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Sex, Lies, and a Desi Take

Most South Asian parents believe their child is not sexually active. (“Our daughter is much smarter than other girls her age.”) Yet studies show that more and more unmarried South Asian guys and girls are sexually active.

Like it or not, the chances that your child has had a taste of the forbidden paan is a fairly safe conclusion (one can only hope that they, too, were safe).

In middle school, my school nurse explained everything about menstruation and sexual maturity to me. In high school, my friend’s mother used to buy her birth control pills for her. In university, my friends frequently took their girlfriends or boyfriends home to meet the parents—spending the night, in the same room no less.

And yet, I’ve never even had an honest discussion about sex, let alone my sexual activeness (or lack thereof) with my parents. In fact, I know very few Desi girls who have.

“It’s just not talked about!” says 27-year-old Rithika from India, “Our culture advocates female piousness and there’s often no room for discussion.”

Living in a globalized world, our culture is no longer as isolated as parents may wish it to be. With sex being the most prominent theme on popular TV shows (Gossip Girl, the OC, Sex and the City to name a few!) as well as many Hollywood movies, it’s naïve to think that your child does not have an opinion on sex. The question is, do you know what it is?

With the average age of marriage rising annually, premarital sex is becoming an increasing reality. “Teenage sex is different than a single working person in their mid-20s,” 29-year-old Nepalese Rahul says, “Yet our parents often lump all premarital sex into one forbidden entity, which makes mature dialogue difficult, and results in well…sex and lies being synonymous.”

Open up an issue of India’s Cosmopolitan, Vogue or Femina magazines, and you will see bold discussions on sex talk, tips, and advice. Today’s Desi girl can often be as curious about her sexuality as she is about cooking the perfect daal or tying the perfect sari.

It’s important to consider that given our culture’s boundaries, it’s extremely difficult for children to broach sex as a topic with their parents. “What are we supposed to say?” says 19-year-old Bangladeshi Aleena, “Yes, Mom I want to learn how to make aloo gobi but can you also teach me to practice safe sex?” The onus to initiate discussion is on you, dear parents.

This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to initiate a scary, awkward sit down. It just means you shouldn’t change the channel every time a sexy scene comes up on TV. Allowing sex to be less taboo in the household earlier on will only benefit you and your child. So that if and when there is an issue, you are not caught off guard when your child is unable to talk to you about it. It’s unfair to call them irresponsible if you’ve never discussed sexual responsibility.

Families’ reluctance to talk about sex is a universal issue, though Asian cultures tend to be much higher on the taboo tree, with South Asian cultures an easy contestant for the (questionably) virtuous angel on the top.

It makes one wonder that if sex was more openly discussed, would less youth want to do it? It’s no secret that the more taboo something is, the more attractive, especially to young adults.

“I believe in abstaining from sex until marriage. It’s something that’s important to me,” Sarah, a 26-year-old Pakistani says. When asked if her parents knew about this, she responded, “We’ve never really talked about it.”

Regardless of where your child’s sexual morality falls on the scale, the key issue is that they should be educated and informed. While many Western countries provide sexual education in classrooms, the South Asian subcontinent clearly lags in this respect.

India first faced the cold reality in November 2004 when national television covered its first prominent teenage sex scandal involving two students from a well-known Delhi school. The couple had taped themselves having oral sex and the boy circulated the video amongst his friends using his cellular phone, and the video soon spread nationally.

Fingers were pointed. At the girls’ family, the boys’ family, at the school, at the creators of mobile cameras, at the online video streaming sites, at the government…the list of whom to blame was endless.

While the media and public berated the students, the ‘MMS clip’ also became the most searched item on the Indian Internet. This brought to the forefront the hypocrisy of a growing modern society’s conflicting ideals on virtue and sexuality.

Since 2004, young adult sex clip cases have been reported with disturbing regularity. The more heart-wrenching stories are those that report of suicides by the girls in question, and in one case, of the girl’s father.

Can more honest discussion help combat the fear, miscommunication, and taboo surrounding sex in Desi culture?

The Yale Globalist reports, “According to a 2006 Indian Health Bureau report, 78 percent of Indians below the age of 20 do not know about safe sex. Compare this to the estimate by the same report that 54 percent are sexually active, and the implications are clear: a lot of teenagers are having sex without knowing what they should about it.”

Every parent can find a reason to not discuss sex with their children. But how many of you are willing to take the risk that your decision to avoid an uncomfortable subject can lead to a more vulnerable child?

Aren’t you always telling your children to be educated? Face challenges? Be honest?

Step up, parents. Actions speak louder than words. And in this case, your words could help your child take wiser, more informed actions.

Now I just really hope my Dad isn’t going to step up anytime soon… just kidding!


The author is a single Indian woman in her late 20’s who has lived in many cities around the world. She hopes her experiences and thoughts will help bridge the generational gap between South Asian parents and children worldwide. ‘No Sex in the City’ is inspired by the popular TV show ‘Sex and the City’ which captured the attention of diverse viewers across the globe.


