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LGBTQ+ Themes in Hindu Mythology and Indian History

By: Sindura Vuppu

It was not until I turned sixteen that I stepped into the world of political and social issues. I grew up in ignorance and indifference with limited exposure. My friends and I were clueless about issues like the marginalization of certain groups. When I finally educated myself, I recognized the unfairness in the way the LGBTQ+ community is treated in India. I felt ashamed of our ignorance. Was it always like this? One day, I discussed this with my mother.  She mentioned the “Hijras”, transgender women, whom I’ve seen beg for money in groups. Many people, mostly young men, get uncomfortable and feel sexually victimized by the Hijras. These Hijras are disowned by their parents at a young age, after which it is almost impossible for them to find a decent job. Some become sex-workers to men who cannot afford a cis woman, and most generally choose to stay within the transgender community and earn a living by begging in groups. When their requests for money are met, the Hijras give us their blessing since they are thought to have the “power to bless or curse fertility”(Biswas). They show up at auspicious ceremonies like the celebration of the birth of a child, and lovingly hold the baby in their arms to bless them. The same people who treat them as “untouchables” rejoice over their blessing. If this is an age-old tradition, the discrimination does not make sense. To learn more about the LGBTQ+ involvement in Indian history and Hindu mythology, I went online. 

Hindu mythology is a major source of ancient India’s attitude towards gender fluidity and sexual identity. Ardhanarishvara, a form of Lord Shiva that I grew up worshipping, is a mix of Shiva and his wife Parvati. The form has both male and female elements divided equally, therefore creating a genderless deity. “Parvati wished to share Shiva’s experiences,” says Kavita Kane in her article on LGBT themes in Hindu mythology, “and thus wanted their physical forms literally to be joined to show that the inner masculine and feminine coexist and can coalesce” (Kane). This non-binary form was and still is revered for the powerful message is conveys. This isn’t the only instance where Lord Shiva exhibited gender and sexual fluidity. Lord Vishnu, the protector of the universe, takes on the “feminine” form called Mohini, who Shiva, the destroyer, falls in love and procreates with. Although the mythological texts say that Mohini was a female form, many scholars interpret their relationship as a same-sex one.  Mahabharata, which is considered one of the greatest epics of all time, narrated the story of the great warrior Arjuna, who took refuge in the harem of a king’s court for a year as an eunuch teaching singing and dancing. Even as someone who is considered a tough and masculine war hero, Arjuna’s “feminine” eunuch form is one of the most significant facets of his character in the epic. I grew up listening to these stories and marveling over their greatness. They act as moral stories that children are encouraged to read. These deities are revered as examples of dharma and righteousness. 

 Hindu mythology isn’t the only source of LGBT significance in Indian history and culture. In her article on LGBT themes in Indian history, Amy Bhatt notes, “Indeed, in India’s 16th-century Mughal courts, hijras and eunuchs often held positions of high esteem as advisers or emissaries between men and women.”(Bhatt).  Eunuchs were accepted and even revered by the common folk. They were important and trusted caretakers of the harems of the kings, as we can see in warrior Arjuna’s case.  Homoeroticism has also been celebrated in ancient Indian literature. “In the Kama Sutra, India’s famed erotic guidebook,” Bhatt writes, “the character Svairini is described as as a liberated woman who lives either alone or in union with another woman.” (Bhatt).The Khajuraho group of Temples in Madhya Pradesh, The Sun Temple of Konark, and several other monuments in India also have homoerotic sculptures engraved on their walls. After finding so many inclusions of the LGBT+ community in ancient India, one cannot help but wonder where the respect and tolerance went. When did the Indian people start marginalizing them and calling their existence “unnatural”? There is an answer to this question: the British colonization. 

In 1860, Lord Macaulay, the President of the Indian Law Commission authored section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” (Biswas), therefore imposing Victorian values on its biggest colony. Under the British Raj, homosexuality was criminalized.  In addition, they described eunuchs that served in royal palaces as “ungovernable”. “Commentators said they evoked images of “filth, disease, contagion and contamination,” writes Soutik Biswas in his article titled “How Britain tried to ‘erase’ India’s third gender” (Biswas). The British also had the conception that the “Orient” were “Overly erotic and over-sexed” and would “corrupt” young colonial officers (Han). The two hundred years of rule which left India in great economic and cultural depression is believed to have been the primary cause of the conservative and marginalizing shift in Indian societies. So, how is India recovering from this and reforming its social, political, and judicial system on this particular issue?

