My First Foray into Research in Sexuality
by Sachi Sri Kantha, June 30, 2019
Forty years had passed since I made a 15 minutes presentation on December 18, 1979 at the 35th Annual Sessions of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science at the University of Colombo premises, on an ‘eye-catching’ and controversial theme. I was 26 then. Because of the title, it was well attended by curiosity-seeking peers.
The title of my presentation was, ‘Preliminary random observations on the courting behavior in a residential university in Sri Lanka’. I was the sole author. At that time, I was a ‘lowly’ temporary assistant lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya. It was scheduled under Section F (Social Sciences). I remember well that in the morning of my presentation, two of my then mentors, both working at the Tea Research Institute and both named ‘Sivapalan’ were there and I had a chat with them. One (Dr. K. Sivapalan, 1932-1985) was my uncle. The other one (Dr. P. Sivapalan, 1936-2015) was one of my lecturers in Entomology. They too were curious to see the ‘spectacle’ on what Sri Kantha was about to present on this ‘virgin’ field. I did use this ‘virgin’ word knowingly as a double entendre, and both laughed.
My diary entry on that day read as follows:
“Dec. 18, 1979 Tuesday: 2nd day of the SLAAS sessions. Today, I’ll make four presentations.
In the morning at 8:30, for Section A (Biochemistry), I presented two papers.
- ‘Further studies on the nutritive value of edible portions of 16 cultivars of winged bean, Psophocarpus tetragonolobus.’
- ‘Development of trypsin inhibitor in the seeds of winged bean.’
In the afternoon at 1:00, for Section F, I presented two papers. The New Biology Lecture Theatre was crowded. In a lecture room that had seating for 60, there were over 75. Reason: the attraction in the title of my presentation.
- ‘Preliminary random observations on the courting behavior of undergraduates in a residential university’.
- ‘A sociological study of the 1978 Medical entrants (Tamil Medium) of the University of Peradeniya.’
I had to answer quite a number of questions from the audience. The posed questions were not hostile, but many wanted quantitative details. More or less, I deflected the questions with the first two words of the carefully chosen title, ‘Preliminary random’, and assured the audience that the study was ‘on-going’. In a liberal sense, it was on-going; but the next 18 months I remained in Sri Lanka, I was involved in other activities related to my immediate future goals and was forced to abandon sexuality research.
That 1979 presentation in front of senior peers established my conviction and status as a contrarian scientist – i.e., swimming against the prevailing currents. Neither did I consult with the then Head of the Department, Prof. Thomas Walter Wikramanayake (1918-2008) nor I asked the formal ‘permission’ from him. This was not an easy route for career development, but I enjoyed the challenge of being a contrarian. As was the prevailing convention, I also omitted his name as a co-author in the paper.
Only after I reached the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I was able to receive some formal training on sexuality education, under the guise of ‘Health Education’ from Prof. Laurna Goldberg Rubinson (1945-2010). Thanks to the training I received under her, I still continue my foray into sexuality studies, currently among young Japanese.
I was a participant in a study on ragging (hazing) conducted on the 1979 entrants to the University of Peradeniya, done in collaboration with the husband and wife team – Dr. Jayadeva Hettiarachchy and Dr. Navam Hettiarachchy (a Batticaloa Tamil academic, who was my research advisor for M.Sc. dissertation research). Hettiarachchys emigrated to USA in October 1980. I published this collaborative study on ragging in 1986, only after I completed my Ph.D.
Sri Kantha S, Hettiarachchy J and Hettiarachchy NS. A report on the sexual aspects of hazing at a university residence in Sri Lanka. Asian Medical Journal (Japan), 1986; 29: 590-596.
As of last year, I was able to publish 12 papers and a book in this field, thanks to that courageous dip taken in 1979. The details of these publications are as follows:
Sri Kantha S. Prostitutes in Medical Literature: An Annotated Bibliography. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1991, 245pp + xi. ISBN: 0-313-27491-6. ISSN 0896-6591. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 91-3211.
Sri Kantha S. Sexual humor on Freud as expressed in limericks. Humor, 1999; 12: 289-299.
Sri Kantha S. Medical maladies during the honeymoon: a review. International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2014 Jun; 21(3): 335-337.
Sri Kantha S. Kissing behavior among Japanese. International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2014 Aug; 21(4): 374-375.
Sri Kantha S. On Shakespeare, syphilis and his naughty synonyms for penis. International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2016 Aug; 23(4): 310-312.
Sri Kantha S. Love bites or monkey bites: a medical trauma of a kind. International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2016 Feb; 23(1): 3-6.