*All names were changed in this article, at the request of the individuals

* Eating paan is an Indian tradition of chewing betel leaf with areca nut after a meal—it has been recognized as a carcinogen that puts users at risk for oral cancer

* Aloo gobi is a popular potato & cauliflower dish

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8 Responses to Sex, Lies, and a Desi Take

  1. Sahar April 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    Excellent Article.

    And I really do have to agree – parents need to step up and take charge. You don’t want your teenage daughters getting their sex-ed from other, equally inexperienced, uneducated, hormonally charged teenagers. More so because along with the sharing of information amongst youth – There’s also the burden of peer pressure. In Karachi, Kids as young as 13 are sexually active.. by 18, they’ve already passed through multiple sexual partners and done things that are probably illegal in parts of the world.

    Even the most liberal parents tend not to bring pre-marital sex up with their kids before the age of 18… As mentioned in this article, live in the highly globalized cyber age. kids are learning MUCH faster, are A lot more aware, and have far more exposure . Waiting it out till you think they’re old enough is probably not an option anymore.

    As far as trying to get girls to abstain till they’re old enough/married – well, i guess all parents through the ages have tried, and will continue to do so. We can’t expect them not to. I know I’ll “try” the same with my kids. The idea though, is to give logical/rational reasoning- And to share some vital information with your kids- i.e :
    1) Contraceptives don’t always work- specially when you’re too inexperienced to know all the precautions and what to do if- God Forbid- something goes wrong.
    2) STD’s are a HUGE issue.. KNOW what you’re getting yourself into.
    3) Sex comes with emotional attachment. If you’re not mature, stable, and/or strong enough to deal with the consequences.. don’t do it.
    4) (probably the most important) Respect your body.

    My parents were always afraid to bring up ‘sex’ with my sisters and I – because once you start talking about ‘safe- sex’, you instantly imply that it’s OK to be having sex. eventually, though.. they did. it was awkward… but necessary.
    The fact is, it’s better for Kids to KNOW what safe sex is.. and it’s better for parents to give their kids information, and ‘encourage’ them to wait it out.

    I’ll always remember what my mom said to me when I was 14 (worked like a chastity belt) – “Your body is the only thing that you have, that is your own.. don’t be in such a hurry to give it away” . Though my boyfriends may have hated me for it… I’m glad I got that piece of advice.

  2. John Doe April 20, 2010 at 7:22 am #

    “Wow!” That was the word that came out of my mouth when I first saw the title of the article. Knowing how strict the Asian culture is to find an article focusing on sex, let alone teenage sex, is surprising. After finishing the article I see that the author has very good, honest, and true points to make.
    She starts off by saying that sex is visible everywhere in today’s modern era. And she’s right every place that I look I see ads that portray women wearing barely any clothes and slogans like, “Want to go out with girls like this?” And I’m not even looking for those types of adds they just show up everywhere! And the worst part is that these types of ads are visible to children. In such Disney shows like “Kim Possible,” the main character runs around in a sports bra. In older days all of the characters were fully clothed and the show didn’t focus on getting a date. But just seeing sex everywhere is not the worst part.
    The article then moves onto how a lot of people in the Desi culture are not informed of all that can happen when two people have sex without knowing the consequences. And that is one of the largest problems with the Desi culture is that the issue of sex is not addressed. Up until ten years ago sex was never addressed in Desi schools. I believe that if the parents in the Desi culture confronted their children about sex, the amount of teenage pregnancies, and not to mention diseases, could go down exponentially.
    This article was very moving and informative to me. Even if it sounds odd, this article gave me a better view of the Desi culture. I believe that to understand a culture you don’t just know what language is spoken there but what family life is like. When asking myself how one might change these situations I realize that in order to change it one would need to change the entire culture. And changing ones culture just because you don’t like a certain aspect of it is not right.

  3. M&Ms April 21, 2010 at 3:39 am #

    I personally have lived in one of the most conservative societies known to the world, Saudi Arabia. Although many items, television shows and magazines go about uncensored, the majority of the Saudi Youth have heard and know alot about sex. Although many of their parents are unaware of the knowledge their children possess and never bother asking or rather discussing that specific information with their children. As you stated above there isn’t room for discussion on such topics in societies as these. A while ago while I was discussing this matter with a Saudi friend of mine she said that although she wishes to marry at a young age she has never even thoroughly discussed sex with her mother, all she learned about that came from school and friends. IAnd I agree one hundred percent that parents need to step up and get involved in their children’s lives, even if that means having totally awkward conversations with their children and maybe not covering up their eyes when a sex scene passes on Television it’s better than knowing nothing about your child’s life and having them lose their innocence to random equaly uneducated individuals.

