On Thursday evening, the sisters of Sigma Sigma Rho sorority and members from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center's Sexperteam met to collaborate on ideas surrounding consent skills, with a particular focus on learning from the perspective of South Asian students. The conversation covered an array of subtopics within consent, such as navigating conversations with parents, contraceptive use and the cultural constraints that surround these issues.
“Why do we have this type of stigma in South Asian culture with sex and talking about sex?” asked LSA senior Kavita Raval, a sister of Sigma Sigma Rho, during a discussion involving sexual consent matters. “Even saying the word ‘sex’ in front of your parents is scary.”
Public Health student Maryn Lewallen, a member of Sexperteam, and LSA junior Nayna Rath, the president of Sigma Sigma Rho, facilitated the event. They divided the participants of the event into three groups in order to discuss scenarios that have arisen or might arise within many South Asian families.
The groups worked to find solutions to often tricky, yet common situations. The first scenario involved a girl who was unsure of how to tell her parents she wanted to use birth control, and the others described girls who wanted to have more comfortable conversations with their parents about sexual matters.
Many students immediately brought their personal cultural experiences and knowledge to the forefront when working on how to approach these problems and why they can be challenging.
LSA sophomore Anu Nandi said in her culture could appear outdated.
“South Asian culture is so far behind that it is common to remain abstinent until you are married,” she said.
This gap between Western and South Asian cultures makes for a tough bridge to build. Many South Asian students expressed if they told their parents they were dating someone, it would be considered a very serious relationship, as the fact that one is dating someone is usually not divulged unless it is an extremely significant or committed relationship. Meanwhile, in Western culture, dating or sex can often be much more casual, which complicates the issue for many younger South Asian students who desire a more relaxed relationship.
The solutions voiced by the groups varied. While some suggested it is better to be safe than sorry out of fear of parental scolding and to simply confide in another trusted person about questions surrounding sex, others believed it is more appropriate to directly address the issue. Additionally, some students said they would prefer to receive information from someone who is trusted and close to them, like a parent, as opposed to a peer or another outside source.
After the groups reconvened, a few other questions were raised, such as the difference between South Indian males and females when discussing sex with their parents. For males, these matters can be much easier.
“With the patriarchy in Indian society, a guy can do what he wants,” Raval said.
Many students also expressed frustration in having to fluctuate between their American and South Asian identities. While they can have more independence in their lives away from home, like at college, they often feel they have to keep those other parts of their lives hidden from their parents.
The dialogue concluded by talking about effective ways to initiate conversations about topics concerning sex. Participants agreed that constant discussion and education are key.
Kinesiology senior Cara Anderson, a member of Sexperteam, said cultural exchange is essential to education.
“We can still enact cultural change by educating ourselves on these topics,” she said.