"One time I got chlamydia from an Indian girl who claimed she was a virgin."
In the UK it is legal for anyone from the age of 16 to have sex.
It is natural to be curious and experimental when becoming sexually active for the first time.
Whilst sex without a condom is seen as more ‘stimulating’ and ‘pleasurable’ for many within the Desi community, it’s important to be aware of some potential consequences.
British Asians are in no way immune from the fact that unprotected sex can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
STIs can be transferred through unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex and genital contact.
Left untreated, STIs can be painful, cause infertility, be passed to newborns and, in extreme cases, cause death.
So, what exactly are the levels of STIs for British Asians, and how do they compare with the rest of the UK?
DESIblitz explores the statistics, cultural barriers specific to the British Asian community, and provides help for those who may be knowingly or unknowingly suffering in silence.
Figures by ‘Public Health England’ show how British Asians only make up 3 percent of all UK diagnosed STIs in 2014, with 12,962 cases.
Put into context, black Britons reported 35,730 (8 per cent) of cases, and white Brits account for 64 per cent with over 280,000 cases.
This breakdown of STIs affecting British Asians shows that chlamydia and gonorrhoea are on the rise.
HIV rates are also rising for Asians, although low compared to other UK ethnic demographics.
Do these statistics pose any cause for concern, and do they reveal the full story of British Asians and sex?
Asian culture is hugely diverse but detrimental harmonised threads run deep through each sector.
A Female Perspective
Asian women somehow bear a greater stigma towards premarital sex than men.
Not being able to marry within the community, and the likelihood of being disowned by your family, are not risks men commonly face once exposed as having had sex before marriage.
Honour, reputation and upholding the ‘family name’ can become barriers to how relationships, and ultimately sex in relationships develop.
This makes it tougher for Asian women to come forward with concerns around STIs.
Whether a British Asian woman is independent or living within a traditional family, the issues around contracting STIs remain the same.
Many migrant spouses from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are often never taught what STIs are, and end up contracting and living with them with nobody to turn to.
Many young women are never even told or get to learn about protected sex, such as the use of condoms and contraceptive pills.
One female British Asian in her early 30s, Neha Patel, talks about the double standards blatant for all to see:
“Guys get away with it because they’re seen as sowing their oats before marriage. Then they expect to marry some kind of pure virgin once they’ve had their fun.
“They’re always trying to get to a stage where they can persuade you to do it without a condom.
“I’ve got friends who get pressured into it by their boyfriends and then they stress until they get their period. God knows what they may have caught.
“Us girls have a lot more to lose if we get caught so we have to be even more careful when it comes to past relationships and STIs, especially with social media like Facebook.”
A Male Perspective
British Asian men can be often linked with having unprotected sex due to the excuse ‘it feels better without one’.
But, habits are now changing with more condoms being used, perhaps due to the increase in STIs over the past decades.
Afraz Hussain, a British Pakistani in his late 20s has first hand experience with STIs:
“I only have unprotected sex with a girl once I trust her, but there was one time I got chlamydia from an Indian girl who claimed she was a virgin.
“Asian girls are wonderful but have a tendency to lie about their sexual past. This isn’t fair to us guys. They lie because of religious principles, shame and fear that they’re not pure.
“And all guys want the holy grail of vaginas. The fact that they lie doesn’t help in the prevention and spread of STIs.
“Who knows how many are out there with undetectable diseases and they may have unknowingly had them for years. Then they get married and it all comes out when she can’t have kids.”
Asian Men experimenting with anal and oral sex without any protection, do carry the high risk of getting and spreading an STI.
The longer an STI is left untreated the chances of combating them worsen.
With Desi men known for their general reluctance to seek medical help, this attitude can be fatal, and not just for themselves.
What are the most common STIs and how would you know if you had one?
- Symptoms: Pain during urination, unusual discharge, swelling of testicles
- Cure: Antibiotics
- Symptoms: Thick yellow discharge from penis or vagina, bleeding in between periods for women
- Cure: Single injection and tablet
- Symptoms: Genital sores, skin rash, sore throat, serious bodily damage
- Cure: None. Antibiotics if diagnosed early
- Symptoms: Small fleshy bumps around genital or anal area
- Cure: Creams, cryotherapy (freezing)
- Symptoms: Painful blisters around the genital area
- Cure: Can be controlled with antiviral medicines
- Symptoms: Flu, inability to fight diseases
- Cure: None. Various drugs to prolong life
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE AN STI
Help is available if you think you have contracted an STI.
Being tested for an STI is often as simple as giving a swab sample of saliva. Results can come back within a week or two.
Approaching the relevant services when knowledge is limited can lead to delays in safe and quick treatment.
Here’s what to do for confidential and expert advice:
- Speak to your GP or pharmacist
- Visit your local sexual health walk in (GUM) clinic
- Many Boots pharmacies have sexual health clinics within their stores
- Call the Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123
- Visit a community contraceptive clinic
- Research the National Health Service (NHS) website for more information
- Visit Umbrella Health (0121 237 5700) for information and help finding local services
Can the British Asian community openly accept that premarital unprotected sex does occur, and work to educate, rather than dispirit and oppress its sexually active members?
It is clear some cultural traditions retain barriers which need to be broken down when it comes to getting checked out for STIs.
Only then can STI levels be genuinely low and remain so.