Sex was a matter of personal choice in ancient India. Law, society or religion had nothing to interfere in the matters of sex. Law gave only extremely mild punishment for mutually consenting sexual misconducts (not amounting to rape). Even under such circumstances the affected husband or wife had to file case. Consenting sex was not a cognizable offence. (See Kautilyas Arthashastra). Of course rape was severely punished, often with death. Religion never came into picture wherever question of sex occurred. It is to be remembered in this context that smriti texts like the Manu-smriti are essentially law-books or individual openions and not religious scripture. Scriptures are the Vedas including Samhitas, Aranyakas, Brahmana texts and the Upanishads.
Society of course had a concern for regulating sexuality of individuals, but it was much liberal, probably even more liberal in favour of women than the modern West. Thus where consenting partners lived together without marriage, or had casual sex making the girl pregnant, it was accepted by the society well, and the relationship was called the Gandharva-Vivaha (or the marriage of the Gandharvas). Gandharvas were the people who were carefree people, spent time in learning and performing dance, music and drama and usually did not marry formally. Something like hippies of our era. Shakuntala gave birth to great king Bharata out of a casual sex by King Dushyant with her. Bharata was well accepted by society.
Society became defensive and protective of women when forcible abduction of women by Muslim sergeants became the rule during the Muslim rule in India. But even during this period, women enjoyed extreme freedom in those parts of India where Muslim hands could not reach.
Thus in the South India, Hindu women do not cover head, even in temples or in the presence of elders. The most influential caste Nayar of Kerala had a matriarchal family system till 50 years back, in which the daughters succeeded the family house and property, and the sons served their sisters throughout their lives. The sons married some girl from other village. But he had to return to manage the estates of her sisters. His wife could never join him. Moreover, the sisters enjoyed an absolute sexual independence, and could sleep with anyone she liked. And she could change her sexual partner whenever she liked. With the enforcement of Hindu code bill of Nehru, this custom became illegal, and disappeared by now. The King of Kerala also followed the same rule. The king was merely a caretaker of his sisterís kingdom and after the death of the king, his sisterís daughter would be the next real heir and her brother would take care of the kingdom as a caretaker king.
Another such example sexual superiority granted to women is the rural folk of most of the castes living in the Uttarakhand state. Jaunsar-Bawari caste has been particularly studied by anthropologists. Earlier, till sixties, one lady could marry simultaneously with as many men as she liked. Toda of Maysore, and Laddhakis are other people who allow polyandry to women. The Garo and Khasi tribes of Meghalaya state also professed matriarchal system, in which the husbands migrated to the home of the wives and served the wives family. But this system was devoured by Christianity in the seventies.
Ancient Hindus gave extreme liberties to women. To make this explicitly clear, it has been enjoined to all performing Hindus that they recite with reverence names of the five great virgins (pancha mahakanya) every morning. You will be interested to know who these pancha-mahakanyas are. They are Draupadi, Kunti, Mandodari, Tara and Ahilya. We need to know about the sexual history of these ladies.
Draupadi: A well known lady of Mahabharata epic, had five husbands simultaneously.
Kunti: Her husband pandu was not capable of having sex even once with her because of some liver problem (probably Indian Childhood Cirrhosis). Kunti used to visit forest ashramas and return pregnant. By this method she produced three kids, Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna. She gave birth to Karna before her marriage. Story of sexual incapacity of Pandu was not known to others. But this could not remain a secret to Madri, second wife of King Pandu. When Madri became confused as to how Kunti was producing children when Pandu was not able to do sex even once with Kunti, Kunti told her the secret and Madri also adopted same method to give birth to two children.
Mandodari: She was wife of Ravana who after death of Ravana, married his younger brother Vibhishana who had sided with her husbandís enemies.
Tara: Tara was the wife of Guru Vrihaspati. In the boarding school (gurukula) run by her husband there was a handsome student Chandrama. She fell in love with him. Enjoyed. Became pregnant. Guru had been abstaining those days. The secret became open to him Tara gave birth to Budha out of this extra-marital relationship.
Ahilya: Ahilya was wife of another rishi. Once her husband caught her red handed sleeping with Indra. Ahilya claimed that she could not distinguished between Indra and her husband as Indra had come in disguise of the rishi. It is difficult to accept the defence she gave. But yet all the Hindus look at Ahilya with highest esteem and the name is favourite choice for daughters in the rural India.
It is also to be noted that the man was always more culpable than the lady in the ancient India. While Tara got no punishment, her lover Chandrama was punished with a curse, that he will develop hundreds of vaginas all over his body.
I have forgotton the punishment given to Indra, but it was something severe although he happened to be king of gods. Ahilya was cursed to be a stone by her husband, who later modified it that she will become a woman when Lord Rama would touch her with His feet.
Whereas many non-Indian religions ruled that women could not leave home without bein accompanied by a male member of the family, ancient Indian literature if full of such instances that the ladies could go out, visit fairs, markets, theatres, alone or with their female or male friends. They could swim in the ponds and rivers for as long as they wanted. All the paintings and sculpture from ancient India depict women bare above waste or minimum cloth just over the breasts. This was a perfect dress suited to a warm climate, and must have been common site on the roads and streets. Nowhere they have been depicted inveils.