What the sex doctor orders
Amrit Dhillon, The Age, February 28, 2013
DR MAHINDER Watsa is 89 and writes a daily newspaper column answering readers’ questions about their sexual problems. Is he the world’s oldest sex counsellor? Probably. He says although he’s never had a dull moment, he’s fed up with masturbation.
The Indian male’s obsessive fear of the “damage” caused by masturbation has been a constant throughout his career and shows no sign of letting up. Angst-ridden letters continue to pour into his letterbox and computer inbox. Concerns about the “evils” of masturbation feature prominently in his consultations at the clinic he runs at his home in the Mumbai suburb of Dadar West.
Sitting in his third-floor flat, with a warm breeze from the Arabian Sea drifting in through the french windows, Watsa says masturbation has plagued him for decades. Every generation in India replays the same fears—fears that are identical to the misconceptions that used to surround the “solitary vice” in the West two centuries ago.
Masturbation makes you infertile, causes pimples, makes you impotent, makes hair grow on the palm of your hand, leads to weakness, stops teenagers growing and even culminates in madness.
“I try to put them right when they are young by explaining it is totally harmless and normal,” he says. “But it comes back to haunt them at different stages of their lives. When they are married, it is, ‘Will I be able to have children because I masturbated when I was young?’
“When they get older and their erections weaken, it is, ‘Is this because of my earlier bad habit?’ It’s one obsession that is a universal Indian trait, even now.”
Watsa, an obstetrician and gynaecologist by training, decided to leave his practice in the mid-1970s and turn to sex education because of what he regarded as Indians’ shocking ignorance about sex and their lack of knowledge even about basic human anatomy.
This, he says, has not changed. In this very conservative society, sex is certainly going on—witness the 1.2 billion population—but any discussion of it is regarded as obscene.
The general ignorance in the population is one thing. Where women are concerned, however, they are meant to be ignorant about sex. Apart from the educated, urban elite, every other social class expects women to be virgins when they get married. If they show the slightest knowledge about carnal matters, from the way they move their bodies or touch their husbands during their first lovemaking, the husband will be suspicious.
“A man who had no sexual experience married a woman who happened to have received some basic sex education at her Catholic school,” Watsa says. “The first time they made love, neither had any idea what to do. So she made a suggestion. He was so horrified that she seemed to know about sex that he divorced her.”
Even educated couples (he nominates dentists and engineers) come to him unsure how to consummate their marriage. Sometimes Watsa resorts to drawing diagrams to put them right.
In this climate of ignorance, nourished by India’s army of quacks, myths tend to flourish: a woman can’t get pregnant if it’s her first time, or sleeping with a virgin can “cleanse” you of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Watsa was a pioneer of sex counselling and education when he began and he now runs workshops to educate other sex counsellors. He has written regular columns for magazines and websites and now, thanks largely to his daily Q&A in the popular tabloid newspaper Mumbai Mirror, he has become almost a household name in the city.
“Every month, he gets about 8000 queries,” says Meenal Baghel, the editor of the Mumbai Mirror.
“He’s vastly popular, not just because he is upfront and direct about sex, unusual in India, but because he is very practical.”
In his 50-word answers for the Mumbai Mirror, Watsa packs a punch. Direct, blunt and often humorous, his answers are popular for their sheer readability.
His advice is always humane, which angers traditionalists no end. For example, if a terrified woman who is not a virgin is getting married and writes to him for advice, he advises her to sprinkle a few drops of blood on the sheets on the first night.
Unsurprisingly, the gentle and soft-spoken doctor gets hate mail. There are currently two complaints against him registered with police, alleging he is corrupting the young and propagating indecency.
As he prepares to see the first patient of the afternoon, Watsa talks of how these days he is often recognised at social functions in Mumbai.
At a recent wedding, a former female patient pointed to him, telling her young son: “That man is responsible for your coming into the world.” As eyebrows rose around the room, a mortified Watsa didn’t quite know where to look.