Sex before marriage is on the increase in the Brit-Asian population leading to many incidents of unwanted pregnancies.
The phrases premarital sex, unplanned pregnancies, one night stands and single mums, are still controversial in our communities.
Sexual health and behaviour is not meant to be discussed. But sexual liberation amongst young Asians, particularly in women, is on the rise.
Our most high profile example is Shobna Gulati. The actress, who played Sunita Parekh in Coronation Street, became a single mum representing the new sexually independent Asian woman.
A recent study by the national Teenage Pregnancy Unit has found that British Indians have become more sexually liberated. Young British Indians were more likely than their parents to have sex before marriage. These are still within secret relationships.
Asian women having abortions has dramatically risen. Surveys show that many of them are from consented sexual relationships. Attitudes and behaviour within Asian populations are rapidly changing. Young British Asians are growing up in a society that is more relaxed about premarital sexual activity.
Somewhere along the line the message of effective contraception is not getting through. Young women are reported as “feeling confused about their attitude to sex and dating.” There is added pressure of going through the experience in isolation and keeping it from their parents or supportive networks which makes them more vulnerable.
These women would seek abortion if they became pregnant. Their parents would force them to marry if they were caught. The context and culture in which these women are dating and having sex is dividing generations within the same country.
Media and Bollywood plays a big part. Sexually charged images are broadcast on our screens with the notion to promote more titillating stories. Bipasha Basu in ‘Jism’ and Priyanka Chopra in ‘Corporate’ portray the image of the sexually confident Asian women.
These images have become more sexually explicit over time. The stereotype of the demure Asian woman doesn’t sit easily with the images of sexually independent women. This creates an expectation of Asian women to be sexually liberated as well as conforming housewife types with premarital sex being part of the package.
Virginity and chastity are traditionally highly valued in South Asian cultures. Women are expected to uphold traditional values. Pure or chaste women have been associated with resurgent Asian cultural preservation movements.
Premarital sex is thought to ruin family honour. Fear of being rejected by family prevent women entering sexual relationships openly. They are accused of disloyalty to the culture if they follow Western morality which is described as highly promiscuous.
More Western attitudes have brought changes to these preserved cultural values. The independent British Asian woman is making more decisions for herself. The new lifestyle is empowering her to decide on matters such as sexual relationships.
With marriages happening later in life due to careers and personal choices, the desire to have dating relationships and subsequently, sex before marriage, is becoming a growing factor amongst younger generations of Brit-Asians.
The prevalent British Asian youth today is influenced by independence, music, fashion, cars, film and club culture.
Most outgoing Asian women are exposed to drinking, smoking and drugs, in a clubbing environment. This makes them susceptible to risky sexual behaviour. Peer pressure and social groups are often guilty of dictating sexual attitudes.
Parents and family, often second generation Brit-Asian themselves, have a more ambivalent attitude towards dating and relationships. They are aware of the changing culture and those opposing it, feel powerless to do anything about it.
The vast majority of girls in the Asian community are inhibited by family considerations and are not sexually liberated. Secret relationships, fear of being found out, illicit affairs are still a major part of Brit-Asian life. Keeping sexual activity confined to secrecy and having non-public relationships are still the way for many Brit-Asian women.
In surveys on premarital sex, self esteem is a major factor. Girls with low self esteem are more likely to end up in one night stands or dead end relationships.
Women are expected to look after the men in their lives and that often means sacrificing for them. Women are placed in a submissive role in these relationships, often being coerced into sexual relationships. Families are a complication. The situation where the man has not told his family about a girlfriend and subsequently splits up with her due to family pressure is common.
Gender differences create imbalance. Women are brought up to believe they need a man in their lives. Men see themselves as superior and are not given guidance in sexual matters. It increases one night stand behaviour and promiscuity in men. This puts women in a vulnerable position in relationships where they are more likely to be used and become single mums.
A culture which places importance on female virginity and is more lenient on men creates double standards in behaviour. Women stand to lose more from a sexual liaison and are more likely to be treated with disrespect.
A campaign is needed to raise awareness of risky sexual behaviour amongst young British Asian people and safe sex promoted.
Messages of safe sex apply to British Asians as much as anyone else. It is not just contraception advice that is required. Attitude and behavioural changes need to be explored to encourage more informed choices.
We are going through a transition from traditional ideas of relationships to a relaxed liberal outlook on sex. There needs to be an acknowledgement that young people’s values and lifestyles have changed. Young Brit-Asians need support and guidance more than anything else.