What do Sikhs today think and feel about sexuality? Probably not an issue most recently discussed at your local gurdwara or even among your close circle of Sikh friends.
Here’s an inkling into what Sikhs think about the subject which is almost taboo at most gurdwaras and touched fleetingly at some Sikh gatherings, including Sikh youth camps.
A US-based Sikh organisation has just released a report entitled ‘Sikhi & Sexuality’. It includes a survey of self-identified Sikhs from 31 countries on the topic.
Among others, they asked this question: For what purpose is sex ‘appropriate’? For love, procreation, pleasure or desire, or a sense of well-being (i.e. comfort, security)? How do you understand the word “Kam” (lust)?
The 48-page report is the sixth report in the State of the Panth series by Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI). It explores how Sikhi has influenced the collective behavior of the Sikhs when it comes to sex, pleasure, and procreation.
One of its findings is that respondents were most comfortable discussing sexuality as a topic in an abstract way with their non-Sikh friends and least comfortable speaking with their family and the larger Sikh Community.
“Sexuality is not something that is frequently discussed in the Panth (Sikh Collective). It’s not a meaningful part of our education system,” said SikhRI executive director Kulvir Singh said in a statement announcing the release of the report. He added that the report outlines Sikh perspectives on major topics like lust, marriage, homosexuality, and polygamy.
Click here to read the full report.
Report resercher Jasleen Kaur noted that 84% of respondents said that lust and sex are not synonymous, and 65% of respondents said that they understand lust as encompassing any all-consuming thoughts or actions.
“This tells us that hardlined approaches to sexuality through the Sikh lens are not as common as initially predicted. Still, respondents expressed the greatest comfort discussing sexuality with non-Sikhs, pointing to an existing reality within the Panth of shame and taboo surrounding the topic,” she said.
Harinder Singh, Sikhri founder and the report’s senior researcher, said: “How Sikhi can model the sexual behavior of transnational Sikhs is why we delved into this topic. Currently, we are informed by either the dominant organized religions or current cultural norms of societies we live in. Understanding their influence can help individuals and institutions shape healthy Sikh sexual attitudes and behavior.”
GURBANI & TAWARIKH
The first part of the report looks at Gurbani and its relevance to the topic. It opens with the with statement: “Often, Bani is looked to for concrete prescriptions and rules, clear indicators that measure out human behavior neatly and assign labels of “right” or “wrong.” Bani can reach the inner recesses of the mind to positively affect both conscience and consciousness. It makes distinctions related to love and lust. Still, it does not offer prescriptive laws — it instead provides guidance, allowing for an informed understanding of one’s sexuality, behaviors, and relationships.”
The report pulls up a number of references from the Guru Granth Sahib (GGS).
From the history (tawarikh) perspective, the report noted that although Bani makes room for individual introspection into one’s sexuality, and sexual behaviors and relationships, various codifications throughout Sikh history draw clear moral lines on specific issues within the broader topic of sex and sexuality.
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“Codification or various laws are made where there is a general common issue that needs addressing. The context for most Panjabi Sikhs in Sikh history happened to be adultery and the objectification of women. Thus, these codifications largely deal with such topics,” it states.
The report has much to say, backed by quotes from the GGS and other sources, on adultery and prostitution. It also discusses same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships and lust and homosexuality.
On sexual orientation, it says: “As for sexuality in regards to orientation or preference, Bani and Rahitname are mostly silent. There is no citation within Bani to condemn certain sexual orientations or preferences. What is available as a guide is historical evidence.”
Under the lifestyle (rahit) discussion, the report noted that some common themes arises when it comes to questions related to individual choices regarding sexuality and relationships.
“Some struggle with how to reconcile the ideas of sexual norms from the Panjabi or South Asian context with the oversexualized Western society. Others question what the taboos are for Sikhs, whether sex is for pleasure or only for procreation, and what is the difference between love and lust. It is important to remember that Rahit evolves through time, as do the consequences or punishments for various transgressions.
“Bani establishes life priorities within a set of socio-ethical and spiritual frameworks and advises a recommended course of action by explaining the nature and effect of human urges, and providing an attitude or approach. Individuals are free to decide based on their life goals and priorities what they will do with those tools. Individuals are encouraged to think about what priorities they are establishing within relationships, whether they are divinity-oriented or temporally-oriented, and whether they are spiritually developing themselves,” it said.
The report added: “Sexuality in Sikhi is about creating harmony by eliminating binaries, developing a relationship with oneself, and developing a relationship with someone else that is not temporary and based on fleeting pleasures but deeply rooted in commitment and love.”
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