For some South Asian adolescents, the closest thing they have to ‘the talk’ is being told not to have sex or sexual thoughts until one is married.
Contribution by Ravinder Kaur.
Frantically fumbling in the backs of cars in deserted car parks, incessant visits to the ‘library’ to revise with Priya and secret relationships – it’s our unofficial induction into adulthood. The sex taboo is almost a running joke for South Asian youth and it makes for a good story. When the stress and risk of getting caught subsides, it becomes a thrill, enticing and transient enough to warrant giggles.
We skip romantic scenes in movies – faces buried into necks, a sultry gaze and even the bare skin of a woman’s hip can be too salacious for family viewing. A Bollywood film is rarely entirely watched; as the music rises and the heroine starts to sway her hips, our eyes frantically dance across the living room in pursuit of the remote. It’s absurd and familiar (amongst other things) as well as being an easy gag.
The sex taboo begins there – in South Asian living rooms. Strictures are casually implemented on what is and isn’t deemed as appropriate to view and openly discuss. It begins early and persists during adolescence. We cannot recollect a directive conversation about the topic but we sit in silence and understand what is meant when eyes dart around the room, arms lunge towards the remote and someone conveniently leaves to refill their glass.
For some South Asian adolescents, the closest thing they have to ‘the talk’ is being told not to have sex or sexual thoughts until one is married, and that doing otherwise would bring great shame to the family. The rest of us are expected to understand and adhere to the unspoken rules.
Family honour becomes a shawl we wrap around us; none more so than those assigned females at birth who are more specifically restricted, through our choice of dress and friends, not to entice shame to ourselves or our parents. As a result of this, there is a blatant lack of safe spaces for South Asians to discuss and explore sex and sexuality. Movies, books and porn culminate to form a classroom and it creates a standard for some. When what we consume inevitably doesn’t match up to reality, lines can become blurred and an unhealthy and unethical view of intimacy can begin to form. The open discussion about sex is a taboo in South Asian households, and the stigma and shame towards sex reinforce a heavy silence regarding self-expression and identity.
The effects of this are not well researched among the South Asian diaspora however, it leads to the delay in understanding sex. South Asian youth are left to learn things on their own and this isn’t conducive for healthy sexual exploration; these feelings of confusion and guilty should not be amplified especially in a somewhat already awkward situation.
An invading sense of guilt and shame often accompany individuals and forces people to subdue their craving and desire for intimacy. Some South Asian young adults are eventually left to seek out safe spaces to discuss and explore sex in the public settings of our funniest stories shared with friends; backs of cars, stairwells, changing rooms, public washrooms and even the woods become the places where some seek safety and privacy. Of course, these places lack safety and privacy which in turn lead to stress and the underlying fear of being caught. Sexual exploration then becomes rushed, illicit and does little more than reinforce the taboo and secrecy surrounding sex in the South Asian community.
As a result, knowledge concerning sex is second-hand and questionable. Guidance is desperately sought from friends and hushed tones and chuckles accompany every question to reduce the urgency that underlies. Sexual education programmes are an excellent opportunity to educate adolescents about sexual health. However, it is far too common that these programmes are not entirely informative or sex-positive. It is, therefore, painstakingly easy for South Asian young adults to be misinformed about sex – particularly, safe and pleasurable sex.
Despite our so-called progression as a community, the heavy silence surrounding sex still exists, and whilst it isn’t a topic we necessarily want to discuss with our family members in a brandishing manner, the stigma enclosed around it needs to be dismantled or at least revised. The South Asian induction into adulthood cannot continue as a virginal tumble in the back of a car in an abandoned multi-storey car park.
Contribution by Ravinder Kaur.