Are “friends with benefits” really of benefit?

friends with benefits

In the Noughties, the Sex and the City girls popularised the phrase “having sex like men”, (which I might point out is very sexist: not all men have sex this way) ie with no strings attached. No feelings, no “is he gonna call me?” hang-ups. Fast forward ten years or so and films like “Friends with Benefits” (FWBs) have further cemented the idea of regular sex with little or no emotional entanglements.

What’s more, it’s become a part of mainstream dating culture. For example dating app Tinder- which allows users to peruse and rate photos of nearby potential matches, grew massively in popularity within its first few months of launching. The app has become synonymous with hook-ups and has capitalised on the casual sex trend.

Not that casual sex is a new phenomenon, as the Guardian points out.

Having said that, the Samantha Jones version of female sexual liberation certainly gave women a green light. She glamourised promiscuity which meant a woman could escape being labelled a slut, in some cases anyway (see: every case of misogyny ever. A woman is a slut, a man is considered a stud/lad. Double standards still exist.)

Anyway, I was watching something the other day where two friends were discussing whether to add benefits to their friendship. And it struck me: there’s never really such a thing as no-strings sex. Unless you’re utterly devoid of any emotion, one person will be left feeling something from their night of passion. As one commentator pointed out, at the very least, for FWBs, the string is the friendship.

As someone who has been in a meaningful relationship for many years, I can’t help but wonder: aren’t we selling ourselves short if we ask for nothing in return for physical intimacy? I mean, it’s never “just sex” is it? It’s the most vulnerable we ever get with another person. It is baring your body and your soul. Doesn’t that count for anything?

Perhaps I’m romanticising it too much. Well there’s a reason for that.

Men are from mars… etc

Men and women are wired differently; that’s clearly no secret. The source of a woman’s sexual desire is very different to a man’s- and much harder to identify, apparently. Studies have shown that men are aroused more spontaneously by visual images. Whereas women take a lot more nurturing before you can get us in the sack. It’s why we like the whole romance, seduction thing- it appeals to our emotions. When a man takes time and effort to engage with us on an emotional level, it makes us feel valued, special, and it makes us feel desired. It’s that desirability that makes for great sex!

So I find it hard to believe someone who says casual sex is fulfilling. It leads me to think they’ve never had the real thing. Or perhaps they would say I’ve never really experienced the ‘freedom’ and the thrill that comes with casual sex. But to me that in itself is counter-intuitive: I believe you can only really be free with someone who you know and trust explicitly. And the thrill comes from knowing you don’t have to worry about whether they’ll call you in the morning- you know they will. Yes that kind of relationship takes time to develop but it’s worth the work.

Relationship with herself

At the end of the first Sex and the City film, Samantha breaks up with Smith Jerrod- a kind, supportive, genuine not to mention gorgeous guy “to have a relationship with herself.”

Riiiiight….

Yes, you need to be comfortable in yourself before you can function successfully in relationship. But ultimately we were built for companionship. It’s why we crave love.

I think the idea of friends with benefits being a healthy, viable alternative to a committed relationship- that involves sex, will simply leave us confused about real intimacy, and open us up to heartache.

And personally I believe I am worth too much to give away the goods that easily.

No sex please, we’re Asian

intimate couple

Is it ok to talk about sex for a moment?

Because it seems Asians are not very good at talking about sex. I mean we’re very good at skirting around the issue (no pun of course). Bollywood films and Bhangra videos are full of highly sexualised content. And yet no one really talks openly about sex in the Asian community.

So let’s just deal with the elephant in the room first. Whether we’re talking about it or not, Asians are having sex. Outside of marriage. People need to deal with that. Teenagers are doing it without their parents knowing (their parents don’t even know they’re dating!) Couples who have no specific intention of getting married try each other out to see if they’re sexually compatible. Engaged couples do the sex-dependant- on- marriage- thing. And there are all the other permutations in between. Work colleagues. Marital affairs.  University students. Holiday flings. Bar hook-ups. One night stands. And on and on…

Why is sex still such a taboo subject amongst the Asian community?

Writer Abhilasha Purwar claims that “our old Indian society is trapped in the shackles of its values and traditions, and often repeats to the new generation: “Sex is for procreation, not for recreation”.

In other words there are some who still equate sex with the duty of having good Asian sons children and not with pleasure. It’s those people who judge others who have sex for pleasure or intimacy. One Asian editor asked me not to mention sex in an article about dating, go figure, because she didn’t think it was ‘nice’.

Come on people! We need to give a language to this practise.  Because it is a reality- people are having sex outside of the South Asian cultural, religious and traditional bounds. And at what point should I mention that it was Indians that gave the world the Kama Sutra?

