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Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Anxieties: Middle-class males in western India and the correspondence in Samaj Swasthya, 1927–53*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2017

Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, United Kingdom Email:
Department of History, Dartmouth College, United States of America Email:


This article examines letters written by young men to the Marathi-language journal Samaj Swasthya and its editor, R. D. Karve, a major advocate of birth control and sex education in western India. The letters, and Karve's responses to them, constituted perhaps the earliest sex-advice column in Indian print media. We argue here that the correspondence provides a unique vehicle for understanding the forms of sexual knowledge held by middle-class males in mid-twentieth-century India as well as for appreciating their most significant sexual anxieties. The article analyses the concerns expressed in the letters about masturbation and seminal emissions, the nature of the female body and processes of conception, birth control and same-sex sexual practices. It particularly illuminates the ways in which the concept of modern conjugality pervaded the sexual understandings of the young men who wrote to Karve. It thus offers valuable insights into specifically sexual aspects of conjugality and masculinity—aspects that have previously been unexplored.

Research Article
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Funding for the research upon which this article is based was provided by the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College. The article is also based upon research that Shrikant Botre has been conducting on sexual modernity in Maharashtra for his Ph.D. degree at the University of Warwick. This article was presented in a very preliminary form in a seminar at Dartmouth College, in a panel at the South Asia Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, and in a lecture at Oxford University between October 2012 and January 2013. We wish to thank participants and attendees at all of these occasions for their comments; comments from Richard Kremer, Peggy Darrow, Srimati Basu, and Rosalind O'Hanlon have particularly influenced our revisions. We also wish to thank Rachel Berger, Lesley Hall, Nisha Kommattam, Abigail McGowan, Durba Mitra, Shailaja Paik, Ishita Pande, Luzia Savary, and Leo Spitzer, all of whom read drafts of this article closely and offered extensive written or oral comments. We wish to thank Arvind Ganachari and Neeraj Hatekar for originally pointing us to the volumes of Samaj Swasthya in the library of the University of Mumbai campus at Kalina. The libraries of the University of Mumbai and the Mumbai Marathi Grantha Sangrahalaha in Dadar provided access to these volumes. We also wish to thank three anonymous readers for the journal; each made valuable comments that have influenced the final shape of this article. The authors remain responsible for the article's arguments and contents.


1 Here the author seems to be referring to both masturbation and wet dreams.

2 Samaj Swasthya (hereafter SS), year 3, issue 1 (July 1929), pp. 17–18.

3 This article is not the context for discussing fully the literature on the concept of the middle class in colonial India. Suffice it to say, we are referring to a set of individuals who received relatively high levels of education, were mostly from high-caste background, lived mostly in urban areas, and were mostly employed in the literate professions. In his book on Lucknow, Sanjay Joshi stresses the involvement of the middle classes in fashioning a project of modernity as critical to the self-definition of this class. See Joshi, S., Fractured Modernity: Making of a Middle Class in Colonial North India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2001 Google Scholar. The idea of middle-classness was also influenced by caste identification in a way that is not examined here.

4 Hall, L., Hidden Anxieties: Male Sexuality, 1900–1950, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1991 Google Scholar.

5 For a sampling of these works, see Gupta, C., Sexuality, Obscenity, Community: Women, Muslims and the Hindu Public in Colonial India, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2001, pp. 85195 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 277–320; Chowdhury, P., The Veiled Women: Shifting Gender Equations in Rural Haryana, 1880–1990, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1994 Google Scholar; Nair, J., Women and Law in Colonial India, Kali for Women, Delhi, 1996 Google Scholar; Oldenburg, V. T., Dowry Murder: The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002 Google Scholar; and many of the essays in Sangari, K. and Vaid, S. (eds), Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1989, pp. 127–79Google Scholar; Uberoi, P. (ed.), Social Reform, Sexuality and the State, Sage Publications, London, 1996 Google Scholar; John, M. E. and Nair, J. (eds), A Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India, Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1998 Google Scholar; Hodges, S. (ed.), Reproductive Health in India: History, Politics and Controversies, Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2006 Google Scholar; Sarkar, T. and Sarkar, S. (eds), Women and Social Reform in Modern India, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2008 Google Scholar.

6 Puri, J., Woman, Body, Desire in Post-Colonial India: Narratives of Gender and Sexuality, Routledge, London, 1999 Google Scholar.