On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India declared Section 377 unconstitutional, therefore overturning a 157-year old ban, and decriminalizing consensual homosexual sex, after the government’s first recognition of the law’s barbaric nature in 2009.  The Court stated that “the inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone… Those perceived by the majority as ‘deviants’ or ‘different’ are not on that score excluded or ostracised”(Misra). There has been enormous LGBT activism in the sex-workers community as well, “to change perceptions of sexuality, embracing diversity among the ranks of members of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (the largest Sex Workers’ union in India)” (Misra). Under a legislation that was recently passed in India, transgender people are allowed to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery and have a constitutional right to register themselves under a third gender. However, this law has not been received well for various reasons: lack of medical benefits, addition of bureaucratic layers and red-tapism for legal recognition, and the lack of detail on matters such as marriage, adoption, and social security benefits (Pathak). Activists are pushing for amendments to this bill, and for additions and improvements to other LGBTQ+ laws. But such issues don’t get resolved easily. Along with the fight for change comes the fight to stay the same. 

Many Indians, mostly middle-aged and elderly Hindus, believe in a fundamentalist interpretation of Hinduism that portrays homosexuality as a “reprehensible Western import”(Bhatt). But on exploring some great Hindu mythological epics, it is quite clear that Hinduism is more liberal than the “western” (or Victorian) beliefs. Moreover, the significance of the community can be seen throughout Indian history and culture. I think it is time we revisit our history and re-interpret some of the lessons it teaches. It is time we recognize the unfairness in the way the LGBTQ+ community is treated, and join the fight against injustice and for reform. 

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No Wanking Way: Masturbation and Shame

By: Flora Oliveira

I always viewed sex as a two-person thing, and now when I try to do it on my own it’s not as enjoyable.”

. . .

Debby shines through her most honest self. Our conversations on sex were never few or far in between, but rather a topic we shared much comfortability. During this interview, Debby shared her experiences with an effortlessness, noting that she has grown in her comfort of discussing sex not only with others but also while around others. Although she mentions she struggled throughout her adolescence, Debby is striving to be the best medical professional she can be while breaking many of the traditional rules she is expected to follow. After being asked, she also noted that in her youth she received formal sex education in 7th grade and biology class but like others noted, it was fear-based (STD focused) and not sex-positive or LGBTQIA+ inclusive. Undeniably true to herself, in all her intelligence and brilliance, Debby demonstrates that although one can be comfortable with these conversations, it may not translate to one’s comfort with their own bodies. In her interview, she dives deeper on her perspective and experiences with masturbation.

. . .

How do you define your sexuality?

I would say I’m like 95% straight and 5% whatever the fuck because I feel like no one’s really 100% anymore, right? Sometimes I see girls and I’m like “oooo” but they’re usually masculine. I always wonder is my attraction just because of their masculinity? I don’t know, really.

How did you come to define your sexuality?

Trial and error. Like in high school I went through a phase. I know a “phase” has a negative connotation, but I think it was necessary. I say that as it’s not something that I ended up settling on, but it’s something I had to try for myself.

How do you define your gender? How did you come to define your gender?

I am a woman (she/her). That’s one thing I never really questioned so it’s just always been that way for me.

What did your virginity mean to you if anything?

It had different meanings and meant different things to me [throughout] my life. At first, I didn’t take it seriously. I knew the first person wasn’t going to be last but now I wish I had taken it more seriously. Now, I understand why people say to save it. You really don’t get it back, but I don’t think it’s as important or as serious as people make it out to be because that makes people scared. I do think you should take it seriously, and not give it away willy nilly though.

Were you influenced by family, religion, or other things that limited your sexuality/gender/ or expression of sex?

No. Nobody told me I had to be straight. My family is not religious, and also not that educated about LBTQIA+ like that, so there was no discussion in general. I was just free to think what I wanted with who I surrounded myself with outside of family. I wouldn’t say it was limited. If anything, what did limit me was my social awkwardness; otherwise, no limits.

