Hindus: Sexual Health
Hindus believe that marriage is not just for this life, but can extend over seven lives. A wife is seen as a gift from the gods to her husband, and a husband and wife are considered to be linked by marriage both physically and spiritually. Sex outside marriage is forbidden and, in some strict households, girls and boys are kept apart. Traditionally, girls may not be allowed out alone; however, some Hindu households that are more 'westernised' may be more relaxed about this issue. There is no Hindu equivalent of dating, and a bride and groom may meet for the first time only on their wedding day.
The dharma (life responsibility) that is specific to all Hindu women is the stri-dharma (the way of the wife), a duty to continue the Hindu family by producing children, especially sons. She also has a sacred duty to honour and obey her husband, and is the main educator of their children in respect for the gods, their elders and the traditions of Hinduism. In return, a Hindu man has a sacred duty to honour, respect and protect his wife and children. After marriage, in a short ceremony called garbhadana (the samskara of conception), God is called upon to bless the couple with many children, and sons in particular.
A Hindu women is never considered to be independent in the western sense of the word; she is to be honoured, protected and cared for first by her father, then her husband and later her sons. Traditionally, a widow does not remarry because she is still linked to her dead husband.
Body fluids are considered to be both physically and spiritually polluting, and so a menstruating woman is regarded as potentially polluting: menstrual blood is an indication of a woman's current state of temporary infertility (until her next ovulation), negating her duty to produce children. If a brahmin was touched by a menstruating woman, he may have to bathe carefully to remove impurities and regain his ritual purity.
If possible, any kind of gynaecological examination should be avoided during menstruation. When making an appointment for such an examination with a Hindu woman, a brief discussion about this subject may be welcomed to allay any worries she may have.
Hindus revere conception as a divine act, but they are not opposed to contraception. Hindu scriptures explain when and how to conceive, and therefore natural methods of contraception can be derived from this information. Contraception by artificial means may not be so readily accepted, but modern Hindus may use it on the grounds of social responsibility.
Infertile Hindus, especially women, are likely to have difficulty in finding a spouse if they are not already married because having children is viewed as the most important aspect of marriage. In fact, a woman's only dharma, or life responsibility, is to continue the family by having children (especially boys), teaching them Hindu ways and being a good wife.
If a married couple have not managed to conceive after a reasonable time, they may then seek help. Fertility problems are usually attributed to the wife, and the husband is likely to refuse to undergo any tests himself.
Artificial insemination with the husband's sperm should not be an issue, whereas the use of donated sperm may be seen as adultery even when the woman has not met the donor. Similarly, in vitro fertilisation may be considered acceptable if the sperm and egg are not donated. Some Hindus may have problems accepting any infertility treatment if they view it as interfering with the natural way of things and life's spiritual progress, even though this conflicts with the cultural drive to have many children.
termination of pregnancy
No historical religious tradition favours abortion in order to restrict family size, and it is strictly prohibited by Hindu scriptures as it goes against the principles of rita (universal order) and ahinsa (non-injury). It is usually acceptable to terminate a pregnancy only to save the mother's life; in this case, it is seen as the lesser of the two evils. Terminating an unhealthy or deformed foetus is no more honourable than terminating a healthy foetus; each life is seen as having a divine purpose, and a need to continue with its cycle of death and rebirth (samsara).
However, culturally, termination is more common when the foetus is known to be female; traditionally and as a result of the Asian culture, daughters are not valued as highly as sons. It is the sons of a family, for example, that care for their parents in later life and who are responsible for making the correct and auspicious funeral arrangements. Daughters must be given away in marriage with a dowry, and leave their family behind to live with their new husband and in-laws. For these and other economic reasons, families have for hundreds of years often shown a bias towards male children.
Selective termination of multiple foetuses, usually as a result of fertility treatment, may be permitted to reduce the risk to the mother's life.
miscarriage and stillbirth
Hindus believe that the soul enters the body in the seventh month of gestation, and therefore that if a baby is lost after this time, it must be given a proper religious funeral. Babies that are lost before the seventh month do not require special religious rituals as the atman has not yet infused the body of the child and simply disperses to be reborn elsewhere. The loss of the child is likely to be viewed as the fault of the mother, perhaps because of negative karmic actions in this life or past lives.
Traditionally, Hindu women are married very young and their protection passes from father to husband and, later, to their sons. In reality, they may be disciplined rather than protected, and sometimes abused. In cases of suspected abuse, any counselling must be offered with extreme sensitivity to prevent making a situation even worse.
Some believe that because Hinduism is silent on the subject of homosexuality and bisexuality, it is therefore tolerant of it. However, many individual Hindus do not condone such practices. In particular, lesbianism may be felt to undermine the position of men within the family and society, as well as a direct contravention of stri-dharma (which states that motherhood is one of the ultimate aims of being a woman).
Some ancient Indian temples house homo-erotic carvings, pointing to more liberal early attitudes.
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