7 A partial exception to this generalization in the primary literature is Ghurye, G. S., ‘Sex habits of a sample of middle class people of Bombay [first written in 1938]’, in I and Other Explorations, Ghurye, G. S. (ed.), Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1938, pp. 286305 Google Scholar. Ghurye's study focuses narrowly on practices of sexual intercourse among married couples and says only a little about the subjectivity of participants surveyed. An article by Charu Gupta certainly provides a significant exception in the secondary literature on this subject—see Gupta, C., ‘(Im)possible love and sexual pleasure in late-colonial India’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, 2002, pp. 195221 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community, pp. 222–76. Alter's writings have been particularly extensive; see e.g. Alter, J., Moral Materialism: Sex and Masculinity in Modern India, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2011 Google Scholar and Gandhi's Body, Sex, Diet and the Politics of Nationalism, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2000. On Gandhi, see also Appadurai, A., ‘Understanding Gandhi’, in Childhood and Selfhood: Essays on Tradition, Religion and Modernity in the Psychology of Erik H. Erikson, Homans, P. (ed.), Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg, 1978, pp. 113–44Google Scholar (esp. 120–21, 132); Parekh, B., Colonialism, Tradition and Reform: An Analysis of Gandhi's Political Discourse, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1989, pp. 177206 Google Scholar; Rudolph, L. and Rudolph, S., ‘The traditional roots of charisma: Gandhi’, in The Modernity of Tradition, Rudolph, L. and Rudolph, S. (eds), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1967, pp. 192216 Google Scholar. Very recent writings by Rachel Berger, Ishita Pande, and Luzia Savary, all published or written while the authors have been preparing this article, certainly offer some corrective to this picture. See footnote 51.

8 See e.g. many of the stories in Vanita, R. and Kidwai, S., Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2000 Google Scholar; Chugtai, I., ‘The quilt’, in Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Present: Volume II: The Twentieth Century, Tharu, S. and Lalita, K. (eds), The Feminist Press, New York, 1993, pp. 126–37Google Scholar. A brilliant analysis of some of this literature is found in Gupta, ‘(Im)possible love’. Arondekar's, Anjali important book, For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (Duke University Press, Durham, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, provides a compelling treatment of how historians might treat the ‘traces’ of evidence about sexuality that run through the colonial archive.

9 See footnotes 69–73.

10 One partial exception to this generalization is Sarah Hodges's treatment of the politics of sex and reproduction in the Self-Respect Movement in her book, Contraception, Colonialism and Commerce: Birth Control in South India, 1920–1940, Ashgate, Aldershot, Hampshire, 2008, Chapter 3.

11 See e.g. Srivastava, S., Passionate Modernity: Sexuality, Class and Consumption in India, Routledge, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 3978 Google Scholar; Ahluwalia, S., Reproductive Restraints: Birth Control in India, 1877–1947, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2008 Google Scholar; Ahluwalia, S., ‘Scripting pleasures and perversions: writings of sexologists in the twentieth century’, in Sexuality Studies, Srivastava, S. (ed.), Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2013, pp. 2445 Google Scholar. Phadke had a career as professor of philosophy and psychology and novelist, and lived in many different Indian cities but his brief stay in Bombay during 1923–24 was an important one in shaping his ideas on birth control and eugenics; his key work on this subject was also published in the city. For instance, Projit Mukharji has located materials on parallel figures in northern India and Bengal. For Phadke's life, see his autobiographical account, Phadke, N. S., Mazya Sahitya Sevetil Smruti, Continental Book Service, Pune, 1943 Google Scholar. This is not to argue that such discussion was confined to Bombay. There was also apparent overlap between Karve's views and those of Periyar, but their attitudes on caste politics were very different and there is little evidence of any direct interaction. For Periyar, see Hodges, Contraception, Colonialism and Commerce and S. Anandhi, ‘Women's movement in the Dravidian Movement, c. 1925–1948’, in Sarkar and Sarkar, Women and Social Reform in Modern India, pp. 389–404.

12 Fuechtner, V., ‘Indians, Jews and sex: Magnus Hirschfeld and Indian sexology’, in Imagining Germany, Imagining Asia: Essays in Asian-German Studies, Fuechtner, V. and Rhiel, M. (eds), Camden House, New York, 2013, pp. 111–30Google Scholar.

