Sameera Qureshi on Sexual Health, Spirituality, and Taboos

Sameera Qureshi

Discussing sexual health, spirituality, and taboos with Sameera Qureshi, a Muslim sexual health educator. 

As a South Asian Muslim woman, I was raised to understand that discussing sexual health, spirituality, and taboos are not allowed. You are not to think about it and you better not talk about it.

Fast forward to adulthood, and we are suddenly expected to be experts, especially women. Ironically, even post-marriage, the emotional, physical and sexual health of your relationship piques nobody’s interest, but your reproducing ability is everyone’s business. Many South Asians may want to brush it under the carpet now, out of “respect,” but our sexual perspectives have largely been shaped by glorified scenes in movies, certain novels and inaccurate information passed from one friend to the other. 

In a study conducted in Jordan, 50% of young Muslim women experienced shock when they first began menstruating. Given that menstruation is a vital part of a woman’s bodily functions for a major chunk of her life, the sheer lack of awareness was surprising in and of itself.

In another glaring observation, Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, repeatedly rank in the top 10 list for the most porn-searching countries. So much for the sheltering, secrecy and shame. Imagine my surprise then when I came across ‘Sexual Health for Muslims’ — a platform focused on sexual education to Muslims grounded in spirituality. Founder Sameera Qureshi describes it as a “culmination of learnings and professional development after 12 years.”

“I started this work in Islamic schools in Calgary, Canada; working professionally to develop a sexual and mental health curriculum for Muslims. I developed that out of a need; seeing that there were a lot of gaps in what Muslims needed and what was available to them,” Qureshi explains her bold choice of career, in a rather conservative community, while chatting with Brown Girl

“I was mentored by people who were professionals in the field and who helped me figure out how can you learn about your tradition, your faith and integrate that into sex education,” she adds. “I’ve seen the gaps and realized that Muslims need to be able to talk about sexual health and learn about it like any other aspect of human life. So with ‘Sexual Health for Muslims,’ it’s really about centering our identity as God-conscious individuals and realizing that the more we learn about ourselves including our sexual health, the closer we come to understand that God created us in a specific way and that includes our sexual health.”

For anyone who may be feeling a little uncomfortable already, sexual health doesn’t only mean the act of sexual intercourse. Embracing your sexuality, your sexual rights, your sexual well-being, reproduction, disease prevention and body image all come under sexual health. I say uncomfortable because despite all that it may include, just the fact that it starts with S-E-X makes it all the more “shameful” and “impermissible” to even say.

Mainly because the consequences of having an open and fluid sexual conversation can be both drastic and dramatic in South Asian and Muslim communities. From discerning gazes and character assassinations to violent oppression and ostracization, the long-standing stigma surrounding sex and sexuality comes with its own set of social implications. You are either celebrated and exemplified for upholding traditions or cornered for being deviant.    

[Read Related: Shan Boodram Talks Sex, Breaking Taboos and her Quibi Series ‘Sexology with Shan Boodram’]

This stigma is the result of an unsaid moral code that Muslims and South Asians at large, are expected to abide by. Generations and generations have been raised in prohibitive settings and expected to be carriers of honor and shame for their families. Individuals are meant to pass on the mantle to the next generation whilst maintaining the dignity of the entire clan. It is why immigrant parents, for example, may particularly resort to very rigid, moralistic upbringing to ensure that their children hold onto these religious and cultural values in an environment so foreign to them.

However, not teaching them the how and why of the situation and relying heavily on fear-based education cultivates an endless cycle of intergenerational shame, “a deep feeling of unworthiness as an individual,” and in terms of sex and sexual health, finding it “dirty, wrong and unnatural.” 

“Kids, for instance, have very innocent minds, they are not hyper-sexualized. If you are not teaching them from the right perspectives, they are going to learn from the internet or turn to explicit content they don’t have the language to understand. They are then internalizing what they see to be true,” Qureshi stresses. “As they grow up and are going through puberty, there is a lot of pressure that kids have and they want to be taking risks with their online behavior and some of those risks are sexualized.”

Limited sex education and extensive shaming can also impact a child’s notions and awareness regarding abuse and consent. Of course, as Qureshi emphasized during our chat, the onus is not on the child; “the burden and responsibility of abuse and harm cannot be put on their small shoulders.”

“It is unfair and unrealistic…we have to also realize that children are vulnerable by nature of being children. There’s no guarantee that their survival system (i.e. fight or flight response) will be activated if an adult they know tries to harm them,” Qureshi emphasizes.

Discussing sexual health, spirituality and taboos can also be an important and preventative tool for child sexual abuse because it arms children with understanding, knowledge and most importantly, language to communicate and set boundaries. But just by being open and responsive to the conversation, we can teach young kids about their bodies, consent, the right touch, about what to do when in harm’s way, and more importantly, about not being afraid or shameful of expressing their discomfort.

