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As part of a South Asian dance team at Penn, Simran Chand would talk with her teammates, comparing their bicultural childhood experiences to those of white peers.
At the same time, Chand was taking a class called Asian American Gender and Sexuality, where she learned about crossover patterns of South Asian American women feeling repressed, sheltered, or held back by their parents along ethnically prescribed sexual boundaries. It was so nuanced in many different ways.
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When one re her work, you get a sense of how complicated all of these different factors are. Outliers were either not from Penn or not second-generation South Asians. During the survey, there was a question inviting people to opt into an additional interview, and Chand later met with eight interviewees via Zoom.
Chand divided sexual education into three topics: puberty, sex, and sexual health. Her respondents reported that their parents were most likely to initiate a conversation regarding puberty, often initiated after this process had begun.
A male-identifying respondent wrote that puberty was also tied into religious beliefs. Shaving pubic hair, keeping my garments clean, etc.
So I was taught about how to purify myself if I was in a state of impurity like if I had a wet dreambut besides that there was no mention of anything sexual in nature. Less than one-third of the students surveyed reported feeling comfortable talking with their parents while going through puberty. This indicates a correlation between parents initiating a puberty talk and children feeling comfortable talking with their parents, Chand says. Five respondents said their parents spoke with them about sexual health, while the vast majority said no. Some parents opted for the bare minimum.
For many, sexual education was centered on the practice of abstinence. Ignorance is bliss? I know they want me to be abstinent until marriage and think I am.
Simran chand’s double award-winning senior honors thesis explores familial sexual education among second-generation south asian american students.
Fariha Khan. Second-generation South Asian Americans were navigating American cultural norms at school and in their social circles but South Asian cultural norms at home. This disconnect led to code-switching, deception, and in some cases riskier sexual practices, Chand says. Some of her respondents did not use contraceptives because of the fear and shame associated with acquiring them; others used condoms but would have preferred to use a second preventative had they been able to access one.
In response to parental disapproval, deception was a frequent motif, Chand found. One of these women said she plans on having same-sex relationships in her youth but has come to terms with the fact that she will have to end up with a man in order to maintain a close relationship with her family, Chand reported. This generation of South Asian Americans will make decisions about what they, in turn, want to teach their children, Chand says.
In the case of familial sexual education, respondents desired open communication. While some respondents were angry that their parents had not initiated more conversations about sex, puberty, and sexual health, others recognized that these parents were themselves raised in households that did not talk about sex.
Understanding nuance is an important part of ethnographic work, Khan says. The thesis helped to open up this relationship. Chand seeks to look at the implications of these findings and work on problem-solving with South Asian American youth in her future career in health care.
The academic year highlighted the best of Penn. Architect and landscape architect Anuradha Mathur and anthropologist Nikhil Anand are collaborating on questions of de and human practices to create new ways of thinking about low-lying coastal cities in India and around the world.
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Because seating is limited, picnic blankets are encouraged. Image: rhsupplies via Unsplash. Fariha Khan Twitter Facebook.