13 Karve's relationship with Pillay may have been a rather competitive one. We do know that Karve had significant correspondence and some personal interaction with figures in the birth-control movement from outside India.

14 Reason, no. 1 (1 December 1938), p. 2.

15 Karve, R. D., Adhunik Kamashastra, 5th edn, Right Agency, Bombay, 1949 [1932], pp. 7682 Google Scholar; Gogate, S., Status of Woman Reflected in Marathi Media (1930–1970): Qualitative Content Analysis of Newspapers and Journals, Shubhada Saraswat Publications, Pune, 1988 Google Scholar, p. 24; SS, year 21, issue 3 (September 1947), p. 50.

16 Karve's stance on this issue was no doubt a position that placed him at odds with many Indian and British feminists, who were involved in critiquing many of the inequities associated with prostitution in India that he himself did not address.

17 He also published pictures of nude men (from back or side views), but argued that placing their pictures on the cover might land him in legal trouble. The colonial administration considered prosecution of publications that printed pictures of European women, but found it very difficult to do so in practice. Heath, D., Purifying Empire: Obscenity and the Politics of Moral Regulation in Britain, India and Australia, 1st South Asian edn, Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 177–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Karve's rationalism led him to be very critical of Marie Stopes for writing in what he saw as an overly poetical style, and for placing emphasis on concepts of ‘spiritual joy’ and ‘soul’, which he felt led her to emphasize non-scientific, emotional criteria. Certainly, we can see little emphasis in Karve's work on the concept of love and affection that was so central in Stopes's writing. See e.g. SS, year 23, issue 4 (October 1949), pp. 94–5.

19 Reason, no. 1 (1 December 1938), p. 1.

20 This is a transliteration of the name in the text as written in Marathi. We have been unable to determine the identity of Dr Ijiye (or for that matter the correct English-language spelling of his/her name). The name may be a misprint.

21 Karve, Adhunik Kamashastra, Preface, p. 6.

22 His reliance on these figures is discussed in our article, ‘Understanding R.D. Karve: Brahmacharya, modernity and the appropriation of sexual science’, to be published in Towards a Global History of Sexual Science, V. Fuechtner, D. E. Haynes, and R. Jones (eds).

23 Karve's other publications include translated stories from French by Guy du Maupassant, some stories about prostitutes in Paris, a book on food science, and one play. But his works on sexual issues are his best-known publications.

24 In 1952, Karve would claim that his book Adhunik Kamashastra and Santati Niyaman had sold more than 10,000 copies each. SS, year 26, issue 3 (September 1952), p. 59.

25 SS, year 10, issue 10 (April 1937), p. 312.

26 When Karve used the term ‘health’, he did include concerns like food, exercise, and other health-related issues, though sexual ‘hygiene’ was always foremost. The journal actually did offer comment on a range of concerns, including contemporary politics, but sex was central.

27 SS, year 1, issue 1 (July 1927), p. 1.

28 One elderly man we interviewed recalled reading the journal when he was around ten years old, having found a secret hiding place in the house where it was kept. The journal disappeared when his family discovered he had been reading it.

29 SS, year 3, issue 1 (July 1929), p. 1.

30 SS, year 26, issue 3 (September 1952), p. 59.

31 The journal was banned in one library in Nasik but the subscription was renewed after a number of readers demanded it.

32 Letters to the editor were certainly published in other journals of the time, so readers may have expected the same would be true in Samaj Swasthya.

33 SS, year 1, issue 10 (April 1928), p. 18.

34 See SS, year 23, issue 9 (March 1950), p. 211; SS, year 24, issue 2 (August 1950), p. 3.

35 SS, year 12, issue 2 (August 1938), p. 59.

36 This question has been regularly raised by attendees at our presentations of earlier versions of this article.

37 For instance, Mahatma Gandhi received large volumes of mail on issues ranging from choice of marriage partners (whether to submit to arranged marriages, for instance) to the appropriateness of birth control and non-procreative sexual activity, and he frequently offered responses to these questions in his journal. Swami Shivananda, author of tracts on brahmacharaya, marriage, and reproduction, whose work will be discussed below in much more detail, reported at one point that he had received two to three lakhs of letters on subjects related to his books. Shivananda, S., Dampatya Rahasya Vidnyan, Lakhani Books, Mumbai, 1972 [1929]Google Scholar), seventh page of introduction. Even Marie Stopes, the British author of a variety of books on sexual matters, received numerous letters from Indian men asking for advice and discussing her theories on sexual matters in addition to the voluminous correspondence she received from men and women living both in Britain and elsewhere in the world.

