By Dan Singh. Dan is the lead facilitator for South Asian HangOuts, a peer support and social group for South Asian gay, bisexual and trans men. Information, stories and anecdotes are based on discussion and feedback for the South Asian HangOuts group.

As South Asian (gay, bi and trans) men, do we need to take a closer look on what barriers exist which prevent us having a healthier sex life? What can we do to achieve good sex, and in what ways can we have the best sex that we desire and deserve, with the least risk? Is too much sex or not enough sex a problem? What taboos are we afraid to talk about? How does our childhood and adult lived experiences, our social encounters, our cultural norms and education play a part in all this? 

These are some of the questions we often face.

The perfect dish 

Let’s look at potential ingredients that make up a healthier sex life. In the sexual wellbeing pot (the patila), we have the physical, the emotional, the mental, the cultural, the financial, the psychological and the social aspects that matter to us. All of this is connected to what we observe, hear and experience in our childhood and as adults. The absence of one or more of these ingredients has the potential outcome of intimacy and sex being affected. We may go through a stage of isolation, shame and loneliness; sometimes either no sex or lots of great sex or somewhere in between. Of course, lots of ‘great’ sex sounds fab but are we checking in on our sexual health basics while the heat of the patila is bubbling up inside and around us?

Knowledge and sex 

In our zen or den of sex, here’s what we may need to remember: 

  • Accessing the right information about sex and sexual health from trusted websites
  • Regular testing both at home and at a sexual health clinic
  • Using condoms and lube
  • Taking PrEP
  • Knowing about PEP
  • Understanding what U=U means
  • Getting vaccinations (Hep A/B, HPV, Mpox) 

This above might seem like information overload and overwhelming, sometimes even scary, and sometimes we may go back to a silent and secret shame, offering us self-defeating thoughts, where we hit the ‘fuck it’ button and invite greater risk 

Good mental health, bolstered by daily self-care practices allows us to have healthier sex and intimacy, where we have greater control over our mind and bodies. But we also know, this is not as simple as it sounds, as cultural pressures, exclusions from within and outside of culture affect us too. So, let’s be real and try to practice more self-compassion. Let’s squash and burst all those bubbling self-defeating thoughts for the need to be accepted. 

Looking within 

We are beautiful, richly layered, sexual, sensual and intimate beings with the right to make our own choices and not be judged by others and the societies that are ignorant. And we are also aware that love does not equal only sex and attraction but can be so much more, companionship, friendship and non-judgment. Sometimes emotionally intimate relationships are enough and mutual conversations about exploring alternate or new approaches towards spicing up our lives can be fun 


You have the right to experience desire and pleasure in your daily lives. You have control and agency over your own bodies – whether you are sexually active or not or exploring intimacy of your choice, with yourself and others.”

 - South Asian HangOuts 

This is particularly important for us, as South Asian queer men, especially when our rights, sexualities and genders are socially and culturally stigmatised or denied or questioned (verbal, written, advertising, social media, fashion etc) within and outside of "straight" spaces and within our own culture. Big up to the brown queers that are representing over the last 30 years and beyond. The explosion of visibility in drag, performance, the arts, dance, theatre, writing and beyond is on the up, and spreading far and beyond. 

What are the barriers? 

For those of us born in the 70s and 80s, sex education (let alone discussions around ‘pleasure) was non-existent and if you were an GBT+ person, education around sex and relationships was certainly non-existent. These lack of open discussions, when we needed them, only led to more invalidation and exclusion and further health inequalities for us. 

Talking about same sex feelings with our South Asian parents was a no-no – remember the Bollywood kiss was rare and same kissing is still a rare thing in our cinema’s, but even that is changing with new queer South Asian films.  Anxiety driven panic at grabbing the remote control for the television, when there was an onscreen television kiss was a sure-fire way for us certainly never to talk to our parents or elders. God forbid if they knew, some of us, were also watching the red triangle films on Channel 4. So, we were learning in secrecy, from one another and the escapism of television, cinema, porn and magazines. We were self-validating our queer selves through excitement and respectful compensating for shame. 

Further fear emerged from the blame culture towards gay and bisexual men when mainstream news about HIV/AIDS emerged in the early 80s. Some of us simply went back into our psychological closet of fear and carried this unspoken and unpacked trauma for many years. I guess what started to emerge was this galvanising of protest and support groups and campaigning for our rights which lead to groundbreaking changes from organisations such as Naz project in India and then the UK; places like Club Kali, but still regionally and rurally, we as South Asian LGBTQIA+ people were not visible enough in the mainstream. Looking back there are notable people, stories and successes and building this archive matters for future generations to reflect on. Where should this live besides online, what spaces should it occupy and do we never forget the forgotten people and heroes. 

During the HIV/AIDS crisis, along came Section 28  so again we were all alienated further at school and often living between two cultures – feeling Brit-ish some of the time. This internalisation of negative feelings of invalidation, self-excluded us and had impact and trauma for years to come, leaving us, alone, to navigate through treacle of shame and guilt. The trauma and anger around this are still a real thing for many people born in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and beyond. I certainly carried internalised fear for a very long time. 

