"I don’t think there is an issue here about marriage or not."
The South Asian culture has its own sense of style in society. It’s well known, protective of its reputation and a gate-keeper of its pride. Something still strongly reflected in British Asian culture today.
A typical family of South Asian roots has its own system of rules on how their children should behave.
The usual scenario is to bring up the child to a suitable marriageable age, find a suitable match and get them married and everyone’s happy. In particular for a girl, the presumption is that she is a virgin and never been involved in any type of sexual activity whatsoever.
The fact of the matter is, is that many British Asians, male or female, are sexually active before marriage.
This is not because they are retaliating but simply because many younger generations of Brit-Asians are more independent and can, and are, making their own decisions. With sex being one of them.
It’s important to analyse what has changed in the last decade and the changes in generations.
For the older generations, especially the migrants from South Asia, they did not even think about the ‘S’ word. They were married young and did not have the chance or even a choice to explore this option. After marriage the next step was to produce children for which sex was the key purpose, and children came more or less straight away in the marriage. There usually was no real sex education so contraception and the role of sex in a relationship was never questioned.
The reason for this was because this was the known way of life, and was perceived as being the correct and normal way.
The next generations, born in the UK, attend British schools and universities; obtain degrees and higher qualifications; get employed in professional jobs and have a circle of Western friends and subsequently, introduce changes to the Brit-Asian way of life. Adoption of western culture, society and values, impacted on the complete traditional way of life known to the migrants.
Sex before marriage for South Asians is perhaps not the taboo it once was, and with couples living together even in India, it is a transition in society some accept as part of the ‘modernisation’ of culture and lifestyles.
At the same time, there are many British Asians who still strongly feel that sex is something very personal between two people and marriage is the bond required to share this intimate act. Therefore, sex before marriage is not acceptable to them. Asian women with this view pride themselves as following tradition and sustaining strong values for themself and their family.
Some British Asian girls were asked their opinion of sex before marriage. This is what they said:
“I don’t think there is an issue here about marriage or not. I feel if you are in a relationship with someone and you feel comfortable enough, then I see why this should not happen.”
“I don’t believe sex before marriage because it does not feel right. I would feel guilty doing this because of the way I have been brought up. My mother has always said sex after marriage is the decent way to behave.”
“This is something that supposed to be special. I believe sex after marriage is the best way to get to know your partner.”
“Personally I would not have sex before marriage, because a lot of my Asian male friends, who have slept with unmarried Asian girls, have no respect for them. They make comments like, ‘she’s easy’ and ‘I would not take her home to my family.’ Most of them prefer a virgin.”
“I think it’s good experience before marriage and gives Asian girls some familiarity with this type of thing. I have many friends who have no knowledge or experience of sex, and are married, and are really struggling to perform. I think this is one area which causes problems in a marriage and leads some men or women to having affairs.”
Sex before marriage amongst young Brit-Asians is directly related to family lifestyle, values and freedom.
Those living at home with family are limited to relationships that take place ‘outside’ of the home which are secretive and some involve pre-marital sex. Often, the sex is based on peer pressure, curiousity, young men coaxing girls into having sex, and the fear of rejection on the girl’s part. In other cases, it can be unreported rape and sexual abuse.
Attending university or working away from home are typical examples where British Asians encounter opportunities to socialise openly. For many, this is when the person is away from home for the first time and the newly found freedom can be exciting and adventurous time. Allowing them to make decisions such as having sex before marriage completely their own.
For many young Asians being away from home there is no fear of family members or having to answer to someone even if out partying all night, and it is chance to learn about what they want out of a relationship. No family influence to make them think twice about what they are doing or even in some cases feel guilty, makes it more appealing and easier to explore options. This may include heterosexual and non-heterosexual activity.
Sex before marriage for an Asian women is a greater decision than a male because the consequences can result in serious outcomes. For example, if an Asian girl gets pregnant before marriage it is seen as shameful and a disgrace for the family. Leading to problems such as being disowned by the family and no longer a potential for a family supported marriage. In many cases, girls are known to have secret abortions to avoid such backlash from the family and society.
However, some Asian girls are more confident than others and do not think twice about having pre-marital sex. They feel it is their life and their right to decide their way of life and who is anyone to tell them differently. Others are being experimental and consider sex as having some ‘fun’ and do not see anything wrong with it.
Younger Asian generations are highly influenced by fashion trends, television, films and magazines. And sex plays a significant role in media; encouraging women especially, to look more sensual, sexy, be more open and not see sex as a bad thing.
The notion of the ‘virgin’ bride still holds for many Asian men even today, despite the fact that they do not have to prove that they are of the same status themselves.
There are stories of Asian women having plastic surgery operations to reform hymens after being secretly sexually active and others still experiencing some form sexual activity but keeping their virginity intact.
There are concerns about the lack of contraception use e.g. condoms, amongst young British Asians who are sexually active. And a gradual increase also being seen in young single mothers. Is this related to more irresponsible promiscuity, ignorance or mere choice? Many would ask.
With the trend of Brit-Asian men and women getting married much later in life, the chances of them having a sexual partner is likely to be higher. Especially, those in professions and demanding jobs who are comfortable dating or living together until they are ready to commit to marriage and therefore, accept sex before marriage being a natural part of their relationship.
It is dependent on every individual as to how they see and feel about sex before marriage.
There is no point pretending that it does not happen in British Asian society because it clearly does. It is therefore important to be proactive rather than reactive, and discuss the matter and issues around sex with future generations to help tackle irresponsibility, poor communication and lack of education related to sexual protection.