What is one thing you wish you’d known sooner?

Damn… I don’t know man… I wish I just knew everything sooner. I think that would’ve made it easier for me to make a smarter decision on who I did it with. I think it would’ve been different if I just knew more about the sex in general. I would have made a more educated decision which mine was not.

What is one nonsexual thing you find sexual?

I’ve always had a thing about arms. Like nice toned arms, but not like muscly.

What is an interesting sexual experience you’ve had (whether alone or not) that you’d like to talk about?

I had sex on a hiking trail. We saw this treehouse zipline thing and decided it was a great spot to do it at. I also had sex in a public bathroom in baseball field but because it was gross, I didn’t touch anything. It was on our bucket list, and we did it just to say that we did. It was over in 10 minutes.

I feel like it was a fun thing to do. That’s the thing, sex doesn’t always have to be intimate. Especially if you’re in a relationship with someone and it’s someone that you trust, it really, truly, can just be for fun– another bonding experience to add to the list.

What do you wish you knew more about (sex-specific)?

I wish I knew more about masturbation. I always viewed sex as a two-person thing, and now when I try to do it on my own it’s not as enjoyable. It’ll never match up to having it with another person. It’s not sad but I feel like I’m missing out. I feel like that’s just how it is for me. I think it would have been nice to know things in general as a girl because I still don’t prioritize getting checked out. There was no dialogue about it whatsoever, and now I feel naturally uncomfortable to go to the gyno or doctor, even though I am an adult. I know sex-ed’s a thing in school, but I think lack of sex conversations and lack of [adequate] sex-ed creates more stigmas. Even having gone through sex-ed, I don’t feel comfortable going to the doctor. I didn’t find out about UTIs and yeast infections until recently. I thought yeast infections were explicitly caused by sex, but it isn’t; we don’t get taught that. That just makes things more complicated and you become so uncomfortable you can’t talk about sex. Growing up I always thought about going to go get checked out, but I never was comfortable asking my mom since I thought yeast infections were tied to sex. I couldn’t tell my parents because I thought there would be questions. I think it should be more of the normal thing to do, and even now, I know people who are sexually active but think home remedies work. They were also never taught correctly and couldn’t ever talk to people about it.

Is there anything you do that you feel is different from the norm?

I feel like I’m as normie as it gets. I used to and still think it’s more intimate to have oral sex than penetrative sex. I don’t know if that’s weird or not…

When I first had sex I just wanted to have [penetrative] sex. I didn’t want to do any of the pregame stuff before sex because I didn’t know him that well. I don’t know, I always thought that was kind of weird.

Do you think your sex falls within the heteronormative, why, or why not?

Yeah, because it is. I’ve only had sex with a guy, and I identify as a girl.

How do you care for yourself whether before, during, or after sex?

I don’t. Some people always shave before, and I don’t give a fuck. I just shower and brush my teeth before, and after.

Is there any advice you’d give to others?

I would say make sure it’s with someone you know a little bit. It’s not just a trust thing but you don’t want to be vulnerable to someone you don’t know. I feel like it’s more enjoyable with someone you know to some degree. I feel like casual is fine but if you really don’t know someone, it may not be as enjoyable if you really don’t know the person. Just be safe.

Have you ever had sex for items, money, etc.?

This is going to get a little serious, but it wasn’t explicitly said that we would do this for this. It was more suggested in there like you’ll do this for something (maybe). I don’t think it should be that way, especially if it’s like the situation I was in. I don’t think you should have sex unless you really don’t mind and want to. You should be having sex for your own enjoyment, and then later if you don’t mind and you really want money, lunch, whatever then that’s fine. I feel like if that’s how you start, you’ll always view it as an exchange.

. . .

To all my readers and interviewees this is an open letter to y’all:

Masturbation is completely, unequivocally NORMAL. Masturbation is a version of safe sex. Whether you choose to dip your toes (or fingers) into the water, it is all completely your decision.

I want to emphasize that we often stigmatize everything we think must be private, but masturbation doesn’t have to be a single person thing.

Until recently, I also stigmatized masturbation. *Shocking, right? *


From a very young age, and I mean YOUNG like a toddler young, most of us are taught that touching our genitals is evil, forbidden, and even shameful. But what we did not know is that masturbation is healthy and actually a part of every child and teen’s development.