Our own self-internalisation feelings of shame, guilt, and the lack of acceptance is still having impact today. When assimilation into the mainstream fails, we then endeavour to discover our own ‘tribes’ and in the meantime our mental health and wellbeing is impacted due to this exclusion, isolation and loneliness. Being able to have spaces that feel safe for GBT+ men to talk about their feelings around sex, intimacy and relationships and unpack trauma to head towards cultivating awareness and acceptance that is much needed. We are fast heading towards 2030, so in what ways do we move forward? 

Moving Forward 

Talking about some of these issues in social support spaces that feel safe, inclusive and non-judgmental with other brown queer faces is always a start. It’s also helpful not to stay fixed in one type of social support group but to try other spaces where perhaps there is a common theme, such as a hobby or sport with multiple perspectives from other cultures too allows for a widening of perspective. I always feel there is a subtle form of activism when attending spaces where we may be the minority but going in knowing that we are part of a global majority can be reassuring. 

Most of us will worry at some point in our life about our physical or mental health wellbeing and this can often put the brakes on slam or slow us down. No knowledge or not enough knowledge or even the wrong knowledge (leading to myths and stigma) can affect our levels of intimacy and our sex lives and our ability to psychologically move forwards. This in turn may well affect our mental health and we may have poorer sex choices. Practicing your own self-care can be a way to develop your way of connecting internally and grounding ourselves to be back in the present. Self-care during sex is certainly a skill worth practicing, in whatever capacity that is that works for you. I guess the practice of self-care reduces the time-travelling through emotions from the past to the present and back to the future. Life is complex enough, and having to explain things, or trying to make our South Asian families understand, can be draining. 

Often there is discussion that we need to be less fearful and talking openly about how we feel as men, but this is not always easy. Asking questions that may be considered tabooed by culture(s) - I’m talking about oral, anal (Top or Bottom or Vers fun), douching, fisting, Chem sex, STI’s and HIV). Having safe spaces for men to talk in general about sexual wellbeing and to ask questions they had not asked before in a safe space is key. Perhaps in a relaxed, fun and creative way either on Zoom, a webinar format or in-person. Having this safe space can reduce the trauma we have carried from our childhood and early adolescence. But what are South Asian men not asking? 

What are we not asking? 

Through various group discussions, over the years, it’s clear that we are not asking enough questions (within or outside of our culture) about HIV/STI’s. We agreed there is still a lot of fear around STI’s and HIV due to lack of engagement in knowledge and how for years HIV/AIDS was othered by our communities; or the lack of South Asian visibility in the activism of HIV/AIDS in the 80’s, was not seen by us. Good to know the new London HIV Memorial and public sculpture by a South Asian HIV Activist. The message on their website is clear and full of hope for the future. 

HIV has united people of differing, sometimes opposing, beliefs and values. Together we have fought an unprecedented societal stigma. In a life-threatening emergency such as AIDS, we overcame our differences by seeing the common humanity we all share in order to fight for our dignity and survival.

- Aids Memory UK

Questions such as ‘What is risky sex? How risky is oral sex? How does consent work and when it’s challenged or broken and how does it make us feel? How do we move from regular sexual encounters to anonymous sex, in a sex on the premises dark room, cruising (yes, it’s still a thing) and working out the non-verbal communication world of saunas?’. Navigating this fluid landscape of desire and need can be complex; and sober sex often can be less of a reality in the anxious induced new beginnings of sexual desire and confidence. Developing our personal boundaries and not feel that we must assimilate to fit into a particular tribe was also important for us, as South Asian queer men. We’ve all felt the pressure to conform and be accepted but there is a point where need to reconnect to our own culture and look at what is working and what is not. We also need to use the words we want to be defined by, rather than grouped as ‘queer’ (a derogatory trigger term for some men) but I guess the reclaiming of this inter-generational intersectionality is being accepted more. We are moving forwards. 

We eventually come to realise sexual desire and having the sex we want is very important for our general mental health and wellbeing, as is the connection on just an emotional level. Talking about how we feel is crucially important, as well as been listened to and not judged. Having the right spaces where our confidentiality and privacy is maintained matters to us all. Are we finally in the golden era of social support spaces we can choose from - I think so.  

More South Asian Sexual Wellbeing champions (or visible role models and allies) is another way forwards and this is on the increase in the fast-moving world of social media. Having relevant online content (created with the input from us) will certainly help. Perhaps more images of actual real South Asian men in local and mass media campaigns. We need to see our authentic ‘brown’ selves in these media campaigns, without just quick-fire stocked images. We agreed that being represented, is happening a lot more on social media platforms but more can be done by us all individually, when we feel safe to do so. For some role models may be other South Asian queer men who work in sexual health and wellbeing roles, social group leaders and mental health wellbeing champions and not forgetting the need for more South Asian queer people working in counselling and therapy. 

We are asking more about our Sexual self-care (whether we are young or re-emerging on the ‘gay’ scene) such as regular testing, the types of testing available, vaccinations and awareness of knowledge (online and in-person) will reduce any stigma we are carrying and will increase our sex positivity. We want to feel better our bodies and have the sex we want without any stigma or shame.  

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