Sri Kantha S, Hibino A and Yamamoto S. Eu-Love and Pseudo-Love: an important split in love taxonomy. International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2016 Jun; 23(3): 204-207.
Sri Kantha S: Sexography of William Masters in Medical Journals: a survey. International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2016 Dec; 23(6): 60-610.
Sri Kantha S and Hibino A. Is serum testosterone/estradiol ratio, an indicator of nipple’s primary function in humans? International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2017 Dec; 24(6): 455-458.
Sri Kantha S: Teizo Iwai’s landmark paper on polymastia revisited. International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2018 Feb; 25(1): 25-26.
Sri Kantha S and Hibino A. Polymastia, polythelia and ectopic breasts among Asian populations. International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2018 Feb; 25(1): 27-31.
Sri Kantha S: A polymastia photo and pre-clinical anatomy lesson: Perceptions of freshman medical and nursing students. International Medical Journal (Tokyo), 2018 Oct; 25(5): 318-320.
I provide the complete text of my 1979 presentation below, which had NOT been submitted to an academic journal, and remains hidden in my bibliography of writings.
Presented at the 35th Annual Sessions of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, December 18, 1979; University of Colombo, Colombo. Section F – Social Sciences.
[Note by Sachi: I had retained the word usage of the original script written in 1979, without revision. As such, some terminology may sound jarring now; especially, the use of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’, for young adult university students. Such usage of these two words in Sri Lanka, at that time, were quite common. In this context, I also bring to attention that, even the renowned 1962 co-Nobel laureate James D. Watson (b. 1928), titled his memoir book as‘Genes, Girls and Gamow’ (2001). He wrote in it’s preface, ‘ [In the spring of 1953] I was an unmarried 25 year old and thought more about girls than genes. It is as much a tale of love as of ideas.’ Similar sentiments applied to me as well, since I was an unmarried 26 year old in 1979. Also retained are the campus parlance such as ‘con-session’ (an abbreviation of conversation session), ‘getting hitched’. Then, I was known by my surname only. I came to use ‘Sachi’ as my first name, only after I entered the University of Illinois in 1981, as Sri Kantha had become my family name.]
Preliminary Random Observations on the Courting Behaviour of Undergraduates in a Residential University in Sri Lanka
[Dept. of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya]
Investigation of sexual habits and practices is a relatively recent development in science. Scientific observations and studies in this interesting field are few, especially in this country. The pioneers in this field of study are, Kinsey et al. (1948, 1953), Schofield (1965) and Masters & Johnson (1966). Kinsey relied much on verbal evidence; he talked endlessly to the men and women who came forward (or were induced in some way) to tall all. Two criticisms of this approach were, (1) Were the people interviewed a reasonably random sample of the population? (2) Do they tell the truth? On both points much skepticism has been expressed (for e.g. Maslow & Skoda, 1955) and no doubt such skepticism is right and proper. Later, Masters & Johnson had the courage to go a step further. They were permitted to observe people making love and in this way were given an opportunity of checking not only what they said they did, but also whether they described matters correctly. Their study material consisted of approximately 700 people of whom a couple of hundreds or so were married couples.
Studies on sexual habits among the college and university students of USA had been reported by Robinson et al. (1968), Davis (1969), Kaats & Davis (1970) and Bell & Chaskes (1970). As far as Peradeniya undergrads are concerned, their sexual behavior pattern have yet to be studied in detail. An attempt is made here, just to note some relevant features of the residential undergrads’ courting behavior.
Study Population and Methods
Study Population: Undergraduates of the University of Peradeniya. Almost all of them stay in the Halls of Residence.
Method: Mosser & Kalton (1971) had classified the methods of obtaining data about a group of people as follows: (a) documentary sources (personal documents like diaries, letters and autobiographies), (b) direct observation, (c) questionnaire, (d) interviewing. Of these, it was felt by the author that for a study of this nature, observation method can only be adopted, when taking into consideration all the conservative tendencies of a typical Sri Lankan society. (Note: One like to express at this juncture that, facts and data alone do not make a science, especially in a virgin field like this. We also need theories, postulates, unification and generalizations.)
Time of Observation: Mainly in the afternoon, evening, twilight hours to late in the night.
Places of Observation: Vicinity of the Girls’ Halls of Residence, corridors of lecture blocks, library and the surroundings, corners, Gymnasium building and the adjacent locations, canteens, sports pavilion, river bank, roads leading to the places of worship, Arts theatre (especially when films are shown). Open air blocks – summer houses.
Observations and Comments
- Con-sessions: A con-session is a conversation between two or more undergrads (can be with same sex or with opposite sex) which takes place in a relatively stationary situation. It should be noted that the topic of con-session need not be serious or weighty in nature. Episodes of humorous exchange, logical argument or the exchange of personal experiences may also properly constitute con-sessions.