From an early age, children learn to pair good sensations with their genitals. Believe it or not, children learn to explore their bodies like they explore most things — by rubbing, touching, or pulling on it. There are actual ultrasounds and research to show that even fetuses do it in utero (learn more here  or here). If the thought of everyone masturbating in their parent’s tummy doesn’t prove masturbation to be normal, I don’t know what else to tell you.

Just kidding, here’s a few more reasons it’s perfectly normal and awesome:

Masturbation can be a great way to learn what’s best for your body. Masturbation can help you find out what you like or do not like so that you can tell your partner, get specific toys, and/or find a good lube for yourself. It also has health benefits. It relieves stress, period cramps, pains, and for some it brings on orgasms (study on this here)!

According to a study published on Insider, daily masturbation can benefit your heart. In folks over the age of 65, masturbation has been shown to lower hypertension and rapid heart rate (link to Insider HERE). It has also been noted that after orgasming, folks stated their skin cleared, their sense of smell improved, and research also shows that their stress, anxiety, and depression levels lowered (research for this HERE).

Now, even though both you and I know that masturbation is normal and good for our bodies, we still must acknowledge the social stigmas and implications that exist around masturbation. It is essential that within an adequate discussion of sex education, stigmas and discomforts are addressed. Masturbation and discussions about  masturbation have always been treated as a shameful act within our society. Masturbation is often not discussed, labeled as “dirty” or “gross,” and it is definitely not included in our current sex education. Often conversations regarding masturbation surround ideas that masturbation causes mental health issues, leads to sexual inadequacies, or simply is sinful.

These myths are ingrained in our society in part because of how society polices bodies, but also because of the medical attitudes and origins of masturbation. Western culture adopted the idea that sex was impure unless done for the purpose of procreation or a man’s enjoyment. That positioned male pleasure at the center of sex, while it positioned family and purity at the center of women’s relation to sex. This ideology coupled with medicine was seen as having adverse effects as early as the 20th century when doctors attributed a women-only disorder named “hysteria” to symptoms such as outbursts, frustration, nervousness, and any form of sexual desire. Essentially, women who did not center their whole lives around calmly cleaning the house, praising the husband, and raising the children, were defined as dealing with “hysterical paroxysm.” And the so-called cure-all? Doctors forcefully stimulated these women until they orgasmed and stopped acting in such ways.

Early discussions on masturbation were common for men– they were acceptable. But when it came to women, it was seen as a sin, a symptom, and/or a disease. Ingrained in our society was the idea that masturbation is only acceptable at the hands of men. Even now, we see these ideas around masturbation being reinforced with stigmas and myths.

For a bit more fun, I asked my audience on Instagram to share with me what myths they had been told about masturbation, and here were the results:

Masturbation gives you Herpes.

It would cause your full body to blister.

“Me time” would cause your genitals to fall off.

Playing with your genitals would give you STDs.

Masturbation would stunt your growth and hormones.

Masturbation would make hair grow in between your fingers.

The elbow bump on your arm would grow significantly every time you masturbated

It would cause you to go blind 

And my favorite of all time…

Orgasms are finite. If you use them you lose me.

Just for those of you considering using these funny myths with your children: DON’T.

This is not how you teach people about masturbation! As we have seen, such myths and stigmatization around masturbation causes folks to create a bad relationship with it, even though it is completely normal. Shaming is not a form of protection.

As we have seen per my last article, shaming only causes youth to take more risk, increases STD probability, and can lead to self-harm. We should all know how to safely and privately masturbate without shame, fear, or misinformation.

There is nothing wrong with masturbation, there is nothing wrong with being familiar with your genitals, and there is certainly nothing wrong with getting regular genital checkups. In light of finishing this article, I challenge you, my reader, to combat the shame we feel around masturbation. Go tell everyone you know how healthy it is, how it relieves stress, and how there are no adverse side effects to masturbating.

Or you know, you can just go spend some time masturbating too.

Whatever floats your boat. Thanks for reading!

. . .

New York Times “Why Is Children’s Masturbation Such a Secret?”: HERE 

Research on child development and masturbation: HERE

Sexual Behaviors in children: HERE 

Planned Parenthood on masturbation: HERE