38 As far as the authors are aware, analysis of letters to sex-advice columnists has not been the subject of significant theoretical formulations.

39 Gandhi characterized many of these letters in journal articles he wrote that have been published in Self-Restraint versus Self-Indulgence, 2nd edn, Navjivan Press, Ahmedabad, 1947.

40 As one writer explicitly stated in opening a letter to Karve in SS, year 2, issue 11 (May 1929), p. 260.

41 SS, year 2, issue 11 (May 1929), p. 260.

42 For the decline of sexually explicit forms of popular culture in urban Calcutta, for instance, see S. Banerjee, ‘Marginalization of women's popular culture in nineteenth-century Bengal’, in Sangari and Vaid, Recasting Women, pp. 127–79.

43 This concern is reflected in a letter published in SS, year 1, issue 10 (April 1928), p. 20.

44 One letter does indicate that the young man involved learned from a teacher. SS, year 3, issue 1 (July 1929), p. 17.

45 Karve, R. D., Klaibyachi Mimamsa [An Analysis of Impotence], Right Agency, Bombay, 1949 Google Scholar, p. 145.

46 The letters make reference to magazines like Unmad [Frenzy] and Masti [Fun]. See SS, year 26, issue 3 (September 1952), p. 59.

47 SS, year 10, issue 7 (January 1937), pp. 209–12.

48 Heath, Purifying Empire, p. 176.

49 Haynes, D. E., ‘Selling masculinity: advertisements for sex tonics and the making of modern conjugality in western India, 1900–1945’, South Asia, vol. 35, no. 4, December 2012, pp. 787831 Google Scholar; see also Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community, pp. 66–83.

50 Several references to such journals are made in the pages of Samaj Swasthya (see footnotes 138 and 139). One of the authors has located a number of such journals published for short periods during the 1940s and 1950s.

51 Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community; Savary, L., ‘Vernacular eugenics? Santati- śāstra in popular Hindi advisory literature, (1900–40)’, South Asia, vol. 37, no. 3, 2014, pp. 381–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar; I. Pande, ‘Time for sex: the education of desire and the conduct of childhood in global/Hindu sexology’, article to be published in Towards a Global History of Sexual Science, Fuechtner, Haynes and Jones (eds); Berger, R., Ayurveda Made Modern: Political Histories of Indigenous Medicine in North India, 1900–1955, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke, 2013, pp. 87104 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, passim.

52 It is possible that one or two of the letters refer to a second Swami Shivananda, who lived in Rishikesh and who wrote mainly in English rather than Marathi (and who was more famous outside Maharashtra). Clearly, the views of the two Shivanandas were similar on some issues such as brahmacharya.

53 Shivananda, S., Brahmacharya Hech Jeevan, Lakhani Books, Mumbai, 2012 Google Scholar (originally published by Jummadada Vyayam Mandir, Baroda, 1922); Manowanchit Santati!: Gruhasthashramache Anubhavsiddha Niyam, 2nd edn, Rashtroddhar Karyalaya, Amravati, 1928; Dampatya Rahasya.

54 Shivananda, Dampatya Rahasya, p. 4 of preface.

55 Shivananda, Manowanchit Santati!, p. 77.

56 Ibid., pp. 173–4.


57 Ibid., pp. 86–93 on child marriage, p. 100 on marriage between girls and older men, and pp. 125–6 on widow remarriage.


58 Ibid., pp. 187–8.


59 Ibid., p. 176.


60 Ibid., p. 214.


61 Ibid., p. 181.


62 Ibid., pp. 288–9.


63 For Gandhi's views, see a wide variety of articles, many drawn from Young India published in Gandhi, Self-Restraint versus Self-Indulgence. These views will be discussed in more depth later in the article.

64 SS, year 12, issue 2 (August 1938), pp. 52–3.

65 In a personal communication, Rachel Berger has mentioned the presence of a Hindi text called the Kokashastra in the British Library. This text was, again, a twentieth-century version, not some reproduction of a fifteenth-century manuscript in unaltered form.

