Growing Up Sexually



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For the Santal living mostly in Bihar and Orissa, reasonably good descriptions of premarital sex were recorded in the 1930s and 1940s, which report of a permissive attitude towards premarital sex (Biswas, 1956[1]; Mukherjea, 1962)[2]. Mukherjea (1962:p392-401) states that Santal children, in consequence of a marriage game “play at coitus”. “One Santal narrated to us, “I have seen that during the children’s game called Uku Uku, they play at hide and seek and hunt out others from the bushes. During all these, children throw themselves on one another. They embrace in a childish attempt to get out and this physical contact results in sex-encounters with consequent childish coitus. […] Old sandals told us that attempts at coitus indulged in by mere children are very common”. The author cites further examples of games resulting in open displays of “childish coitus”[3]. “We gathered that sex-encounters of children are very common in field were they tend cows or buffaloes, and the minimum age for such children was given as four to five”. Nevertheless, “As regards the age in which boys and girls receive their first sexual experience, the opinion of the Santals questioned on the point varied. Some put it at 14-15 years with boys who attain puberty, while for girls they gave the age at 12-13 “when the breasts ripen”, as they put it. Others put it at 16-17 with males and 13-14 with females. Two educated Santals questioned at different places stated that boys and girls receive their first experience at 10-12 and 9-10 years respectively” (p400). This is supported by communications to Archer, which indicated that boys “start when they are ten or twelve, girls when they are eight or nine” (1974:p55).


Archer (1974:p56)[4] also observed Santal children in their intimacies:


“The scene of a first [sexual] encounter is often the forest. While they are grazing the cattle, boys and girls play “Houses”. They appoint village officials. “You are the manjhi. She is manjhi budhi”. They make little hearths and pretend to cook rice. “It is then that they are yoked. Later, after dark, the boy and girl come together”. “Sometimes a boy and girl play together. The boy goes on all fours. The girl rides on him. Suddenly he turns on his back and holds her. A girl pulls her away. He seizes her legs. If the girl likes it, the boy does it”.


“A common game which is sometimes a prelude to encounters is played in the evening. This is oko oko or “Hide and Seek”. A boy covers his eyes with his hands. All the boys and girls run away. A girl is waiting for him. He rushes to her and while the others are hiding they hurry down the village street. These encounters do not necessarily end in passionate friendships. They are petty, childish introductions to the act of sex and it is not in fact until the ménarche that Santal girls begin to long at all avidly for “the play of boys”. “It is when the flower has blossomed that desire seizes her”[5].


Archer (1974:p78; 1984:p515)[6] adds the following:


“Among the Pardhans, Shamrao Hivale states, “Before marriage both boys and girls live lives of almost complete freedom. Even little children of four or five years indulge in erotic play together and most boys and girls have had their first experiences long before puberty. Elder people are amused and tolerant of the sexual adventures of their children. They appear to object to any attempt to correct them. They take the line that such adventures did them little harm and that in any case youth is a time for freedom and experiment. […]”.


“There is, however, no conscious organisation of their sexual life. Unlike Uraons, Hos and Mundas who from an early age segregate their boys and girls and bed them down at night in separate houses, Santals keep their children in their families. Until they are six or seven years old, they sleep near their parents. After that, they are put in separate rooms. If their parents sleep on the walled verandah, their sons and daughters go inside. If a boy lies on the verandah, his parents shift to the courtyard or occupy an inner room. It is when the children are asleep and then in the darkness of the house that their parents cohabit and it is only by accident that a child surprises them together” (Archer, p55).


“Flower friendships” between boys or between girls are “strictly nonsexual” (p86-7). Children acquire sexual knowledge early by hearing conversations of their elders and observing parent coitus and coitus of others (Verma, 1970)[7]. They tend to attempt coitus at an early age and some of their games involve sexual encounter. First actual cohabitation tends to occur around puberty. Pre-marital sex is well tolerated.











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] Biswas, P.C. (1956) Santals of the Santal Parganas. Delhi: Bharatiya Adim Jati Sangh

[2]Mukherjea, Ch. (1962) The Santals. Revised edition. Calcutta: A. Mukherjee. Orig.:1943

[3] It was noted that the grandfather, brother-in-law, or father’s sister’s husband explain the mysteries of sex to children of four to five years of age with occasional demonstration of process how to indulge in coitus (p396). Later it may take include more personal tutoring.

[4] Archer, W. G. (1974) The Hill of Flutes: Life, Love, and Poetry in Tribal India: A Portrait of the Santals. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press

[5] “It is from this time [5 to 6] that boys and girls begin to know each other. During the leisured grazing of the cattle, they often meet and play games and in the early evening come together in the village street and sometimes play till supper. Most of these games are jolly romps but some provide opportunities for gentle fumbling embraces. All of them accustom the children to each other’s ways. They scramble together and from their very early years handle each other with natural familiarity. Through this play the children establish the easy joking friendships out of which their later romances mature (p35-6)”. “It is from slightly older children that a Santal boy first learns the facts of life. “Boys learn how to go to girls” said Dhunu “by talking about it. They pick it up in the fields. Other boys do not show them how. They only tell them”. Occasionally a boy learns it from an older woman. “A grandmother takes a grandson. She has not done it for a long time. She makes him do it to her”. Sometimes a great aunt takes a young boy. Or his elder brother’s wife shows him. “His brother does not know but it is only for a day and if he knew he would not mind. Girls on the other hand do not usually learn from girls. “It is the boys who teach them” ” (p55-6).

[6] Archer W. G. (1984) Tribal law and Justice: A Report on the Santal. New Delhi: Concept

[7] Verma, K. K. (1970) Socio-Cultural Dimensions of Fertility: A Case Study of the Santal, J Soc Res 13,2:70-81