Breaking Taboos: Sex and South Asians

“British Asians who, like me, are second or third generation in the UK are having sex outside of marriage. But here’s the plot twist; we would rather walk a plank into shark infested waters than ever openly admit to having sex...” - Taran Bassi

I have written many articles on challenging topics such as sexism, colourism and the chaos of Covid-19 to name a few, but attitudes towards sex is the most difficult and complex topic that I have dared to write about. I myself have not had any long term relationships nor have I engaged in casual sex because my focus is on building a successful career. But each to their own - every young British Asian have their own views on sex.


As a young British Asian man, I made the mistake of listening to male friends or male cousins who often foolishly associate manhood with how many women they have apparently slept with (trust me, women cannot stand these guys). Even as a teenager I found these young men to be insecure, reckless and using sex to boost their low self-esteem and pride because they did not understand that a true relationship is about connecting with a person emotionally, spiritually and physically. As for young British Asian women, it's a contrasting story. There is definitely a pressure to not have sex outside of marriage by family/friends while their brothers or cousin brothers are encouraged to have relations.



But don’t just take my word for it, here are the opinions of a few young British Asians and their thoughts on taboo and sex.


Preet Singh is a young and captivating comedian with a sharp and relatable sense of humour that pierces through the air like an arrow from Prince Arjuna’s bow. You may have seen him on BBC News talking about the effect of the pandemic on the comedy scene, if not you can check it out on his Instagram above, showing his hilarious live stand-up comedy in numerous events across the UK (pre-COVID).


If most brown people I know tried to talk about sex with their parents they’d either be taken for an exorcism or on the first flight back home to marry Bunty/Deepi from the village.



“Oh, sex is a taboo subject for sure! The topic of sex is avoided like paying full price in brown households, which is ridiculous in itself. For a culture that created the Kama Sutra (ancient Sanskrit text about sexuality) we now for some inexplicable reason believe that sex is bad. It is a depressing thought that your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents were likely having better informed, more liberal and wilder sex than you are.

The closest you get to formal sex education as a brown kid is watching Shah Rukh Khan dance around a tree shirtless or being shouted out for not looking away during a sex scene.

It gets even more unusual when you look throughout the subcontinent and its prominent historical figures. The Mughals? Loved to have sex (harems). Even one of the most prominent figures in my own Punjabi culture (Maharaja Ranjit Singh had countless wives and concubines). My own hypothesis is that notions of Victorian shame permeated into the various cultures of the sub-continent.


This concept of ‘shame’ and ‘dishonour’ particularly in relation to women is what makes sex so taboo. If most brown people I know tried to talk about sex with their parents they’d either be taken for an exorcism or on the first flight back home to marry Bunty/Deepi from the village. Siblings on the other hand I think are slightly different. Most people have a better rapport with their siblings due to a better understanding of life in the West. As a whole, the inability to speak to parents about sex in my view can lead to the problems we see in our cultures, e.g. rape, porn addiction etc. Parents need to foster environments of open communication in order to better guide the youngsters. It’s probably better to ask a woman if there is more pressure on them to be virgins before marriage. But in my view it’s obvious. I recently had a conversation with a female friend who spoke to another male friend who “advised” her to keep her virginity so she would be “eligible” for marriage...in the 21st Century...in the UK. I was speechless that people still think like this!”

Faris is an innovative video creator for brands, events and online platforms with a unique flow that comes straight from the heart. He is a charismatic and down to earth presenter who has worked with The Ibiza Bible, BBC Asian Network and Imjustbait.


“I think sex is definitely a taboo subject especially within the South Asian culture. It is seen as a dirty, shameful crime. I wouldn’t talk about it with my family because it’s not part of their culture, so it would just be awkward and uncomfortable for everyone. There is definitely more pressure on women simply due to the traditional Asian mentality and the way they perceive both gender roles”.

Maliha Shoaib is a London based journalist with notable copywriting, proofreading and editing experience. She is currently Editor-in-Chief of her university's paper, The SOAS Spirit, where she manages a team of 20 people as well as teaching at writing workshops. You can read many of her engaging articles on her website linked above about women’s issues (particularly women of colour), fashion/beauty, identity, technology, social commentary and pop culture criticism.


Their bodies are essentially property.