Many con-sessions come about as a result of the attempts of individual participants to enhance their prestige rather than any deeply felt commitment that they have about a specific issue. It is these con-sessions which boosts the image of partners, who are ‘getting hitched’, or ‘going steady’ etc. Though dating may occupy only a small segment of a student’s time, talk about dating is of immense importance for many undergrads, especially girls.
- Partner Selection: When it comes to choice of a mate, the ‘choice’ is not of course, a deliberate one at all, but is conditioned by circumstances about which, we don’t know much enough to be entirely specific but which include the interplay of so many factors. Anyway, I’ll try to generalize them in the following manner.
The ‘seniors’ spend the least amount of time with their own sex, while the freshers have the most such time. It is difficult to tell, the undergrads of which faculty, have ample time, to spend in the company of the opposite sex, because their courses of study and the time taken for them varies. But generally, the students in the Arts-based courses, spend more time in the company of the opposite sex than any other category of undergrads. This is because they have to attend only a handful hours of lectures per week. Barring this short period of occupation, they’ve to ‘kill’ the time in a satisfying manner, and they do so by partner selection and getting hitched.
Those undergrads following a Science-based discipline (Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science, and Pure Science) have to attend practicals, dissections, field work etc. in addition to following the lectures. And it is not wrong to say that, boys get to know more about girls, and about their behavior during these practical sessions. These sessions provide flexible opportunity in that boys can attend to their work and at the same time they can roam around the laboratory or field doing a bit of ‘Eve-teasing’, and of course the girls retaliate with ‘Adam-teasing’, if it can be called like that.
It is probably traditional in the campus, for the undergrads (boys) to select their partners, from among the fellow students of the batch, in the second year. Fresher girls are the chief objects of attention of the ‘senior’ boys (mainly 2nd years). In the guise of ragging, a senior attaches himself to his beloved ‘selection’, and get to know all the details about the girl, her background, education, family status etc. (Very personal details also, are not spared). And it is very common to see the ‘senior’ boys in Peradeniya chaperoning the fresher girls to their Halls of Residence in the first two weeks of the academic year, which is the normal duration of the ragging period. The tradition had come down, that during ragging period, freshers should appear in white and white; so, any senior can have a try at a fresher, who have to nod her head, or answer in positive, to all the teasing questions. At the end of this ‘ordeal’ (I mean, for ignorant fresher girl students), a certain proportion of the boys become successful in getting ‘hitched’. Senior girls initiating a partnership with ‘Junior’ boys are relatively uncommon, in almost all the disciplines of study. There may occur a few exceptional cases.
- Initiation of Pairing: In accordance with the normal trends, the initiation stimulus is usually provided by the boy. The hints and messages are taken and passed on to the girl concerned by her close friends and/or by roommates. For some boys the search for a mate is a highly self-conscious one. For others, it follows so effortlessly from the fun of dating that no conscious decisions are made at all.
Mutual lending and burrowing is a sign of close friendship; hence, books and notes may also serve the purpose of initiation of pairing. Offering practical assistance, one way or another, may also little by little, leads to initiation of pairing. A batch trip, an active interest in one particular extracurricular activity (for e.g. sports, drama, societies) and even ragging also serve as catalysts for the actual initiation to occur.
- Campus dates: Two major types of campus dates can be recognized. One is the formal party or dinner type date, often on a large group, followed by dancing, much good fun, and a return to the Hall in the small hours of the morning. The batch dinner, Hall ‘socials’, Faculty ‘Nights’, going down dances, farewell parties, ‘hitch’ parties or even birthday parties provide occasion for this sort of date. This type of data is supposed to characterize the community life of residential university students.
The second type of date is the soulful date of a single couple, perhaps starting with evening stroll in the park or roadway, or even in the library but having its core in moonlit romance, placed in a nook or corner. The couple, though seated in a common place, like a canteen, library, theatre or grounds, remain unattached with the rest of the population. Their dating episode doesn’t directly involve people. The hour or two they spend together is filled mostly on satisfying personal and physical emotions. In a corner, they sit under a hidden triangle, thereby evading direct exposure to a third person’s eye. For about an hour or two they spend on talking, necking and petting. It is presumed that the only topic of discussion, revolve mainly around private and personal affairs between them. This sort of conversation is only an accompaniment of erotic play.