66 One of the authors of this article found multiple copies of books by Stopes and Havelock Ellis from this period in a trip to a used bookstore in Bombay circa 2007.

67 Several of these translations are mentioned in Eaton, P. and Warnick, M., Marie Stopes: A Checklist of Her Writings, Croom Held Ltd, London, 1977 Google Scholar.

68 See footnote 18.

69 Sreenivas, M., Wives, Widows, Concubines: The Conjugal Family Ideal in Colonial India, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2008 Google Scholar; Nair, Women and Law in Colonial India.

70 Sreenivas, M., ‘Creating colonial subjects: Devadasis and the politics of marriage in colonial Madras presidency’, Feminist Studies, vol. 37, no. 1, Spring 2011, pp. 6392 Google Scholar; Nair, Women and Law in Colonial India; and numerous essays in Sarkar and Sarkar, Women and Social Reform.

71 Walsh, J. E., Domesticity in Colonial India: What Men Learned When Women Gave Them Advice, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Maryland, 2004 Google Scholar.

72 McGowan, A., ‘An all-consuming subject: women and consumption in late nineteenth- and early-twentieth century western India’, Journal of Women's History, vol. 18, 2006, pp. 3154 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

73 P. Chatterjee, ‘The nationalist resolution of the women's question’, in Sangari and Vaid, Recasting Women.

74 Haynes, D. E., ‘Masculinity, advertising and the reproduction of the middle-class family in western India, 1918–1940’, in Being Middle-Class in India: A Way of Life, Donner, H. (ed.), Routledge, London and New York, 2011 Google Scholar.

75 Due mainly to incompleteness in the available collections of Samaj Swasthya, we have not been able to consult the entire series, but we believe our discussion is fairly representative of the coverage in the letters.

76 SS, year 17, issue 6 (December 1943), pp. 135–8.

77 Discussion of erectile dysfunction, however, may have been implicit in some questions.

78 SS, year 15, issue 1 (July 1941), pp. 26–9. With some of these questions, Pandhapurkar seemed to be simply looking for confirmation of his own skeptical perspective on such beliefs. Karve responded that such notions were baseless and insisted that most of these folk notions really were moral prescriptions intended to restrict women's behaviour. He agreed with the correspondent that such beliefs were to be found in every society and insisted they were completely non-scientific.

79 This concern remains central in the preoccupations of contemporary Indian males. Dr Mahinder Watsa, a sex columnist in the Mumbai Mirror over the last decade, has indicated that about 50 per cent of the letters he received were concerned with the potential ill effects of masturbation: ‘90-year-old columnist shatters taboos in India’, International New York Times, [accessed 10 February 2017].

80 Neeraj Hatekar, Abodh Kumar, and Rajani Mathur, who have used community genealogies to develop estimates of age of marriage among Chitpavan Brahmans (a caste that was quintessentially middle class in occupation), have concluded that age of marriage for this set of actors rose from below 20 in 1900 to 28.7 in 1947. The age of marriage was probably even lower before 1880; Hatekar, N., Kumar, A., and Mathur, R., ‘The making of the middle class in western India: age of marriage for Brahmin women (1900–1950)’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. XLIV, no. 21, May 2009, pp. 40–9Google Scholar. The age of girls at marriage, the main focus of this article, rose from 10.3 to 21.4 during the 1900–47 period.

81 Occasionally, the letters indicate that a young man was able to develop a secret relationship on the side. A few mention sexual intercourse with an older married woman or a widow.

82 See e.g. Alter, J. S., ‘Ayurveda and sexuality: sex therapy and the paradox of virility’, in Modern and Global Ayurveda: Pluralism and Paradigms, Wujastyk, D. and Smith, F. M. (eds), State University of New York, New York, pp. 177200 Google Scholar; Edwards, J., ‘Semen anxiety in South Asian cultures: cultural and transcultural significance’, Medical Anthropology, 7, 1983, pp. 5167 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For discussion of early twentieth-century notions about the importance of semen wastage to male weakness, see Daechsel, M., The Politics of Self-Expression: The Urdu Middle-Class Mileu in Mid-Twentieth Century India and Pakistan, Routledge, London, 2006, pp. 106–13Google Scholar; Attewell, G., Refiguring Unani Tibb: Plural Healing in Late Colonial India, Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2007, pp. 244–62Google Scholar.

