South Asians Living in Britain Diverge over Views on First Sex

First published online:

| DOI: https://doi.org/10.1363/4320811

Although Britain’s two largest ethnic minority groups—Pakistanis and Indians—share South Asian origins, they differ significantly from each other and from other ethnic groups in their attitudes and behaviors regarding first sex, analyses of data from the 1999–2001 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-2) suggest.1 Indians were less likely than Pakistanis to view premarital sex as wrong (odds ratios, 0.3 for men and 0.2 for women); Pakistanis were more likely than other ethnic groups to do so (4.7 and 6.6, respectively). Being married at first sex was less likely among Indian women than among their Pakistani counterparts (0.3), and it was more likely among Pakistanis than among other ethnicities (6.2–9.5). Nevertheless, a larger proportion of Pakistani males than of females were not married at first sex (69% vs. 25%).

Investigators randomly selected a sample of men and women aged 16–44 from among 40,523 households. An additional random sample of ethnic minorities was obtained to ensure strong estimates for these groups. Interviews were conducted via computer-assisted personal interviewing and computer-assisted self-interview. Natsal-2 collected data on a range of sexual attitudes and behaviors. Respondents were asked about first sex: their willingness and that of their partner, its timing, the contraceptive method they used and the seriousness of the relationship. They also were asked where they had gotten most of their sexual information and whether they had discussed sex with their parents during adolescence. Binary logistic regression examined associations between being Pakistani or Indian and characteristics related to learning about sex and having first sex.

Of 11,161 respondents, 365 were Pakistani and 393 were Indian. These individuals were generally younger than respondents from other ethnic groups (median ages, 28, 30 and 32 years, respectively); about half were married. Living together was less common among unmarried Pakistanis and Indians (1–5%) than among other unmarried respondents (17–18%). Most Pakistanis were Muslim (98% of males and 96% of females). Hinduism was the predominant religion among Indians (44% and 45%), followed by Sikhism (19% and 24%). Larger proportions of Indians than of Pakistanis had an advanced education (29–33% vs. 17–18%). Among both groups, about one in five immigrated to Britain at age 16 or younger; immigrating after age 16 was more common among Indians than among Pakistanis. Religion was considered very important by larger proportions of Pakistanis (58% of males and 71% of females) than of Indians (34% and 23%); the proportions holding this view were significantly smaller among other ethnic groups (7–8%).

Disapproval of premarital sex occurred more often among Pakistanis (72% of males and 78% of females) than among Indians (47% and 46%); fewer than one-sixth of men and women from other ethnic groups shared this view. In analyses adjusting for age, marital status, religion, social class and education, Indians remained less likely than Pakistanis to disapprove of premarital sex (odds ratios, 0.3 for males and 0.2 for females), and Pakistanis remained more likely than other groups to do so (4.7 and 6.6).

A larger proportion of Pakistani males than of females were not married at first sex (69% vs. 25%). Additionally, larger proportions of Pakistanis than of Indians, and considerably smaller proportions of other ethnic groups, were married at first sex. In multivariate analyses, the odds of being married at that time were significantly higher among Pakistanis than among those of other ethnicities (odds ratios, 6.2 for males and 9.5 for females) and were significantly lower among Indian than Pakistani females (0.3).

While most respondents in all ethnic groups said they had felt ready and willing at first sex, some had taken contraceptive risks: The odds of not having used a reliable method at first sex were higher for Pakistani males and females (2.3 and 3.2), and for Indian females (2.0), than for others. The odds of nonuse were lower for Indian than for Pakistani males (0.4).

School was the main source of sex education for a larger proportion of Pakistani than Indian females (47% vs. 34%); both had higher odds than other ethnic groups of learning about sex this way (odds ratios, 2.2 and 1.8). Overall, only 6% of males and 18% of females reported having learned about sex from their parents; even smaller proportions of Pakistanis and Indians—no more than 5%—did so. Not having discussed sex with parents during adolescence was more likely among Pakistani males and females (6.4 and 2.0), and among Indian females (2.6), than among their counterparts in other ethnic groups; it also was more likely among Indian than among Pakistani males (0.2).

The study limitations that investigators note include the cross-sectional nature of the data and the potential for recall bias. Since the survey targeted the British general population, a lack of culturally appropriate questions could have concealed behaviors and beliefs that may influence sexual behaviors and attitudes among Pakistanis and Indians. Finally, the data set is approximately 10 years old. Still, the researchers note, it is the most dependable source of data on sexual attitudes and behaviors among Pakistanis and Indians living in Britain. Moreover, they conclude, the data supported separate examinations of ethnic minority groups and of attitudinal and behavioral differences, which may inform the development of culturally appropriate sexual health education, promotion and services.—A. Kott