“It’s important for children to learn, from a young age, that their body was created by God and it is sacred. This means that we have a responsibility to take care of our bodies and to check in with our spirit and soul, to ensure that we are acting in ways that feel authentic to who we are,” Qureshi continues.

“Children learning about ALL of their body parts reinforces this sacredness, and takes away any shame, guilt, or discomfort when it comes to their sexual health. Kids often learn about physical boundaries and respecting other people’s bodies early on. Teaching kids about consent regarding physical affection — from other kids and adults — is important for them to trust their instinct and have their feelings respected if they don’t want a hug or kiss from a relative they barely know, for example.”

[Read Related: My Platonic Marriage and What it Means for our Relationship]

Disappointing as it is, for many Muslim and South Asian women, the notion of consent has no bearing, even as conscious adults. As a South Asian Muslim woman myself, I was raised to be the torchbearer of repressive familial values, traditions and obligations. Now, I am often reminded of my duty and loyalty to my husband, be it through subtle insinuations or as part of a larger discourse. To put it simply, as a woman, we are meant to be compliant while the man must always be in control.

Our patriarchal cultural structure privileges men over women. And even within the bounds of what is allowed and acceptable, women are not entitled to enjoy sexual freedom. They must serve and fulfill without challenge or condition. In short, sexual equality does not exist. It is perhaps why many Muslim, South Asian women forever sulk in silence over sexual health issues and those pertaining to spousal relations. And also why instances of marital rape are left within the confines of the bedroom and taken to the grave. But I’ve wondered if this lack of sexual equality is a consequence of our deeply puritanical and patriarchal culture? And in fact, has no grounding in spirituality whatsoever?  

“[But] interestingly in Islam, sexual intimacy in marriage cannot contradict the sunnah of marriage [that rests on the values] of mutuality, compassion, respect. So conversations around how I can help my wife’s sexual desires need to happen,” Qureshi clarifies. “Sexual intimacy in marriage is one of the highest forms of spiritual worship of God. So if you are then using sex to oppress your spouse, you are actually contradicting the spiritual bond of marriage.” 

It’s safe to say then that denying this crucial knowledge and sticking to extensive sheltering techniques is likely to be counter-productive. But changing age-old perceptions, deeply rooted in fear and driven by the notions of shame and honor, is no easy task and can easily offend people, making them very uncomfortable very quickly. On this journey, however, Qureshi has established that “as a facilitator,” she is there to help people reconcile with their faith but “not hold anyone’s discomfort or shame.” 

It’s a tough road to be on but an equally important one to take. Muslim men and women, particularly from South Asia, need to understand and accept the difference between imagined and assumed limitations and those that actually exist. Instead of relying on religious dogmatism and then addressing the human mind’s inquisitiveness through coercive and pervasive means, it is best to engage in much-needed discourse and seek through knowledge.

It’s why we need to begin discussing sexual health, spirituality and taboos from an early age. As Qureshi said:

“There is a reason God created us the way He did, and we need to take note of that and realize that we can have these conversations, and if need be, there are professionals out there who can help us.”

By Nida Hasan

Managing Editor at Brown Girl Magazine, Nida has worked and written for several publications in a journalism career spanning almost … Read more ›

South Asian Masculinity and Mental Health: Can we Find a new way Forward?

toxic masculinity

What is South Asian masculinity?

Masculinity and mental health have come under greater scrutiny by researchers, particularly as traditional masculinity is often cited as the reason why men are less willing to reach out for support regarding psychological issues. However, the influence of masculine norms on well-being has been insufficiently viewed through an intersectional lens and is understudied within South Asian mental health. From a South Asian context, traditional masculinity can include focusing on material success while displaying suppressed emotionality, which can be manifested through anger or practicing other harmful behaviors.

[Read Related: Brown Boys Do Cry: How Toxic Masculinity Screws With Us, Too]

In order to understand its influence, it is critical to examine the impact of traditional paradigms of masculinity across the diaspora. For instance, some traits associated with traditional masculinity among South Asian men include displaying control over others. A Sri-Lanka-based study found that most male participants “associated manhood with dominance…” A Forbes India article asserted how boys in India are “taught to … apply themselves to the task of growing up to be a strong, unwavering support system for their families,” which in turn forces them to be silent about topics that may make them seem weak. This pattern of behavior becomes manifested in a particularly harmful way because boys grow up with the inability to handle their emotions or formulate healthy coping strategies during challenging circumstances. 

These norms can have drastic implications and harm other community members. For instance, a focus group conducted among Nepali men found that failure to deliver for their household economically as breadwinners eventually resulted in heated disputes, which escalated and led them to engage in domestic violence. The presence of domestic violence can also be observed through media stories on the pervasiveness of gender-based harm within South Asian communities, as seen in the murder of Sania Khan. 