Yes for some sections of the community, religion prohibits sex outside of marriage, so it’s a matter of sexual purity. I see nothing wrong with that at all. I’m not saying here I endorse sex outside of marriage; I’m not giving you my specific views on it. What I want is to allow those who choose to be sexually active outside of marriage to talk about it without causing shock and alarm and certainly without all the slut-shaming- which is rife.

I had wanted this article to be about whether British Asian women should have more sexual freedom. I wanted to ask whether it’s time to acknowledge that our culture is evolving and sexual freedom is one of the products of that evolution. But I realised that as a community, we are not there yet- we’re simply not ready to ask that yet.

But we do need to have a constructive and honest dialogue on the subject. It could enable us to deal with double standards, such as turning a blind eye to a man who “has his fun” before marriage, but insisting that women are virgins.  We can teach our young people about the emotional realities of a sexual relationship, not to mention the health implications; and yes, talk about the benefits of waiting for a committed relationship or marriage.

We can attempt to deal with rape culture by teaching our sons to respect women, and that sex is a sacred and consensual act; not something they are entitled to and can simply take from a woman (or sadly, a child). This would enable us to deal better with domestic abuse and sexual violence in our culture.

Instead we pretend that Asians only have sex after we marry and maintain a façade that no one is doing it. It’s time we do away with the silence and the judgement and have a mature and realistic discussion.

Is this the end of interfaith marriage?

Closeup of holding hands of stylish wedding couple. Mixed race.

It would be easy to think that the British Asian community is becoming more open to the idea of interfaith and mixed race marriages. We’ve all seen the photos on Facebook of a couple doing the ‘dual ceremony thing’: the Indian wedding where one white face is wearing the traditional Indian wedding- getup amongst a sea of Asian family; and conversely, the civil or Church ceremony performed for the English side of the family.

The sad truth though is that young British Asians choosing to marry outside of the community are facing a renewed backlash- and it would seem that the subject is still as taboo as ever amongst Asians. In particular, religious hardliners and religious leaders are taking a stand against interfaith couples who want to have a religious wedding ceremony.

The most notable occurrence of this has been within the British Sikh community. Hardline Sikh groups are vehemently opposing Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) performing the traditional marriage ceremony known as the anand karaj unless the couple are both Sikhs. Protestors have even gone to the lengths of barricading themselves inside Gurdwaras to stop ceremonies taking place, and the homes of inter-faith couples have been attacked. Victims of these attacks have been too afraid to speak to the media for fear of further reprisals.  In response, the Sikh Council UK has just published guidelines for Gurdwaras, reiterating that the anand karaj is strictly reserved for two practising Sikhs.

This new wave of violent persecution amongst British Sikhs is a relatively new phenomenon. But elsewhere in the community British Asians are familiar with the barriers that an inter-faith couple faces: Islam has strict religious laws on marrying outside of the faith, as have some sections of Christianity. Couples who do go down this road face excommunication and often live in isolation of their Asian family.

Certainly in the case of the Sikh community, extremists are arguing that a religious wedding ceremony is null and void unless the faith is shared by the couple. If that’s true, does that mean that the union itself is not legitimate in the eyes of the faith? Would the couple be welcome in the place of worship- or would the ‘believing’ partner be expected to worship there alone? What about when children are born- how would the couple raise them within the faith if religious leaders apparently don’t recognise the marriage in the first place?

Traditionally within our culture, marriage has been a union which preserves wealth, status, where relevant caste, and of course religious identity. With many British Asians now choosing to marry outside of these bounds, extremists are arguing that these elements of our culture are being eroded, even destroyed.  How long will an inter-faith couple persevere with religion if all they get is judgement from the community?

One of two things could happen here: either young British Asians will choose love over faith and move away from religion altogether- which clearly religious leaders don’t want; or they will reject mixed marriages for the sake of their religion and to maintain links within the community and family.

The latter scenario isn’t as unlikely as you might think. Dating sites exclusive to individual religions are swiftly gaining in popularity. Many young Asian daters are becoming more specific in wanting to meet someone from within their own religion.

Sharn Khaira founded the online dating site Indian Connect for this very reason. The site is targeted exclusively at Sikhs and Hindus with an empathy for traditional marriage and culture. It is also carefully monitored to ensure only people living in UK can join. The site clocked up more 30,000 paid subscribers in less than a year. Sharn says: “I’m starting to see young British Asians move away from interfaith marriage because of the heartache and potential damage it can cause to families, not to mention the wider Asian community in their local area. So many now want to keep their culture and heritage in-tact”

I think it will take a generation before we really see the working-out of the issues involved in interfaith marriage. But I do believe where many before used the new found freedom in society at large to marry outside of traditional bounds, others are now holding back as they look at the repercussions.