- Erotic Play: The erotic play varies in intensity from pulling, pressing, hugging and kissing, and also petting to extreme. As usual, the male partner dominates the scene, with the female partner responding passively. The male partner surveys the female anatomy in four stages of petting sequences: outside above the waist, outside below the waist, inside above the waist, and inside below the waist. Of course, the last two stages are carried out in strict privacy in connivance with the darkness and around the pillars of the Arts theatre, Gymnasium and the corridors of lecture halls. Those enormous numbers of building corners serve to explore freely the intimacies of sex, away from the prying eyes of batchmates, and security controls. Even when the security officers happen to arrive at the scene, they tend to turn a blind eye.
- Inter-racial and Inter-religious Pairing: The family life in Sri Lanka, strongly disapproves of mixed pairing. This is particularly so, in interracial bonding than, in inter-religious bonding. The final sanction upon a boy or a girl, who enters into a mixed affair, is ‘outcasting’. Therefore, it is not surprising that most undergrads conform to the norm of avoiding mixed affairs. Nevertheless, mixed affairs do occur, even if rarely.
Who are the deviants? The majority of these are with Tamil boys and Sinhala girls; and if lesser number with Sinhala boys and Tamil girls. (Muslims who speak Tamil mainly, are included in the Tamil category, for the sake of convenience.) It is common inference that, the majority who are involved in mixed affairs, have a knowledge of English. Any sustained relationship with another racial link, is impossible for the partners, otherwise. Although there is hostility to interracial affairs, in a typical Sri Lankan society, when it comes to the residential campus background, it is tolerated since it can more easily be broken off, after the partners had received their quota of sexual satisfaction.
The process of the initiation of an interracial affair is gradual, and in majority of the cases, it blooms only around the 2nd year or 3rd year, of the couples’ residential life. It occurs mainly among the batchmates, or body mates or group mates, and so on A couple who carry on an interracial love affair have to accept drastic cultural changes. Of the two, one can no longer move closely with his/her friends, as often as he (she) used to. One of the two, can integrate only through an acceptance of the other’s culture, in personal behavior and so on. He (she) must also establish new inter-personal relationships with other undergrads.
Compared to interracial paring, an inter-religious paring is more tolerated in our society, if the partners belong to the same race; hence, the frequency of the occurrence of inter-religious pairing is more (Hindu-Christian, and Buddhist-Christian) than that of an interracial pairing.
- Reasons for Pairing at the Campus: The following can be cited as the main reasons, for the occurrence of pairing.
- Bandwagon effect: Pairing (or getting hitched) has become ‘the thing to do’. Not only have this pairing become quite acceptable to the majority of the residential student population but the junior students are often directly or indirectly encouraged by the hitched seniors. Pairing of a friend or a roommate or a batchmate, encourages and contributes to another, and soon the feeling spreads that, ‘Everybody is doing it, so why not try?’
- The two-some nature of campus life: Not only is there a casual bandwagon effect, but there are subtle pressures working to make paired life appear more comfortable and practical. The social life in a residential university is a two-some experience. Generally speaking, such affairs as parties, dinners, socials, dances, art festivals and film shows are considered as two-some experiences.
- Insecurity of our Time: The general insecurity of our Time is often thought by some as encouraging campus pairing. Anxieties concerning possible impending national disasters and closure of campus (for trivial reasons, during the major part of this decade) generate in undergrads a need to develop deep attachments with someone in order to achieve sexual satisfaction. For many undergrads who are free from the vigilant prying eyes of their parents or guardians, the ideal time for experiencing sexual relief is the three year period they spend in the campus. Hitching, they trust, is the type of relationship that will give them, some sort of excitement (or ‘go’) in the basic human instinct.
- Stimulation of sexual attitudes: We are living in a period of ‘sex’ age. The mass media (cinema, pulp magazines, and the novels in our island) must be held responsible for titillating and enticing an undergrad’s sexual fantasies. The emphasis on sex appeal and the intense physical expression of love makes it difficult for undergrads to handle sexual arousals. This results in the unwillingness to defer sexual gratification until after marriage.
‘Wherever we look and wherever we go, there’s something about sex. And it makes us look foolish not to find out about it ourselves’, is an explanation given regarding the background of predicament, by a few ‘hitched’ undergrads. Another opinion is, ‘There aren’t really many places to go around in Peradeniya; only a park and a few theatres in Kandy. After you’ve seen all the movies (and in most of theatres, the released Sinhala films run for more than two months) we simply don’t know how to kill time; and this especially so in the weekends, and Poya days. So, the ideal pastime is to get hitched.’ And, ‘If you are in love with opposite sex, you know – that’s it.’
