My childhood home is our little India, filled to the brim with my ancestors’ heritage and principles that remind me of where I am from.
It is also the battlefield where two cultures collide. One that offers freedom of expression and another asks, “what will people say?” with every thought. I have lived my life standing between two parallel train tracks, heading in what appears to be opposite directions.
Talking about sex openly in my childhood home was always a battlefield contender growing up. I, a first-generation Indian immigrant, am now learning to talk about sex.
The unfortunate reality is that even in India today, even uttering such words raises eyebrows and can put a permanent blemish on a woman’s otherwise character and respectability. For many South Asian immigrants, Britain only starts as soon as they step foot outside their doorstep and leave their little India for a short time.
My mother, born and raised in India, was taught that sex is dirty and is an act that is done to satisfy a man’s sexual needs. She grew up believing that, for women, sex is to fulfill the purpose of having children.
Pleasure is acknowledged—but is limited to men.
For generations, South Asian women have been advised by their elders to be subordinate to their partners. Their lives have been dependent on fulfilling their partners from the kitchen to the bedroom. But a man’s hunger will never be fulfilled as long as patriarchy lives to feed it.
After migrating to the UK, my mother witnessed the change in culture and how sex was viewed in society here. She read women’s magazines which contained features on women’s sexual desires that contradicted everything she had known before. This realization wasn’t an easy pill to swallow at the age of 32.
Witnessing these cultural contraries, she wasn’t too shocked by the questions I would bring home from sex education classes at school. Through those conversations, she was also learning. This made her wish for the same comfort to talk about sex with her mother.
Young adults are encouraged to talk about sex outside the classroom. However, in many homes, this is still a sensitive or even untouched topic. This is reflective later in life, as many adults become hesitant to talk about sexual preferences.
This is how the window was opened for me, but I still felt shy around talking about my own sexuality. So the avenue was unexplored until I moved out and went to university.
Even then, I was often the listener and not the talker because “girls who talk about sex openly are whores.” Even though conversations about sex were more common and often occurred after a few drinks, there was still an unspoken judgment surrounding women who enjoyed sex or had a history of different sexual partners. This highlighted that sexual pleasure is also a taboo topic within western culture, not just the east.
Growing up in western society, I have witnessed multiple occasions where men confidently talk about sex and their sexual partners in explicit detail, often boasting of their sexual accomplishments. Why is it then that women are labeled “sluts” for freely expressing their sexual experiences?
Confident women are intimidating.
In 2019, Love Island contestant Maura Higgins made headlines for exhibiting her sexual confidence in the villa. Her Love Island partner Tom was shown telling the lads, “it’ll be interesting to see if she’s all mouth.” This is a prime example of how women are viewed as easy if they chose to have sex or all mouth if they say no, but are equally degraded by men.
I then learned that all women are in the same boat, trying to save our ship from sinking from the weight of patriarchy.
There are also times when women don’t even mention sex, but men view them through a sexually objectifying lens. From the way we dress to the way we talk, men either assume that we want it or don’t care enough that we don’t.
At 19, I worked as a waitress in a local restaurant. One day, I felt like wearing red lipstick, and so I did. Before starting my shift, my manager asked, “who are you trying to impress today?” I didn’t dwell on this comment too much. But later on in my shift when another colleague questioned if I wore red lipstick as an effort to get higher tips?
I felt dirty. I began self-doubting. Is that what all the customers thought as well?
The associations drawn from the red lipstick I wore that day shaped how I was then viewed at work. Linking everything as a way of pleasing the men around me.
I left that job and continued to paint my lips red as a silent act of rebellion.
How is society meant to know any different?
At age 16, as part of our English GCSE, we studied Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. During the character analysis of Curly’s wife, we discovered that Steinbeck portrays her as a slut.
Her “red hair, red nails, red lipstick,” and she isn’t even given her own name. She doesn’t need to be sexually involved with anyone; the color red is enough to paint her as a loose character. At the time, I remember feeling sorry for Curly’s wife, and during that one particular shift, I felt sorry for me.
Feeling sorry never fixed anything. That’s how some women are passively trained to suppress their emotions. If that doesn’t work, we are made to feel shame for openly admitting to enjoying sex.
It’s difficult to assess whether you’ll face judgment when the topic of sex comes up. This is why it’s necessary to become thick-skinned and ready for it. If you are continuously evaluating everyone’s opinions, you are allowing them to suffocate you.
The constant burden isn’t worth the hassle when it’s just sex, and everyone’s doing it.
Be ready to face the critics. It may even cause friction in some relationships, but those who truly value you will understand, even if they don’t see eye-to-eye. This is how I crossed the bridge with my own mother.
Talk about sex. I’m still learning how to.
I am still in the process of having those conversations within my romantic relationships. Feeling comfortable talking about sex with your partner is often an indicator of compatibility. Furthermore, I’ve recognized that learning about your sexual preferences is a continuous journey—they will evolve with you.
Take your time. My personal journey has been a quiet one because I was subconsciously raised to believe that sex is sinful. Becoming more aware of where those biases came from helped me break them down and form my own foundations to grow from.
The most important lesson is to know that your worth is not determined by others’ opinions. Everyone deserves respect, regardless of how open they are about their sexuality.
There will always be someone who will disagree, so why let it get in the way of you having an orgasm?