  4. Nightshade April 21, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    Im quite intersted in this issue, I never had my parents talk to me a lot about sex. the concept that is shown actually proves that most parents are not taking responsibility in areas they should the most. I live in Saudi Arabia, and it is true that many teenagers keep the fact that they know a lot about sex. I agree that parents must step up, otherwise, if left unchecked, will spread like a rapid contagious disease and will start a downfall in society.

    The fact that most active teens keep knowlege from their parents is proving the taking of a turn for the worst. Parents need to educate their children on the consequences, and what some of those consequences lead to. women can get pregnant very easily, and if they do not want their child, many either cast them away of leave them to an orphanage. Population is increasing, and this is one of the factors, also poverty increases, because more and more people are born and cast into a pit of poverty where they stay for the rest of their miserable lives until some miracle happens and pulls them out. Another consequence is an emotional one, although many people are sexually active, the one who gets pregnant is singled out, called a slut and such, which, in many cases, leaves the girl emotionally depressed, a dangerous state, and the girl may commit suicide, killing not only herself, but the unborn infant as well. Parents can avoid casualties and emotional attack to their childer by again, educating their children in the consequences.

    Suicide, Poverty, Population increase, Emotional devastation and being tagged as a slut… All avoidable, just educate your children parents, educate them so that they grow mature, so that they grow upwards and reach out in beauty, so that they will not make the mistakes so may others did.

  5. AIS-R student April 21, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    Until about 3 years ago, I had no knowledge about sex at all. I learned what it is and more things about in my health classes. I know this might sound like a weird approach to learn about this topic, because from what I know of, most of the teens learn about it in some other ways. My friends were surprised when I told them I never knew about sex on that first day of health class in 8th grade. I never even wondered how babies were made and how I was born to the world. All these new information was a shock to me at the beginning. However, it was even more shocking to hear that some of our peers have already gone through this experience.
    What age would be the appropriate for sexual intercourse? Well, this answer varies because unfortunately there are some teenagers who tend to make wrong decisions. This kind of decision can bring a drastic change in one’s life and they don’t realize these consequences. People say that we learn from our mistakes, but this is a whole different matter. When you realize you made a mistake and you might have learned from it, but it doesn’t prevent the fact that you brought a new life to the world. The responsibility is huge. Of course this case is the worst and is preventable. What I think about this issue is that the main fault to this action would not be the fact that teens are underage. I think that it is just bad because teens have parents who look forward to them and believe in therm. It would totally hurt the parents when they know about the teens’ wrong and dangerous decision.
    Accepting the fact that often teens tend to make wrong decisions, it is part of the parents’ obligation to do best to prevent it. This is why early sexual education is necessary. Maybe if those teens that already have lost their virginity have had more sex education, they might still be a virgin. The scary part to this issue is not that teens have lost their virginity; it is that after the first experience it would be highly addictive activity for them. The more they get involved into sexual activities, the more they will risk themselves of making a baby. I know that talking to the child about sex is not the most comfortable conversation for the adults, but that’s what should be done in every family.
    According to this article, in November 2004, the national television covered the first prominent teenage sex scandal involving two students from a well-known Delhi School. This couple videotaped themselves having sex. The boy spread this video among his friends and soon it spread nationally. I know you parents trust your child. You might think that your child has nothing to do with this issue. However, it is important to realize that all teenagers are under this risk and it is your child that you have to protect from unsafe sexual activities.

  6. Desithinkers January 24, 2011 at 5:10 am #

    Really great article.
    South Asian countries should think over it very seriously. We are killing thousands of girls with this taboo.
    In india when a boy and girl does ‘that’, it’s the girl who is blamed for it. And that’s rubbish. I believe unless and until women talk to their children on this the air is not going to be cleared by govt or media or anything completely.
    Wonderful article.
    A Desithinker.

  7. Kaunhomea July 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    This is a true fact the South Asian community in America, has been dealing with this, and the worst part is that now it’s affecting our kids who are in high school. I know that I was a virgin until I was 16, reason this happened because all the white kids in my high school were sleeping around, and kids were getting pregnant. No one was around in my community to tell me to hold on. Now I regret not holding back until my late 20’s and finding someone to share that special moment. The other thing is that kids are now having sex in there freshman years of college, thinking its okay. Girls are either forced into thinking that if they don’t they will loss there boyfriends, or have such low self esteem of themselves, and guys, think that they have to have to go around sleeping with every girl because there guy friends are doing that, and it’s only way to fit in. As well the boys don’t realize the words self control, and that having a double standard for our Sons and Daughters are what causes this situation a lot. They aren’t held in a safe environment where parents are always keeping them under lock down! Once your leave home for college kids then go WILD! There so many reasons that are now leading into this situation.

    Main thing is we NEED TO TALK to our kids about this. The days when oh our kids won’t do that, and we don’t do that in our community is no longer there. As well you have to think about who your kids are with, and deal with, and the stress. Being the Indian Parent from India is DIFFERENT when your kids grow up here. Your either way to CLOSED minded or way to OPEN minded. You need to find a medium!

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