“I wish I didn’t have to hide it from him"
Shame, fear of being caught and financial struggles are some of the reason why Desi women choose to hide contraception.
A simple Google search of ‘How can I hide my contraception?’ opens a floodgate of possible answers.
However, not many stop to think, ‘Why do so many people feel the need to hide their contraception?’
In South Asian culture, after you have tied the knot, family, friends and even the community eagerly waits for the happy news – ‘I am pregnant.’
This puts pressure on the couple who may not wish to have children in the near future or even at all.
This fact can be quite hard to digest for their family; therefore, they resort to hiding their methods of contraception.
In particular, Desi women struggle with this as they are usually bombarded with the questions, ‘When will you have a baby?’ or ‘Why are you not pregnant yet?’
We explore what contraception is, the various types and ultimately why Desi women feel they have to hide it.
What is Contraception?
Contraception, also known as birth control or fertility control refers to the use of artificial methods or techniques in order to prevent pregnancy from sexual intercourse.
Pregnancy occurs when a man’s sperm successfully reaches a woman’s egg.
However, contraception has been designed to prevent this process from happening.
This method stops the sperm from reaching the egg thus averting fertilisation (fertilised egg).
Contraception can and should be used by women and men who wish to avoid a pregnancy.
Types of Contraception
There are numerous methods of contraception that are readily available to buy over the counter.
While some are favoured over others, the vast choice ensures there is a method for everyone.
One of the most popular and arguably easiest forms of birth control is a male condom.
Known as a barrier method, they are made from thin latex, polyisoprene or polyurethane. Male condoms stop a man’s semen from contacting his partner.
According to the NHS website, when used correctly, male condoms are “98% effective.”
In turn, this means out of 100 women only two may become pregnant in one year.
In the UK, you can get free condoms from sexual health clinics, GP surgeries and more.
A female condom is another barrier method. It is designed from thin synthetic latex and prevents semen from entering the womb.
They are “95% effective”, according to the NHS website. Both female and male condoms protect against pregnancy and STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections).
Another type of popular birth control is the combined oral contraceptive pill commonly known as ‘the pill’.
This tiny substance includes the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These are naturally produced in the ovaries.
The pill stops ovulation which is when an egg is released into the ovaries. This means no egg, no pregnancy.
This method is 99% effective and is often favoured by many women.
Other forms of birth control include:
- Contraceptive implant/injection
- IUD (Intrauterine Device)
- IUS (Intrauterine System)
- Vaginal ring
- Progestogen-only pill
These methods of contraception can be stopped at any time. However, there are two permanent methods of contraception: female sterilisation and male sterilisation (vasectomy).
The former permanently blocks/seals the fallopian tubes to prevent the eggs from combining with the sperm.
This method is 99% effective and the procedure can be carried out under general or local anaesthetic.
A vasectomy is another surgical method, this time for the male. This procedure cuts/seals the tubes that carry sperm.
Again, this surgery can be carried out under local anaesthetic and has a 99% effective rate.
Feeling afraid of being caught with contraception by your partner or family is instilled in many Desi women’s minds.
Younger generation South Asians engage in more premarital sex compared to the elder generation.
As a result of this, Desi women hide their contraception from their families. This is because typically sex before marriage is considered to be a big no for South Asians.
This is due to religion, cultural expectations and societal pressures.
We exclusively spoke to Amreen who opened up about her sex life and the lengths she went to, to hide her birth control. She explained:
“Even before marriage, I had a very active sex life. Although I knew my parents wouldn’t approve, it was my personal matter.
“Yet, I was still afraid of being caught by my parents. One day, my younger brother found my contraceptive pills after they had fallen out of my bag accidentally.
“As I had feared they fell into my mum’s hands. Somehow, I managed to convince her that they were not used for what she thought.
“On other occasions, I had to blame it on my friends and say they were not mine.
“You could say I wasn’t the best at hiding my contraception but somehow, I managed to do it just about.”
Hiding contraception before marriage is certainly difficult but what about after marriage?
Married women continue to go through the struggle of hiding their contraception not only from their in-laws but sometimes their husbands.
Some Desi women use contraception without the knowledge of their husbands. This is due to not being able to bring up the matter of family planning with their partners.
Good communication is extremely important in any relationship. However, some Desi women struggle to communicate with their husbands on this subject out of fear.
The fear of challenging a man’s sense of control is what some Desi women consider. This prevents them from initiating the family planning discussion.
The sad truth for Desi women is that sex is culturally silenced. This, in turn, leads women to use contraceptives without their husbands knowing.