83 No doubt, such theories were reinforced by Western notions with similar emphases. For the concept of the ‘spermatic economy’, see e.g. Melody, M. E. and Peterson, L. M., Teaching America about Sex: Marriage Guides and Sex Manuals from the Late Victorians to Dr. Ruth, New York University Press, New York Google Scholar, Chapter 1; Porter, R. and Hall, L., The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650–1950, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1995, pp. 115–21Google Scholar; Barker-Benfield, G. J., The Horrors of the Half-Known Life: Male Attitudes Toward Women and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century America, Basic Books, New York, 1976, pp. 175–88Google Scholar. For European concepts stressing the harmful effects of masturbation, see Laqueur, T., Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, Zone, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2003 Google Scholar.

84 For Gandhi, see Kakar, S., Intimate Relations: Exploring Indian Sexuality, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990 Google Scholar; Alter, J., Gandhi's Body, Sex, Diet and the Politics of Nationalism, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2000 Google Scholar; Appadurai, ‘Understanding Gandhi’, esp. 120–21, 132; Parekh, Colonialism, Tradition and Reform, pp. 177–206; Rudolph and Rudolph, ‘The traditional roots of charisma’. While most of these authors stress indigenous (usually Hindu) perspectives, Parekh points out that Gandhi drew as well upon British writers, such as William Hare, for his view of how sexual acts depleted bodily energy.

85 Parekh, Colonialism, Tradition and Reform, pp. 177–8.

86 Malhotra, A., ‘The body as a metaphor for the nation: caste, masculinity and femininity in the Satyarth Prakash of Dayananda Saraswati’, in Rhetoric and Reality: Gender and the Colonial Experience in South Asia, Powell, A. and Lambert-Hurly, S. (eds), Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2006, pp. 121–53Google Scholar.

87 Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community, pp. 66–84.

88 Haynes, ‘Selling masculinity’.

89 Alter, ‘Ayurveda and sexuality’.

90 SS, year 2, issue 11 (June 1929), p. 260.

91 SS, year 25, issue 9 (March 1952), p. 174.

92 SS, year 10, issue 6 (December 1936), p. 180.

93 SS, year 25, issue 4 (October 1951), pp. 72–4. He consistently argued that masturbation was an almost universal practice and not an individual character flaw, denounced the theory of seminal conservation, ridiculed Shivananda and others for espousing ignorant views, and stressed that masturbation had no harmful effects except when practised in excess.

94 SS, year 12, year 8 (February 1939), p. 277.

95 SS, year 14, issue 5 (November 1940), p. 150.

96 Srivastava, S., ‘Introduction: semen, history, desire and theory’ and ‘Non-Gandhian sexuality, commodity cultures and a “happy married life”: masculine and sexual cultures in the metropolis’, in Sexual Sites, Seminal Attitudes: Sexualities, Masculinities and Culture in South Asia, Srivastava, S. (ed.), Sage, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 1148 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 342–90; and Srivastava, Passionate Modernity.

97 SS, year 1, issue 11 (May 1928), p. 21; SS, year 24, issue 8 (February 1951), p. 186.

98 SS, year 7, issue 10 (April 1934), pp. 274–5; SS, year 25, issue 2 (August 1951), p. 33.

99 In a personal communication, Luzia Savary has indicated that this kind of view is supported by one strain of thought in the Ayurvedic tradition and was debated in twentieth-century santati shastra literature. See Das, R. P., The Origin of the Life of a Human Being: Conception and the Female According to Ancient Medical and Sexological Literature, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 2003 Google Scholar. Karve commented at one point that men [frequently] did not recognize the existence of female orgasm; see Karve, Adhunik Kamashastra, p. 62.

100 SS, year 3, issue 9 (March 1930), p. 211.

101 For one exception, see SS, year 3, issue 2 (August 1929), pp. 43–4, where the clitoris as a source of sexual sensation for women is discussed. This issue, by contrast, was widely brought up in letters to Marie Stopes discussed in Hall, Hidden Anxieties.

