Growing Up Sexually



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Fruzzetti (1982[1]; cf. 1975 [1992:p304]):


“In the past, kumri girls were given in marriage before the arrival of their menstrual flow since this is a girl’s purest stage. At present only the low castes and Muslims insist on giving their girls in marriage before the first menstruation, though the young wife remains in her father’s house until she achieves puberty. The majority of marriages are contracted long after puberty even though a girl becomes ready for marriage after her first menstrual flow. In such a situation, the menstrual rites are known as natun biye, “new marriage”. For child-brides, the rites are called anna biye, “another marriage”, and are performed in the virgin’s father’s house. The menstruation rites of the child-bride define her sexual maturity, and on the third [fourth, according to Fruzzetti, 1984)] day after the ritual the husband may take her to his house to consummate the marriage. The ritual accompanying the first menstrual flow is simple, yet clearly tied to the sexual aspects of marriage, to the union of male and female”.


Inden (1977:p41)[2] that the sixth and last segment of the wedding (punar-vivha,consummatory marriage”) may be done “[…] on the third day or, if the bride has not celebrated her first menstruation before marriage, on an auspicious day after that first menstruation”. “Even if the bride and groom have reached puberty, they are not to have sexual intercourse on this night [the first of marriage], since their marriage is not completed yet”.

Klass (1978)[3]:


“In the past, before Independence, a girl was married before she reached puberty, although among Brahmans and other high-ranked castes she returned to her natal home and continued to live with her parents, taking up residence with her husband’s family only after her first menstruation. Boys, too, were young when they were married—perhaps thirteen or fourteen—and therefore marriage and puberty were in many ways fused. Even today, boys are considered children until marriage; even in his late teens, an unmarried male is assumed to have no interest in sex and to be without the capacity to offer up proper prayers. Only after the boy’s marriage will the [Utilde]cu pa[unknown]a [[4]]  father summon the family gurudeb (spiritual adviser) to teach the young man the mantras he is expected to know” (p80).




“In the village, the initiative lies with the male head of the girl’s household, referred to […] as her “guardian”. This may be her father, father’s brother, father’s father, or even her elder brother. The guardian of a village girl feels a sense of urgency or social pressure (and if he doesn't, it will be communicated to him by his wife), for there is a widespread belief that a girl should be married before her first menstruation or as soon thereafter as possible. Among the lowest jats in the social hierarchy, marriage frequently takes place when the girl is nine years old; even among those village families most affected by Europe-derived standards, the girl is rarely permitted to reach her late teens”[5].


Roy (1975:p188n32)[6] dwells at length on the sexual developmental experience of girls: “In this part of Bengali society a young girl (as the case study shows) usually learns about menstruation from her peers. It is rare that a mother or an aunt explains the whole matter to a girl approaching puberty. The subject matter, like the subject of sex, is considered taboo”.


“Intimate advice regarding sex may be given by a MZ [mother’s sister] to a new bride, whereas it is not a common phenomenon for a mother to advise her daughter about to be married in matters of sex” (Fruzzetti). “The girls also learn a great deal about sex from their married friends”[7]. After a girl’s prepubertal menstrual ritual [sic], “[…] she is a “fruit” for men in other lineages [an expression often used for a girl about to be married is “the fruit has ripened”] (p167).


“If the girl happens to know anything about the sexual relationship between the mother and father, she is ambivalent about it, but that does not tarnish her love and respect for her father. If she has already learned about the facts of life from her peers (such as that parents have intercourse), she may also know that sex is considered dirty because no one is supposed to talk about it or watch it. Only adult married people can indulge in it in privacy. And if her parents indulge in it, she is puzzled and may blame her mother for it” (Roy, p27; cf. cases 61, 8). “[…] subjects discussed frequently at school are “the facts of life." This information she rarely learns from anyone at home. There are always a number of older and precocious classmates who know all about such matters. She learns the biological facts about a woman's body, about her menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and the connection between sexual intercourse and pregnancy. This information, of course, does not come as clinical talk; rather it is contained in interesting and exciting stories and pieces of gossip. She finds out that many of her friends accidentally have had opportunities to witness sexual acts. Someone may, for example, overhear the parents at night or be in the same room with a newly married couple; someone may have come across a pornographic magazine that her older brother had hidden under the mattress. Now she can guess the kind of “adult talk” her mother and younger aunts indulge in during some of the afternoon sessions. It has to do with “the facts of life”.


In Bengal the menstrual ritual takes place before or after the girl has achieved puberty. The ideal is to perform the ritual before the girl actually achieves puberty, but even if it isn't, the ritual is enacted in the same way. In this ritual, the women place five different kinds of sweetmeats and fruits on the initiate's acal (end part of the saree) as food offerings. “The girl does not eat the food offerings, “her own fruit”, which symbolize her maturity, sexuality, and femaleness. Instead she gives to very young pre-puberty boys and girls of the neighbourhood. From now on she is a “fruit” for men in other lineages [an expression often used for a girl about to be married is “the fruit has ripened” ” (Fruzzetti, p166-7).









Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology, Berlin

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Fruzzetti, L. M. (1982) The Gift of a Virgin: Women, Marriage, and Ritual in a Bengali Society. New Brunswick, N.J.: RutgersUniversity Press; Fruzzetti, L. M. (1975) Conch Shell Bangles, Iron Bangles: An Analysis of Women, Marriage, and Ritual in Bengal. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms. 1992 copy

[2] Inden, R. B. (1977) Kinship in Bengali Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

[3] Klass, M. (1978) From Field to Factory: Community Structure and Industrialization in West Bengal. Philadelphia, Pa.: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, p80

[4] “A so-called “tribal” people, speaking a language of the Munda-Kol linguistic family, and, as far as is known, the original inhabitants of the Chota Nagpur region”.

[5] Klass, M. (1966) Marriage rules in Bengal, Am Anthropol 68,4:951-70

[6]Roy, M. (1975) Bengali Women. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

[7] Rohner, R. P. (1988) Women and Children in a BengaliVillage. Hanover, Conn. / London: Published for University of Connecticut, University Press of New England