By: Reya D
In a recent conversation with my friends and family about sex, I found that there was a taboo amongst my peers regarding sex before marriage. As a teen growing up in the suburbs of Brampton and in my Indo-Caribbean community, I vividly remember being aware of how sex and sexuality were unspoken topics with my parents and extended family members. The notion of even having a “boyfriend” was out of the question, because I was repeatedly told that was something that “good Indian girls” didn’t do.. In recent years, I often heard the saying “why would someone buy the cow, when they can get the milk for free?” I came to understand that this saying meant that if I had sex before marriage
with anyone, I would never get married because men only wanted the sex (i.e. virginity, milk) and not a marriage from me (i.e. the cow).
All this makes me believe that sex and sexuality within Indo-Caribbean communities for young women continues to be a taboo topic intergenerationally. I believe Indo-Caribbean women’s sexuality continues to be controlled and monitored by peers, parents and extended relatives (especially males). Young girls and women are still expected to uphold their virginity and “good girl” status until marriage. Yet during an online chat event with peers about their thoughts on gender violence in South Asian communities, women questioned why their male-counter parts were able to have sex before marriage without being stigmatized or”slut-shamed” for doing so? I can relate to this question. I have asked myself the same thing many times before, yet whenever I ask an elder why boys can have sex with as many partners as they want, I have been given similar answers time and time again—Men do not have to worry about their “milk” (i.e. virginity), they are allowed to do as they please sexually. The message that I have been sent and taught, is that I need to protect my “virginity, milk” so that I am able to marry someday, and Indo-Caribbean men do not. Thus my sex life is controlled by my communities’ expectation for Indo-Caribbean girls to be considered “respectable, good, virgins”. Therefore, I am not talked to about or taught about safe sex practices (e.g. birth control, condoms, etc.) and instead drilled about abstinence. I personally believe that young women are being disillusioned about sex and not taught safe sex by their family members/ community is a fundamental problem in Indo-Caribbean and South Asian communities in the GTA. There is literature that is accessible to young Indo-Caribbean women about their sex and sexuality, but this literature should be made readily available to them. Whether this means it being taught through the new Sex-Ed curriculum in Ontario schools or through community outreach programs like ASAAP, sexual health clinics, etc. Sexual health for young Indo-Caribbean women is vital to the health of the community as a whole, as it is women’s bodies that reproduce the next generation. When Indo-Caribbean women know what is going on with their sex lives and how to have safe sex, these women can led happier and healthier lives.
I believe that changing the landscape of South Asian women’s sexual health begins with knowledge production by and for South Asian communities. If not done, this is how the patriarchal system of male dominance and female subordinancy recycles into the lives of new generations of South Asians. I believe that sexual health and education is necessary knowledge for all genders and sexualities, and I think that there is a greater need to push towards opening the conversation on “sex before marriage” amongst South Asian communities. Sex before marriage is happening in South Asian communities, and it is high time that everyone can talk and learn together about how to lead healthy sexual lives.