“I’ve always found that sex and relationships were seen as taboo in our community.

Even though my parents never explicitly told me I couldn’t date I assumed it was not allowed. I’m very open to talking about sex, parties, alcohol and all the other things that are typically seen as haram. But I think I’m definitely in the minority there. I know out of all my cousins I’m probably the only who ‘gets away with it’ (having good grades, being generally respectful and also because my parents are stricter than some but are quite westernised overall and gave me a lot of freedom as soon as I was a teenager). I absolutely think that there’s a double standard with sex when it comes to gender. It’s interesting that young British Asian men tend to be desexualised in Western media while young British Asian women are often hyper-sexualised. It’s interesting that within the South Asian community the double standard is that men can engage in sexual relations and women cannot. A huge part of that is honour culture and the idea of purity as women are often seen as emblems of their families and even their nation which also means that their bodies are essentially property”.



An anonymous opinion by a talented woman.


“Sex is a massive taboo for both genders, yet somehow men seem to get away with it more than women. It’s something that all our lives, we are told it is wrong but as soon as we are married we have to do it because we’re expected to have kids. I find it so insane that no one talks about it, people just are expected to ‘find out’ about sex naturally”.



Tanbir Ahmed is an accredited online fitness coach who has a simple but effective approach to fitness. He has even innovatively applied the 80:20 rule to fitness and explained this in detail on his Instagram profile which has changed the game for fitness fanatics.


“Personally, I think the odds are shifting at the moment - ten years ago it was preferable for young British Asian women to be virgins before they got married. Now the odds are turning as the western culture is instilled into the younger generation. It’s more common now to find a young British Asian woman who has been in another relationship or is not a virgin. There is definitely more pressure on women to be virgins before marriage than men. Young British Asian men tend to get away with it. But that is personally how I feel and things are going towards that direction in upcoming years”.


Omar Mehtab is a genuine guy with brilliant comic timing who is currently a broadcast assistant at BBC Click which has an audience of over 330 million viewers. He has produced great social media content for BBC Click and reported on topics such as technology and social media influencers. There is nothing he can't do - he does everything from reporting, producing, filming, editing, directing, and writing - across television, radio, and online.


Instead of a pat on the back for losing my virginity, I would've got a slap on the face if I were a girl.


“Sex is a still a fairly taboo subject. While growing up, if there is a bit of touching up in a film that we are watching with our parents, we are programmed to look away out of respect.

I still do it now. Bollywood films have only in the last decade or so been showing kisses on-screen, let alone anything else. But should it be a taboo subject? No. Without talking about such an important thing, we repress any feelings or issues to do with it. We aren't able to process or analyse them properly and it could lead to problems. I would be comfortable speaking about sex to anyone I'm close to and I have. My parents, friends, sibling, even a stranger - the more we normalise it, the easier it is to learn and practise sex safely. I understand there's a cultural inclination to speak little of it and save it until marriage as it's a sacred thing. But talking about it less doesn't make it any more special. Someone can choose to be a virgin and still have these discussions. It's about being comfortable with yourself and your choices, not being shamed into them. The more we talk about it, the better we can understand what sex is and how you important it is to you.


There is DEFINITELY more pressure on women. I remember growing up and being told by male family members that they would actively restrict their daughters' freedom to go out compared to their sons as their daughters more 'vulnerable'. Instead of a pat on the back for losing my virginity, I apparently would've got a slap on the face if I were a girl. And a lot of men expect their brides to be virgins too. In this case, it's pretty simple don't impose standards on anyone else that you're not willing to meet yourself. Whether someone is a virgin or not doesn't mean anything it's about the person, who they are and their experiences. Not whether or not they've had sex. Some people need to grow up”.


You may have noticed that I have more male opinions in this article than female opinions, unlike my other articles where there is more of a gender balance of opinions. But this reflects the reality that many young British Asian women will proudly and courageously speak about feminism and colourism but still feel very conscious about discussing sex as they may feel afraid of what their relatives or immediate family may think of them. Our parent's generation came from a time where dating was not common - they are new to online-dating and possibly oblivious to the F boy culture and the premarital sex of our time. Conversations about sex and sexual health are unheard of in brown households, but I strongly believe those are conversations that should be normalised, if not in our generation, definitely a part of future South Asian parenting.


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