The uppermost class of our society generally does not face the moral dilemma of the middle class. They have lavish opportunities and little guilt. Mutual understanding and consent is all what is required; from the posh bungalows of Defense to elite private guest houses, space is no problem.
Today everybody from a small village to a metropolitan city is fully aware of contraceptives. The old view of preserving one’s virginity to avoid embarrassment on the first night is largely gone. However to cash in on the obsolete idea of bleeding during the post-nuptial intercourse, which in our culture is still regarded as a proof of virginity by many, some cosmetic surgery clinics in Lahore and Karachi even perform hymenoplasty or hymen reconstruction surgery.
Today, our young generation, better informed to understand the role of sex in our lives and better equipped to prevent themselves from the hazards of unsafe sex is considerably active in their pursuit of pleasure through premarital sex. However, it is all the more important for parents, intelligentsia and enlightened members of the society to recognize the importance of sex education, particularly safe sex ,and do not presume on their own that the young ones would not indulge in premarital sex simply because they should not. In today’s world, where there are so many stimulants and opportunities at the same time, the significance of sex education, including preventive measures and safeguarding oneself from exploitation at the hands of professional thugs plus psychological counseling has increased manifold. Hence instead of burying one’s head in the sand, the challenges of modern day life have to be faced head-on.