I'm a red-blooded woman. I'm comfortable talking about sex and all aspects regarding it. As a full-fledged member of the Millennials, I'm accustomed to asking people "Are you a virgin?"
In Pakistan there is no such thing as sex-education. People mostly learn about sex through their married friends or first-hand experience. When I was a young teenager I told my year-younger female cousin about sex. My aunt became enraged and told me that'd she find out about it the night before she gets married. I was stunned; I just didn't understand how someone could find out what sex is right before the wedding.
Playboys are smuggled into the country. That same year I explained sex to my cousin, her older brother confessed to having a Playboy hidden in the storage room in his house. It was the one with Ginger Spice, Geri Halliwell on it.
A few years later, as a late teen, on another trip to Pakistan, my friend Nadia told me that teenagers were having sex; they would go to their houses when the parents weren't home. My older male cousin also told me he knew of a girl who had gotten pregnant.
Before my cousin got married, I asked if sex had been explained to her. My aunt said that she had friends who had recently gotten married so they explained it to her. I wanted her to know her rights and that she had the ability to say "no" and that sex is something to be enjoyed for both parties, not just one. There is actually a celebration in Pakistan for consummating the relationship, it's called the Valima and it's held the night after the wedding. It seems so odd that there would be an actual celebration for the consummation, but no real explanation about sex.
I have another friend here who isn't married and when I asked if she knew what sex was, she said she didn't. Even after all these years my mouth still fell open in shock. Our other friend is married, and she just looked at me as if to keep quiet. Pakistan has become more Western in a lot of areas, but clearly not in this one.
Here, there is no "flirting." I've tried to flirt with men, but normally get told off. Once I was in the car with my aunt, who's a bit conservative, and she noticed me staring at this guy next to us. She told me not to stare as it doesn't look nice. How exactly it doesn't look nice, I don't know, I thought to myself.
I've even gotten in trouble for shaking a man's hand during business meetings. I suppose my American-aggressiveness came into play. My father, a Pakistani-American, has always told me to give a firm handshake because it tells a lot about a person. After a brief meeting with a man at a coffee shop, I stuck out my hand to shake. He looked at me confused and fumbled when shaking my hand. Later in the car my aunt told me that shaking hands is a no-no between the sexes.
Sexual expression is fully repressed here, at least in front of families. Sometimes cousins are even kept apart after a certain age to dispel interaction. I'm not allowed to go to my aunt's house without the older family members because she lives in a huge joint-family system where there are a number of young adult unmarried men. I am an unmarried young female. When I do meet these cousins I just bow my head to greet them and that's the extent of our interaction.
That's not say that men and women don't date. They do, but always clandestinely. I've seen numerous couples and groups of men and women out eating and enjoying themselves. I didn't get the sense that people stared at them too much; it's become normal in some regard. But those families that allow their children to go out in mixed company are often more liberal and broad-minded.
I wanted to hang out with my elder male cousin alone one day. I just wanted to get a bite to eat and talk. The intricateness involved with the whole situation still astounds me to this day. He had to tell his parents that he was going out with some friends. He wouldn't even come to the door of his own grandmother's house to pick me up. He called me from his cell phone and I ran out to his car waiting outside the gate. My dad didn't care that I was hanging out with him alone. My cousin asked my father to tell everyone that he and I weren't going out. That he hadn't even been to the house. My dad said fine. My dad told the people back inside the house that I had gone out with a friend.
When my cousin and I went to dinner he looked so shocked. Even though I'm his cousin, and yes cousins intermarry in Pakistan, he'd never been alone with a girl in public before. I told him not to worry; there were other male and female people sitting alone together.
The thing is that Pakistan isn't so wholesome sexually when it doesn't want to be. Lahore even has a famous red light district, called Heera Mandi. Men go there and pay a few rupees to sleep with the girls, often young girls who have been kidnapped or have to sell their bodies to make money for their families. Other women are from generations of prostitutes; it's their only way to survive. The thing about it is everyone knows what goes on there, but nothing's really done about it, at least officially.
Pakistan is caught somewhere between sexual repression and sexual exploration; only time will tell where it goes next.