Or will it be a case of love triumphing over religion and culture? It’s an aspect of our community that is worth watching to find out.

 

You might also like “Are interfaith marriages a mission impossible?”

What’s wrong with dating “like Westerners”?

Dating

Arranged marriages are as typically Asian as chaa (that’s tea for those who don’t know!) and samosas, right? I’ve even heard it said that “they are the heartbeat of Asian tradition. Without this pulse coursing through our lives, everything we know….as British Asians….starts to die”.

Well, if that’s true, then our community must be dying because it’s no secret that many young British Asians are side-stepping arranged marriages and carrying out their own search for love. As life in the West influences our lifestyles and our identities, it’s also influencing how we marry- which is increasingly on our own terms. Family suitability and even parental approval are not as high on our agenda as love, shared interests and sexual compatibility.

Internet dating, dating apps, going out with work colleagues and friends-of-friends are all fair game amongst young British Asians in meeting The One. Even parents are starting to come around to this idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking arranged marriages. There are many happily married couples in my own extended family were arranged.

But let’s be clear, for most, arranged marriages are essentially the joining of two compatible families. The right caste, religion, race, not forgetting job status and looks all make a good marriage, by Indian standards.

But if we are marrying for love, where the priorities are often different to those of the older generation, some argue that we are eroding our community: Inter-marrying of castes, religions and races lays the foundation for a different community of tomorrow: mixed race children, mixed caste or mixed religion children (if there is such a thing) means a very different British Asian community of the future. That’s multiculturalism at work. And for those who are fiercely loyal to their Asian heritage, well it’s that erosion that is the problem with us dating “like Westerners.”

Those who have chosen the dating route would argue that only they- and not their parents- can know who is right for them; that they alone should be in full control of making one of the biggest decisions of their life. And because of this control, it could be said they are ensuring stronger marriages that have been entered into wholeheartedly; rather than because they make the family happy.

The fact is we are evolving as a community. Tomorrow’s British Asian community will look different to today’s, for a number of reasons not just those outlined here. Really, we cannot insulate ourselves against change, we have to embrace it, and all the while enjoy and celebrate the many, many other things that ‘make us’ British Asian.

This post was originally published on Indian Connect 

Men: would you date a woman more successful than you?

There’s a lot of talk about gender equality, particularly these days with fourth wave feminism such a prominent topic. But what about when inequality between a couple occurs naturally? I’m talking about when one partner is more successful than the other. This seems to be totally acceptable when it’s the man, it’s even expected. Very rarely though do we see a couple where the woman outranks the man in terms of job superiority or salary.

A few years ago we knew a couple where this was exactly case. The wife was incredibly ambitious and ran her own, very successful airline recruitment company. After they had their second child, the dad gave up his job as a fitness instructor to care for both children full-time. This made perfect sense as she brought home a lot more money than he did, and besides, as the boss of her own rapidly growing business, she couldn’t afford to work part time or not at all.

This all worked quite well for about 9 months or so. Eventually though he went back to working at the gym and they hired a full-time nanny. Her business continued to thrive and yes the marriage ended after not very long. It was never said that that’s why they divorced, and rarely is there ever just one reason that a couple break up over. But he openly said he was unhappy at her ‘attitude towards money’- take that to mean what you will.

We see it all the time in Hollywood marriages. Jennifer Aniston split from Tate Donovan at the height of her Friends career; Sandra Bullock famously split from her former husband Jesse James just weeks after her Oscar win.

Is it too simplistic and too sexist to ask whether many men are unhappy with their wife or girlfriend earning more money than them because they, the man, want to be the bread winner? Is it true that men have an innate sense of wanting to provide, in the same way that many women have a maternal instinct to care for others?

Well before every feminist shoots me down at that last point, let me say that it comes down to gender roles and what we expect from each other in a relationship. In some cultures it can be clear cut- that doesn’t make it acceptable, but at least the lines have been drawn.

For us Asians, men are very much expected to be the provider.  Women are often steered into careers considered more desirable or suitable for a woman so that she can make a ‘good marriage match’ by not outranking her future husband man. It’s fair to say that in the case of arranged marriages, a successful woman wouldn’t even be paired up with a man who was less successful than her, even if they were educated to a similar level. It’s simply not the way the culture works. The model is very clear: men provide for, women care for.

Ouch!

This is a situation where men are told that they have to be the more successful one, and women are given the message that they mustn’t be. That’s just all kinds of wrong and I’m not even going to get started on it.

But when it comes to dating there are no such parameters, and the guy would be seen as an ass hole for ending a relationship because he couldn’t handle that the woman made more money than he did.

Or is it just an unspoken rule of dating?