102 An explicit concern with pleasure of their sexual partners, however, was present only among a small minority of correspondents—a pattern that stands out in sharp contrast to the letters written by British husbands to Marie Stopes discussed by Hall.

103 An outlook that to some extent we have already seen in questions suggesting Krishna's ability to enhance his own vigour by at once conserving his own semen and by drawing out menstrual elements from his sexual partners. SS, year 14, issue 3 (September 1940), pp. 85–6.

104 Shivananda, Manowanchhit Santati!, pp. 190–1.

105 As far as the authors are aware, these concerns have not examined extensively in the existing literature.

106 SS, year 12, issue 7 (January 1939), p. 249.

107 SS, year 20, issue 4 (October 1946), p. 80.

108 Ibid.


109 Karve, in his responses, disputed the underlying theories that informed these views, asserting that seminal and menstrual flows in the male and female bodies were entirely distinct from each other. There were no substances in a man's semen, he insisted, that were analogous to the fluids in a woman's body. SS, year 9, issue 9 (March 1936), p. 280; Karve also challenged Hindu conceptions that stigmatized menstruation, arguing that ‘it was ridiculous to say that menstruation itself caused weakness’ and insisting it was a very natural part of female bodily functions. SS, year 20, issue 4 (October 1946), p. 80. He denied that women became impure every month and that the impure elements left the body during their periods. If menstrual blood was impure, he argued, how could it could be so essential to the process of reproduction? SS, year 3, issue 2 (August 1929), p. 29.

110 In some of these cases, readers wrote in for the purpose of determining whether the absence of menstrual flows eliminated the danger of pregnancy.

111 SS, year 8, issue 4 (October 1934), pp. 118–19; year 19, issue 1 (July 1945), p. 16; SS, year 26, issue 7 (January 1953), p. 136.

112 SS, year 20, issue 4 (October 1946), pp. 80–2.

113 SS, year 18, issue 8 (February 1945), p. 83: SS, year 20, issue 7 (January 1947), p. 151.

114 SS, year 3, issue 3 (September 1929), p. 65.

115 Shivananda, Manowanchhit Santati!, p. 222. Such theories are discussed in Pande, ‘Time for sex’, and Savary, ‘Vernacular eugenics?’.

116 SS, year 18, issue 8 (February 1945), p. 83.

117 Manowanchhit Santati!, p. 222.

118 SS, year 18, issue 8 (February 1945), p. 84.

119 SS, year 18, issue 8 (February 1945), p. 83.

120 SS, year 10, issue 9 (March 1937), p. 276.

121 SS, year 11, issue 10 (April 1938), pp. 342–3.

122 SS, year 3, issue 2 (August 1929), p. 41.

123 See A. Aryee, ‘Gandhi and Mrs. Sanger debate birth control: comment’ and ‘Archive: Gandhi and Mrs. Sanger debate birth control’, in Hodges, Reproductive Health in India.

124 Hodges, Contraception, Colonialism and Commerce; the essays in Hodges, Reproductive Health in India; Ramusack, B. N., ‘Embattled advocates: the debate over birth control in India, 1920–1940’, Journal of Women's History, vol. 1, no. 2, 1989, pp. 3464 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; S. Anandhi, ‘Reproductive bodies and regulated sexuality: birth control debates in early twentieth-century Tamil Nadu’, in John and Nair, A Question of Silence, pp. 139–66.

125 Here our perspective differs somewhat from the findings of Sanjam Ahluwalia in a largely intellectual history of birth control during this period. See Ahluwalia, Reproductive Restraints.

126 Two or three others inquired about how to obtain an abortion after a pregnancy had resulted in non-marital sex.

127 SS, year 2, issue 1 (July 1928), p. 19.

128 SS, year 2 issue 12 (June 1929), p. 280.

129 Karve insisted the rhythm method the correspondent had been using was not reliable, and argued that the only guarantee of preventing births was the use of birth-control devices. SS, year 23, issue 2 (August 1949), p. 43.

130 SS, year 24, issue 5 (November 1950), pp. 114–15.

131 SS, year 23, issue 5 (November 1949), pp. 112–13.

132 SS, year 5, issue 8 (February 1932), pp 181–2; SS, year 7, issue 9 (March 1934), p. 243.

133 SS, year 5, issue 4 (October 1931), pp. 88–91.

134 SS, year 13, issue 11 (May 1940), pp. 375–6.

135 Paranjpe claimed that she came to know about this technique from Dhondo Keshav Karve (R. D. Karve's father) but she may have also found it in the writings of Marie Stopes.

