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