Sexuality Culturally, sexual feelings are usually not expressed or discussed with others, other than intimate long-time associates belonging to the same sex and same age group. However, the culture does not prescribe any specific ways by which a person can deal with his sexual maturation, drives, and problems of sexual behaviour. The individual feels his way into this domain of life as he can, with a little help from grandparents or perhaps during adolescence with help from peers, and from observation. In Bangladesh, a child or young person gets no training in sexual matters from parents. To complement this, certain kinship and fictive kinship provide this in an informal way.
In the classical literature of the Bharatbarsha (Indian subcontinent) the life cycle is represented in the concept of asrama-dharma, or the ideal of life stages, in which one's dharma or right action varies according to the stages of life. As in most other peasant societies, the accepted stages of life in Bangladesh are closely linked with expectations about sexual behaviour and reproduction. A further feature in Bangladesh is that the expected behaviours in different stages for males and females are highly contrastive and from childhood they are socialised for gender roles which have very little overlap. The so-called asrama scheme of life stages given in the ancient sanskrit texts is a theoretical ideal, developed particularly for males.
The first asrama, brahmachar, is the stage in which a boy would start his education. The term brahmacharya in modern Indian languages means continence. Classical education for the child at this age gives no latitude for joys and pleasures of life, for these are idealised as kama (love and aesthetics) which are the qualities of the next asrama garhasthya, which is the stage of household responsibilities including bibaha (marriage) and worldly affairs. Kama has a large place in the garhasthya stage. The third asrama, banaprastha, is the stage of retirement from worldly affairs. Sexual activity or procreation at this stage is not considered appropriate. In Bangladesh, continence is expected in adolescence, an exuberant sexuality is acceptable in young adulthood, and decline of sexual activity is expected in middle age considerably in both males and females. Despite the sexual repression in the adolescent stage, the importance of libido is recognised. Pervading presence of libido in the middle age is also recognised as an important part of life.
In a traditional Muslim family, a child of age from 7 to 10 is fit to receive training in prescribed religious practices, and the training is gentle. A boy's musalmani (circumcision), if not already done, is arranged by age 6 or 7. During later childhood and adolescence, training may be harsher. This training includes socialisation.
In ancient Bharatbarsha (India) an unusual amount of attention was paid to the development and socialisation of the child. islam provides intense socialisation of the child in early life through insistence on the mother staying home and breast-feeding. This has the effect of prolonging the nurturing stage so that the child develops the qualities of trust, hope, confidence and autonomy that lead to satisfactory subsequent stages of life. It is assumed in theory that all children are malleable enough to be socialised into the rules and responsibilities of the Islamic social order. The young Bengali child of 3-5 years of age begins to learn the hierarchical roles that support the social structure. He becomes enmeshed in the kinship and social system, as he learns kinship and fictive kinship terms and how to apply them. He learns the proper attitudes of respect or friendship appropriate for elder and younger relatives.
A female child has to be dressed earlier than a male child. The exposure of the sex organ of a female child is more shameful than that of a male child. A girl reaches maturity several years earlier than a boy. While girls require covering the upper part of their body at the age of 6 or 7 years, boys may play naked upto about 10 years.
By the balya (late childhood) stage, gender identity is so well established that children usually choose playmates of the same sex. During this stage they become conscious that they should avoid much friendship with members of the opposite sex. The child comes to identify himself with the same-sex parent. In the later balya stage children develop some shame in having close relations with children of the opposite sex. In a particular Bengali ritual, a girl gets a formal girl friend as sai and a boy a formal boy friend known as dosta.
A girl who has not yet had the first menstruation is nabalika (minor), but once she has it, she becomes sabalika (adult). During adolescence, gender role expectations become exaggerated. It is not shameful for a male to look at the body of a female with sensuous eyes; on the contrary, it is the female who bears the shame when a male looks at her. But a young female who looks sensually at the body parts of a male brings shame to herself. If a young male expresses his sensual pleasure to his peers in such a situation, they would share his pleasure. But if a girl expresses pleasure at seeing a male's physical features, her girl friends would criticise her for being shameless.
Adolescent youth enmeshed in the culture do not become delinquent for the most part, but there is restlessness, which is intensified by mutual communication among peers. Many youths do have sexual experience before marriage, both in rural and urban areas, but most usually do not have that before marriage. Muslims believe that masturbation is a gunah (sin), while there is a general opinion that it is harmful for health. Because of restrictions on heterosexual contacts between sabalak and sabalika, some have repeated fantasies of a particular desired partner with whom they have imaginary coitus, accompanied by lubrication and masturbation. Post-puberty males and females may have swapnadosh (wet dreams). Usually it is through nocturnal emission that boys experience their first ejaculation. Swapnadosh is shameful but unlike masturbation nocturnal emission is thought to be involuntary and therefore, does not induce much guilt.
