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Sexual Health (young people)

Close knit communities: no sex before marriage

Some young people have problems when trying to access sexual health services because they come from close knit communities where young people are not expected to have sex before marriage.

Issues such as contraception or sexual health can't be discussed with parents or in the community. This can be a serious handicap for young people who, as one man puts it 'don't know nothing'.

 

Explains that he couldn't talk to his family about issues such as sex, pregnancy, STIs.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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You know, growing up in a, in a strict Bengali family it's taboo to talk about sex, taboo to talk about pregnancy, STIs, anything. And, you know, now, you know, in modern culture you're meant to talk to your mum or, you know, your dad has a word with you about the birds and the bees and you know, about partners and girlfriends and that, but within my family I couldn't. And I've got an older brother and I couldn't talk to him about it.

You couldn't?

No. Because he's more traditional. Whereas I've tried to be more aware of what's happening and tried to be more, you know, westernised and spoken to my little, you know, younger brothers and sisters and said that if they have problems or any issues or if they were worried about anything they could come to me or they could go to the advice centre that I went to.

Getting to family planning services can be particularly hard if people are trying to avoid being seen. Mothers and their friends could be the biggest barrier to visiting the GP - one woman said she was always 'looking over her shoulder' to see if she'd been seen by someone she knew. A solution for some of those we interviewed was to attend services in another area. Some though felt strongly that they had a right to get confidential contraceptive advice and were determined not to be deterred by disapproving parents.

 

Explains that her biggest worry when going to see her GP for contraception was to 'bump' into her...

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I wanted to ask you how easy it is for a teenage Bangladeshi girl to have access to these services?

It's not very. You would be literally looking over your shoulder every minute, to this day sometimes I get paranoid going into places to get contraception because you know, everyone thinks I'm married.

Yeah and apart from that you're in your 20s now, so'

Exactly so it doesn't really matter but for someone who isn't they'll be looking over their shoulder every minute literally to see if there's someone in the doctor's or, it might just be me, but I know I felt like that. But I know its very hard and that's why a lot of people don't go to get contraception because they'd rather buy it and it is very expensive, but you're gonna buy a packet of condoms every other day or every other week.

Men don't usually use the services like females do. I know females use it a lot more.  They usually go to places where they know they're not gonna bump into someone from the same community or they're gonna go somewhere where they know young girls are using the same service. But there's not very many places that you can go where it's not situated in a place that you're likely to bump in to'  

Every Family Planning Clinic I know, you're gonna bump into some Asian family there, that's why I wouldn't use it, I don't use it, I don't use the clinic. I went there once and I came back straight away, I didn't go in to use it properly. You know I just felt so uncomfortable.

When I was on my own separate GP's I would 'cos I knew, I didn't really care then who's looking 'cos my mum's not there. My mum was my biggest barrier to cross and people my mum knew. But I'm in a different area and people don't come to this doctor's to use the same services as I do. So I felt comfortable to use them.
 

Explains how her attitude changed regarding her fears to be seen by members of her community when...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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The first time when I went to see a nurse I remember I was kind of like really paranoid like you know oh my gosh what if my parents walk in. They started asking me questions like 'Why are you here to see a nurse?' you know what am I going to come out with and everything.

Then gradually that just went down because I thought to myself I shouldn't really care what other people say because at the end of the day I am a young person. If I need to seek advice, I need to go to someone professional. I can't just go and ask someone on the street, 'Oh yeah you know I've had unprotected sex, what do I do now?'  

So eventually I grew out of it like when I was say about 18 I thought, I'm a young adult now, no one can say anything to me, you know 'You shouldn't be doing this,' you know 'its wrong for you'. But my parents never really said nothing, although they don't know I'm being intimate with my partner, I think if they were to know they wouldn't really like, be understanding about it, they will just think sex before marriage is like so wrong. 

Do you know what I mean, but I know I can't help it, the way I feel with my partner is lovely. And they wouldn't understand the fact that I've only just been with one guy for such a long time, its not like I'm going around sleeping with different guys, but I know my parents still wouldn't understand that part. They would just think sex before marriage is like so wrong - like completely.

Some of those interviewed preferred not to have a GP from their own ethnic community, fearing that they would disclose health problems to their parents.

 

Explains why he prefers to have a GP that is not a member of his community.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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My parents are, joined, my whole family have joined the same GP as well, and I was so worried that my GP might slip up and say something 'cos in the past we used to be joined to a Bengali GP and my family knew the GP quite well. So anytime when I went in to have myself checked out for any injections or anything like that my parents would automatically know.   

So he was breaking confidentiality after which I left and I went to another GP and my parents soon followed and came to the same GP with me. But with the GP that I'm seeing now, she doesn't say a word about anything and if my... and I know my parents do ask and when they do ask, they get told 'I'm not allowed to break confidentiality ask your son'.  

Is she Bengali?

No she's not, she's white.

OK.

So I think that makes a difference 'cos there's no cultural you know, mix and they don't know each other from any other, you know, social activity or anything.

One solution is to provide services that are more discreet and geared to young people, particularly teenagers. Some services already exist and that young people get to know about them through 'word of mouth'. Changes happen gradually - South Asian parents may allow girls to study or work and to choose their husbands, but sex and sexuality remain an obstacle. Some young people think that their own generation will do things differently. Another thought that sex is often associated with guilt in British society.

 
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Indicates that attitudes of parents are changing in many respects except when it comes to sex...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Back in the days, young Asian girls will be getting married at a very young age, approximately 16. Now you get girls that are getting married after their degree which is 23, 24, so it's all changing. 

People like it when a young Asian girl's got a degree in her hand, and they think they're a bit more powerful, a bit more independent you know, I've done it for myself.

In that way parents are being really open-minded about it and being really supportive towards their kids education wise, marriage wise, with everything nowadays I think.  

It is all changing but the big issue here is about sex. Can't really do much change about that so...  I don't know, it will probably come into it soon, say another couple of years, wait for us to become mothers, we will change that.
 

Thinks that in British society sex is associated with negative feelings. (Actor)

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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Well I think if people knew more about it we'd be able to sort it out more, I think like in other countries they're like not so closed about it they talk more about it, I think we have more teenage pregnancies here and stuff and I know a lot of people's religions stop them, I mean Catholics, they're not allowed to use contraception are they. I mean the British kind of feel is that sex is sort of a bit dirty and you're not supposed to enjoy it are you, especially like sex before marriage and stuff, it's just not done. 

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated August 2012.

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