We spoke to Naz whose name has been changed for confidential reasons about her struggle with hiding her contraception from her husband. She revealed:
“I belong to that generation where a man was in control. I got married when I was just 17 with very little knowledge of sex and birth control.
“Immediately, after marriage, I fell pregnant with my first child. Soon after, I gained knowledge about birth control through a friend of mine.
“I was amazed and shocked by the concept. I remember once I tried to bring up the topic with my husband but tried to do it hypothetically.
“However, his complete dismissal of the subject made it clear he was against contraception.”
Despite her husband’s disapproval, Naz took it upon herself to secretly take birth control. She said:
“I wish I didn’t have to hide it from him but at that time it was the only way. I wasn’t ready to have more children as my first pregnancy was tough, so I had to do it for myself.”
Unfortunately, this is the reality for South Asian women who must independently act upon their fertility preferences out of fear.
For some people, contraception is morally wrong. It has been argued that this method is like abortion, unnatural, can cause health risks and more.
If you opt for birth control then you are anti-life causing the individual to feel ashamed for their actions.
This is experienced by Desi women who face the pressure of bearing children more so than their counterpart.
Speaking about the difficulty and shame she faced for taking the pill, Jas whose name has been changed, revealed:
“When my in-laws found out I was on the pill I was made to feel horrible about it.
“They told me what I was doing was unnatural and against our religion and I was even depriving them of the joy of a newborn.
“Despite this, I continued using the pill as it suited both me and my husband who supported me.
“Eventually, as time went on, the taunting stopped which was a relief. However, now, my husband and I are trying for a child.
“We’ve not had any luck yet and I have been told by family that it is because of being on the pill before and this is what happens when I try to be ‘western’.”
Another reason South Asians argue birth control is morally wrong is that it makes it easier to engage in sexual intercourse before marriage.
As mentioned above premarital sex is frowned upon, therefore contraception must be used discreetly.
As well as the moral side of the argument, Desi women also face the perceived religious aspect.
In many religions like Islam, the attitude to contraception is not particularly favoured. However, this is not to say that it is prohibited.
Rather these religions including Sikhism and Hinduism teach followers to carefully consider family planning methods.
In order to do so, contraceptive methods must be considered to eliminate the fear of pregnancy every time you have sexual intercourse.
People will use the religion angle to make it seem as though contraception is considered a sin when it is not.
As a result of this, a Desi woman may feel belittled if she openly admits to using contraception.
Another aspect which must be considered when exploring why Desi women hide birth control is their financial problems.
Having a baby is financially straining for many people. A baby requires endless things from clothes, formula milk, moses basket, bottles and much more.
There is no doubt all these things cause a hole in the pocket.
While this may be considered secondary to the joy a baby brings, it is an aspect which cannot be overlooked.
We asked Parveen whether she ever had to hide her birth control to prevent a pregnancy due to financial reasons. She said:
“Unfortunately, I did. My husband and I made the decision to wait a while before we tried for a baby. He was not in the financial position to support a baby and nor was I.
“It was harder than it probably sounds because I had extended family constantly asking why I am not pregnant and if everything was okay.
“My husband also felt sympathetic for me because he knew it was emotionally draining for me. Whereas, no one asked him the same.
“I stayed quiet because I didn’t want anyone to know that we could not afford to have a baby.
“Since we were living with family and not in a place of our own, I had to be extremely careful in hiding my birth control.
“If my mother-in-law or sister-in-laws ever found out I don’t even know what I would have done.
“It would have caused a lot of problems to say the least.”
According to research, in the UK, raising a child until they are 21-years-old costs a staggering £231,843. From this average, £11,498 is spent in the first year alone.
If we break this down further, the average cost for the initial twelve months is £6,000 or £500 per month.
These figures may seem startling and rightly so. Many couples cannot bear the brunt of raising children especially if they are not financially stable.
Although traditionally the male is looked to as the breadwinner in South Asian cultures, women are playing their part in earning for themselves and the family.
As a result of this awareness, Desi women choose to use contraception to prevent pregnancy until they are financially prepared for it.
Once again, they must hide it from extended family, friends and society in order to conceal their financial worries.
Despite contraception being an individual or joint choice between the couple, Desi women are forced to hide it.
While men use contraception, they are not frequently questioned about having children. Instead, the woman is made to deal with the endless probing by Desi aunties.
No matter what the reason behind a Desi woman’s choice for contraception, they are entitled to do so without feeling ashamed or afraid.