Prior to marriage a person maintains self-control for the izzat (honour) and prestige of self, parents and members of the community. Social control of sexual behaviour has two phases for both males and females. The first is where a nabalak is controlled by parents, family, and lineage elders, which extends through the kaishore (pre-puberty) stage. It is left to the parents and other family elders to train one who is considered too young to take full responsibility for his actions. The second phase of the social control is where a sabalak is controlled by members of the community, in addition to parents and elders. Religion is an important means of sexual control for Muslims.
Since colonial times prostitution as a trade has been given legal sanction. In urban areas the responsible City Corporation may issue a license for such trade. While considered immoral, it is not in the strict sense illegal. The law intervenes if someone is abducted for unlawful or immoral purpose.
Homosexuality is a stigmatised behaviour for both sexes. A male engaging in it is not always punished, but he becomes the object of jokes, ridicule, ostracism and discrimination by the members of the community. To a minor partner it means only shame. For an adult, it means loss of position, disgrace, shame and guilt. Homosexuality is prohibited by religion and is an act of vice and moral degradation. However, isosexual activities in the sense of casual exploration and play, need not necessarily be thought of as leading to development of permanent homosexual preference.
It appears that many people do not care to follow the religious principles, though they might state piously that violation of these principles would incur punishment in the after-world. But they care about punishment in this world, which occurs when the offence are made public issues and elders have to display their piety and authority by inflicting punishment. The elders impose guilty feelings on all those having erotic emotions toward a person who is not a spouse. The elders thus ignore these emotions and prefer to support the social norms and stereotyped preference of sexual behaviour within marriage.
Parents arrange the marriage of their son when he is fully grown. Elders feel that a young man should be married at the right time, lest he indulge in illicit coitus. They think that if he is married a few years after reaching sexual maturity, he remains satisfied with the company of his wife, pays more attention to family welfare, and tries to earn more. Until a son becomes an earning member of the family his parents do not usually take initiative to arrange his marriage. Earlier, the minimum legal age of marriage in Bangladesh for females was sixteen and for males eighteen (Muslim Family laws Ordinance 1961). Through a Government Order in 1984, the minimum legal age of marriage in the country has been fixed at eighteen for girls and twenty one for boys. But the law is often violated especially, in the rural areas of Bangladesh.
The long-established preference for a son over a daughter does affect the self-esteem of girls. Girls are socialised to think, feel, and act appropriate to their future role as housewives, and they hardly conceive of any other role. Boys foresee themselves in activities and occupations outside the homestead. A girl is expected to begin learning proper decorum for a female before the end of balyakal (childhood), so she can play the part well once puberty sets in. According to Muslim tradition, a girl should be protected and cared for, and socialised to grow up to be a mother who treats her own children with the same care and protection. A girl's sexuality through childhood and youth is characterised by progressive socially enforced renunciation, so in motherhood a woman's erotic impulses are often highly restrained and confined. But this may not inhibit actual sexual and reproductive performance. Some burdens are put on women by the culture, such as feeling of pollution from menstrual blood and childbirth. It gives rise to the symbolic importance of a woman's purity in maintaining the social status of a family.
Virginity in women at the time of first marriage is highly expected. Shame or shyness is a necessary quality for a young bride. The husband is the controlling authority, and the wife remains dependent on him for knowledge of various worldly matters. A married woman usually does not indicate her wish to have coitus with her partner. She waits for sexual initiative from him. Psychologically, she remains prepared to surrender to him and does not play an active role while engaging in coitus.
According to the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939, a Muslim woman may initiate a divorce on grounds of (1) lack of knowledge of the husband's whereabouts for 4 years; (2) failure of the husband to provide maintenance for 2 years, whether he is unwilling or unable; (3) sentence of imprisonment of the husband for 7 years or more; and (4) failure without reasonable cause to perform his marital obligations for 3 years or more. Thus, coitus and maintenance by husband are the main factors thought to keep the conjugal partner together.
Socially, it is shameful for a couple to procreate after their own child is married, and it is also something of an embarrassment to their grown child. An old person is venerated as a carrier of wisdom and treated with almost religious devotion. It is expected that a person in this stage lose interest in coitus and procreation. [KMA Aziz and Faiz Karim]