“Doctor, please advise my husband to be normal. He is asking me to do abnormal things” requested Shreeja. I looked askance from her husband Shren. He blurted out sheepishly.All that I asked her is to do fellatio on me. Some of my friends say that their wives do it.
Very often individuals are apprehensive with the normality of their sexual practices, desires and attitudes. Their concerns circle around the primary question, “Am I normal?” or Is it normal? People label the ‘unpopular’ or ‘unfamiliar’ practices as abnormal. Almost all of us ask the question at some point in our lives, in relation to our sexual development, to our sexual practices or to our feelings and desires. Normality is subjective and is defined by various factors including beliefs, religious upbringing, cultural attitudes, purpose of sexual activity etc. In cultures where sex is treated as a taboo topic, the issue of normality is difficult to understand because of the misguided notions presented to individuals by society. It is difficult to answer the question Am I Normal? or Is it Normal?. At best the answer is It depends. There is no simple standard by which we can tell if something is normal. We all know, for example, that in our society it is normal to be a married parent. Does that mean that childless couples and unmarried people are by definition abnormal?
The popular idea of normality is a kind of compound of these other ideas: healthy, good, right acceptable, typical, average, proper, common, permissible, appropriate. This does not, however, give much guidance to someone worried about her or his sexuality. Extramarital affairs, for example, are certainly typical and common. People having extramarital affairs may find them healthy good and appropriate, and yet there is an overall community standard by which extramarital sex cannot be labeled proper, permissible and right.
People’s concerns about sexual Normality include many acts, desires and attitudes: masturbation, frequency of sex, coital postures, oral sex, anal sex, pre/extra marital sex, contraceptive usage, fertility/infertility etc. Sexual concerns lie with their sexual thoughts, known as sexual fantasies. They wonder if their urges to engage in anal or oral sex are deviations from the normal. Similarly, when these thoughts turn into actions, feelings of guilt or fear may surface. What is interesting is, there are no medical standards or definitions for these factors, yet for religious or cultural reasons people tend to obsess over it. In the case of the aging or medically ill, sexual changes that occur are easily misunderstood.
So how do we assess normality? Wardell Pomeroy, one of the original Kinsey researchers, is of the view that we have multiple standards: statistical, religious/moral, psychological/sociological. To these are added two more standards: Legal and Phylogenetic (if a specific type of behaviour is common in a particular species it may be considered normal). Interestingly, there is no one sexual act that is considered normal that falls under all 5 standards. For example, homosexuality is medically accepted as a normal variant. Legally & culturally however, there are still several issues at large.
People forget that Normal can mean many different things. Concepts of sexual morality have changed even within our own life times. Since Normal can mean many different things it is clearly an arbitrary social construct.
It is worthwhile to note that human beings are capable of accepting change and variety. Rather than having definitive boundaries as to what forms normality, it may be more practical to expand the boundaries of our understanding of what normal entails, and think in terms of what is healthy and unhealthy. One of the most obvious criteria includes dual consent regarding any sexual activity. Behavioural scientists consider a disorder or clinical problem to be present when non-consensual acts are carried out that bring harm either to the individual or to the partner. In a culturally enmeshed society like ours, the absence of harm needs to be extended to the family as well. So long as such measures are taken to ensure this does not take place, then to each his own.
When in doubt, consultation with a professional can help in gaining credible information and clarify doubts or disagreements that may cause problems among couples. It also helps in avoiding interpersonal conflicts with a partner and intra-personal conflicts an individual has about his/her sexual lifestyle. A much subjective approach to judge sexual normality is to consider the healthiness and unhealthiness of the sexual practice – Is it harming me or my partner, emotionally or physically? Does my partner approve of my sexual choices? If a person likes to role-play with his/her partner, he can be judged negatively due to the benchmarks set by culture, family, society, peers and self. However, keeping the problem individualistic and not comparing his choice with the standards set by others can be a means to self-assess the normalcy of his choice. Human beings have been given the gift of creative thought. When this creativity is expanded to keep sexual pleasure at its peak, so long as no one is hurt, then the sky is the limit.