136 SS, year 26, issue 3 (September 1952), pp. 58–9.

137 Karve, of course, used the columns of Samaj Swasthya to propagate his views on the value of birth control, to dismiss folk practices and beliefs, and to provide specific advice on particular techniques.

138 SS, year 8, issue 11 (May 1935), p. 338.

139 SS, year 15, issue 5 (November 1941), p. 146. The body of the article was less dramatic, focusing on the failure of sterilization to be 100 per cent effective in accomplishing its objective.

140 Vanita and Kidwai, Same-Sex Love in India.

141 The literature on this subject is now large. See e.g. Nanda, S., Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India, Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, 1990)Google Scholar; Agrawal, A., ‘Gendered bodies: the case of the “third” gender in India’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, new series, vol. 31, no. 2, July–December 1997, pp. 273–98Google Scholar; Reddy, G., With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

142 Bhaskaran, S., ‘The politics of penetration: section 377 of the Indian Penal Code’, in Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society, Vanita, R., (ed.), Routledge, New York, 2002, pp. 1519 Google Scholar.

143 Gandhi, Self-Restraint versus Self-Indulgence, pp. 130–1, 135.

144 Luzia Savary has pointed this out in personal communications based upon her own research in North Indian kamashastra literature.

145 Shivananda, Brahmacharya Hech Jeevan, p. 44.

146 For instance, the widely read collection of short stories from North India entitled Chocolate by Pandey Bechan Sharma (‘Ugra’), which is discussed in Vanita and Kidwai, Same-Sex Love in India, pp. 246–53. As Vanita and Kidwai mention, the language of these stories seem to express some ambivalence about male–male relationships, despite the overt theme of condemnation.

147 SS, year 25, issue 6 (December 1951), p. 113.

148 SS, year 25, issue 12 (June 1952), p. 235.

149 SS, year 24, issue 11 (May 1951), pp. 151–2. In the earliest years of the journal, Karve's position on same-sex practice was a bit unclear. He referred to homosexuality as ‘unnatural’ (anaisargik), indicated that he did not approve of any unnatural sexual acts because they did not benefit the body, and pointed out that in many countries such acts were criminal. SS, year 3, issue 1 (July 1929), p. 16; in Adhunik Kamashastra, pp. 85–6, published first in 1932, he referred to same-sex practices as aadmarg (‘non-obvious’), but also pointed out that much of their danger stemmed from the fact they were illegal in many countries. By the early 1950s, in an article he wrote under the authorship of ‘one doctor’, he had come to believe (no doubt from reading widely in the sexological literature) that, while some people developed same-sex inclinations temporarily because of immediate environmental factors, homosexuality for others was natural (i.e. biological) and that there was really no way to overcome it if one wanted to do so. The fact that homosexuality was often illegal, he indicated, unnecessarily frightened people. SS, year 27, issue 4 (October 1953), p. 68. To some extent, he tried to assure his various correspondents that there was nothing abnormal about same-sex desires or about the wet dreams and masturbation that some correspondents had mentioned. He clearly acknowledged the social stigma associated with homosexuality, and recognized, because of these stigma, that the correspondents had to hide their attractions to men from others. At the same time, he insisted to these correspondents that it would be disastrous for them to marry, since their lack of attraction to women would ruin the lives of their prospective wives. See e.g. SS, year 25, Issue 6 (December 1951), p. 113.

150 SS, year 27, issue 4 (October 1953), pp. 75–6.

151 Ibid., p. 76.


152 SS, year 15, issue 7 (January 1942), p. 224.

153 See e.g. SS, year 26, issue 11 (May 1953), pp. 218–19.

154 Of course, the consequences of violating sexual codes were far more serious for women than for men.

155 Our thanks to one anonymous reader for these observations. No doubt, many young readers read the letters for their erotic content.

156 We do not know, of course, whether such considerations would have been entertained in earlier generations.

157 It is not clear whether such concerns would have inhibited men's decisions to marry before the development of this new, middle-class sexuality; one suspects that many men of means would not have hesitated to marry women even when aware they lacked the ability or desire to have sexual relations with their wives.

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