- Economic buffer: There is also one extremely good reason (especially in the case of girls) for getting hitched. But under normal circumstances, it is not divulged to anybody, even to the partner. For a girl coming from a rural village, there wouldn’t be much cash in her handbag, to spend for pocket expenses. Hence, an ideal alternative to cover the embarrassment is to ‘get hitched’ to a boy, who will look after her in his pocket money. The expenses incurred for snacks, short eats, stationery, traveling, cosmetics etc. are paid out from the partners’s purse.
- Escapism: So many complexes arise for a newly arrived undergrad in Peradeniya set up. Urban-rural complex, high caste – low caste complex, wealthy-poor complex, ‘fluent English’ – ‘bad English’ complex, and racial complex are a few which can be identified here. In order to escape from the existing realities, the poor souls search for some sort of compassion and they obtain this by ‘getting hitched’, I suppose.
In a typical rural village of Sri Lanka, whether at work or at leisure, whether inside the house or outside, boy (girl) finds himself (herself) somehow surrounded by other elders. This ensures not only the lack of privacy but also a constant supervision by a group of elders. Here in Peradeniya, this constant vigilance factor is hardly present. And when left in a surrounding with a host of opportunity and time, the arrows of Cupid easily penetrates the undergrad’s heart.
The curiosity, excitement and the ever-present liberty from the prying eyes of guardians and society elders, climaxes in the profuse pairing at the Peradeniya University. A lot of rural girls get caught into the while of free love, when they enter Peradeniya. I personally don’t think that many girls in the campus feel that being stroked by a boy is bad or dirty anymore.
There is accelerating evidence that pre-marital courting has become almost as accepted among campus girls, as with campus boys. Perhaps one of the most important factor that prevents Sri Lankan girls from making friendships, when they are with parents, is the fact that the majority in them still find most of their companionship of their homes. They therefore may not feel the need for the friendship of their peers. However, when they move into a new residential campus environment, they are often separated from their families and relatives. The girls discover that they must find new friends who can share their problems and guide them through novel experiences; this security, they may find among peers who are going through the same period of transition. The intimacy of the campus environment keeps the undergrads together for nearly three years or more, which is a long enough period for them to build up close relationships.
The established value of Oriental culture that pre-marital courting is wrong, is crumbling. But there seems to be conflict of opinion for a significant number of campus girls, who come from conservative background. These girls have to decide how far they can lean. If there are not permissive they lose an ideal opportunity of mixing with opposite sex; yet, if they are too permissive, the news may leak to home sources and the consequences may upset the balance. But, even the campus girls from conservative background are much more open and free now, than their parents, with regard to the sexual attitudes.
Living conditions at the University of Peradeniya are often far from easy living and give rise to strain and stresses which contribute to the undergrad’s heavy mood, resulting in his urge towards sexual fantasy. Anxiety, worry, social, educational and family pressures and the emotional imbalance of sexually immature (but physically matured) students produce various sorts of sexual behavior, which need attention and study. The campus student of today is too hurried, too badly housed, with too little recreational facilities, and working under too strenuous conditions. He (she) needs psychological counseling, at least during certain periods of stress.
On general, the mental climate of the University of Peradeniya is ill-suited to relieving sexual tensions which often reach break point. When steps are taken to bring in more students from poor homes, this problem may increase in scope and intensity.
Bell RR and Chaskes JB (1970). Premarital sexual experience among co-eds 1958 and 1968. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 32 (Feb), 81-84.
Davis KE (1969). Sex on the Campus – Is there a revolution? Colarado Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, Boulder.
Kaats GR and Davis KE (1970). The dynamics of sexual behavior of college students. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 32 (Feb), 390-399.
Kinsey AC, Pomeroy WB and Martin CE (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia.
Kinsey AC, Pomeroy WB, Martin CE and Gebhard PH (1953). Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia.
Maslow AM and Sakoda JM (1955). Volunteer error in the Kinsey study, pp. 119-125. In: Sexual Behavior in American Society, J. Himelhoch and S.F. Fava (eds), Norton & Co, New York.
Masters WH and Johnson VE (1966). Human Sexual Response, Churchill, London.
Mosser CA and Kalton G (1971). Survey Methods in Social Investigation, Basic Books, New York.
Robinson SE, King K, Dudley CJ and Clune FJ (1968). Change in sexual behavior and attitudes of college students. The Family Coordinator, 17 (April), 119-123.
Schofield M (1965). The Sexual Behavior of Young People, Little Brown & Co, Boston.
[with reference to Peradeniya]
Buell P. Jack and Jill (a modern fable). Sunday Times (Colombo), Feb. 5, 1978.
Editor’s notebook: Ragging. Tribune (Colombo), 20 (4), June 14, 1975, 2-4.
Editor’s notebook: Ragging. Tribune (Coombo), 20(5), June 21, 1975, 3.