draft FAQ 3. How has…

draft FAQ

3. How has your South Asian background affected your sex writing?

I'm not sure that the South Asian background in particular has had much to do with my interest in sexual material, but I do think my immigrant background has contributed. My parents moved to the United States from Sri Lanka when I was about two-and-a-half, and I grew up in New Britain, Connecticut, in a primarily white (Polish-Catholic) environment.

Like many immigrants, my parents preserved an understanding of their culture and practices as they were when they left their home country -- very traditional and conservative. They themselves had an arranged marriage, one that they had been very happy with, and they looked to the same for the happiness and prosperity of their daughters. To that end, we weren't allowed to date growing up, to go to school dances, to spend any time alone with boys. They were particularly circumspect with me, the oldest -- by the time my sisters (five and nine years younger) were going to school, the strictures had been somewhat relaxed. I think this is a fairly typical pattern for South Asian immigrants, certainly, and probably for many immigrants from more culturally conservative environments than urban America.

What did this mean for me? It was clear to me growing up that my life was far more circumscribed than the lives of my (white) friends. That I was expected to live under a system of rules that undoubtedly seemed reasonable to my parents, but which seemed unreasonable to me. I started questioning my parents' rules quite young, frustrated by the limitations -- and it wasn't long before I decided that I wasn't willing to live by them. Although I went to an all girls' high school (Miss Porter's School, in Farmington, CT), there were still plenty of opportunities to spend time with boys in my neighborhood, and while I was too afraid of the consequences to fool around much, I certainly did a bit of kissing back then. And once I went away to college in Chicago, it wasn't long before I was dating a white boy, falling in love, and breaking every one of my poor parents' rules, with abandon. I had decided that I needed to choose for myself what my own ethics and morality allowed; I've never regretted that decision, though it has at times been difficult to be in such conflict with my parents.

I think all of this made it much easier for me to question general societal rules surrounding sexuality. Once I stepped away from my parents' rule system, no one else's rules had much force. I was free to consider sexuality for itself, and to decide that it seemed far more important to discuss sex freely than to abide by societal taboos on the subject.

While in college, I did some training as a sexuality educator for college students, and I still think that open discussion of sexuality is absolutely critical for a safe, sane and healthy society -- especially during high school and college in America, when people are discovering their sexuality and defining their sexual practices. Ignorance is dangerous -- as witnessed by the thousands of teenagers who still believe that you can't get pregnant if you have sex standing up, or the ones who avoid regular intercourse in order to stay 'virgins' but practice unprotected anal intercourse regularly because they think it's safer.

2 thoughts on “draft FAQ 3. How has…”

  1. This is fascinating, Mary Anne. I have believed for a long time that the real reason that Americans have for so long been so creative in the arts and sciences is exactly the pervasive experience of these intercultural conflicts of values and perceptions of the world. And of course for people in your situation it is especially strong. The other situation where it happens is when a child grows up in a household with two parents from different cultural backgrounds. When there are no unquestioned standard answers to the big questions, or more than one answer is evident from the environment, then a person must create her/his own answers, often with wonderful effect, but often with lots of attendant suffering and soul-searching.

    I know you weren’t asking for this kind of comment on this entry, but it is something I have wanted to express for a long time.

  2. It’s been very interesting reading over your site: I was a student at the Univesity of Chicago in the late 90’s, and also arrived in the United States right before my third birthday.

    I think the issue of immigration as it pertains to creating one’s ethics and morality is extremely influential, almost more than the specific culture of one’s family. Once one realizes that the mores your family wants/is capable of transfering to you are not workable for you as an individual, you are free to consider what would be, and that can be very liberating.

    My background is from the Soviet Union, a place where sex is not forbidden, per se, but not part of any dialogue. Creating a dialogue, be it with family (something I’m not sure is a great thing)or among peers is vital, because not every child/young adult is able to step back and consider what concepts work for them, and what concepts they have to refine and redefine. As in immigrant, sexuality is just one area among many that this process has to be gone through, and maybe that makes us more critical.
    P.S. As a de-facto Resident Assistant (in Pierce tower) I was asked by students questions such as: Is douching with Coca-Cola after sex a good way not to get pregnant?

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