Traditional masculinity also hides the wounds that South Asian men may be battling within themselves. One paper asserts that for a sizable number of Indian men, “…sadness and despair find a distorted manifestation in destructive behaviors that deny their emotional pain to themselves and to others.” Thus, performing conventionally masculine behaviors can mask deeper mental health issues. 

Repercussions of South Asian masculinity on mental health

Because of the pressure to adhere to such strict standards of conduct, traditional masculinity has significant, greater repercussions for mental health and well-being. For instance, because of the narrow ability of men to compartmentalize their feelings, this restrictive emotionality can result in an inability for others to recognize their mental health issues, thus failing to target the deeper causes of men’s behavior. Furthermore, men themselves might engage in fewer help-seeking behaviors. This is also further complicated due to gaps in culturally competent services that can serve South Asian men when they do utilize support systems. 

Additional social forces experienced by South Asian men might explain mental health outcomes, particularly when considering the role of immigration. Among South Asian American men in the United States, one study noted that “a lower social position” within their community was linked to higher distress, indicating how critical it was for first-generation men to be leaders and actively participate in their ethnic community’s organizations. Thus, social expectations of men within South Asian communities influenced their well-being, as did their social status and relative power. 

What we can do to change the status quo on South Asian masculinity and mental health 

In order to ensure that men in South Asian cultures can embrace their mental health, it is important to formulate a prudent, welcoming paradigm that encourages greater help-seeking behaviors. Greater attention to this topic can also contribute to theories on feminist and sociocultural therapeutic frameworks, which both offer the following includes suggested remedies:  

Challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging mental health care as a means to discuss issues about well-being

It is imperative to encourage South Asian men to show more emotion, thus changing the existing narrative and social pressure they face to limit the expression of their feelings. Fortunately, there is a platform, known as @BrownManTherapy, that posts content about the struggles South Asian men experience. Furthermore, therapy ought to be recommended as a means to deal with mental health concerns, which should be combined with support from the community. 

More South Asian male clinicians

In addition to instituting changes in community norms, there needs to be more diverse representation in the mental health field. In doing so, there will be greater platforms to have conversations about the negative repercussions of traditional masculinity that are unique to South Asian men. Furthermore, it is critical to challenge the social stigma that mental health is a female-dominated profession or that seeking therapy is emasculating. 

More research studies examining cross-cultural differences in masculinity across South Asian cultures

The connection between masculinity and mental health ought to be investigated much further. Studies should particularly assess masculinity within non-white contexts in order to examine the standards of manhood across several communities and truly understand the unique stressors men face across different cultural backgrounds.

[Read Related: These 5 South Asian Men Are Opening up About Their Mental Health and Toxic Masculinity]

While the connection between South Asian masculinity and mental health is not discussed among psychology professionals, it is critical to study the association since it plays a role in South Asian gender inequities and in mental health behaviors among South Asian men. More broadly, given the prevalence of intimate partner violence within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the role of patriarchal norms in inflicting this harm, it is now more important than ever to reimagine expectations surrounding men’s behavior. 

By further examining the problems caused by adherence to traditionally masculine norms and implementing certain solutions, these ideas can be challenged and dismantled to create a progressive and more inclusive model of manhood. Above all, identifying and eradicating toxic ideas rooted in traditional South Asian masculinity will lead to liberation for all people.

If you need additional resources, please visit:

Photo: Shutterstock/Roxanne 134

paritosh joshi
By Paritosh Joshi

Paritosh Joshi is a graduate student in Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. His background includes a Master of … Read more ›

‘The Black Rose’: British Asian Shweta Aggarwal Voices her Truth Against Colourism and the Battle to end her Skin Whitening Cream Addiction

Black Rose

I was a mere 14-year old on the fateful night of 22 April 1993. The night that witnessed black teenager Stephen Lawrence brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack as he waited for a bus. The night that cemented my fear, that the colour of my skin does matter. The same night that confirmed my indifference as a British Asian in the United Kingdom — were we really united? Fast forward to May 25 2020, the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman was the turning point for British Asian author and my lovely friend, Shweta Aggarwal to finally break her silence and narrate her story of colourism, in her new book, “The Black Rose.” 

Aggarwal’s gripping memoir emits so many emotions; that of an awakening, a voice that has been suppressed for years, filled with anger, mistrust and guilt. But most importantly, “The Black Rose” successfully disrupts the narrative that consistently allows society to box someone as indifferent based on a visibility factor. For Shweta, this factor was the colour of her skin. The injustices she consistently endured via some family members and fellow South Asian peers throughout her life, was as a result of her skin tone failing to qualify as ‘acceptable’, or as she often quotes in her book, not ranking high enough on the ‘fairometer.’ Whether she was in India, Japan or London, the scale was never too far behind. 

[Read Related: Liam Neeson’s Week of Rage is Every Person of Colour’s Truth]

Within the first chapter, she recalls as a child in India, the distinct lack of subtlety displayed by certain family members through direct taunts of her duskier appearance in comparison to her parents. She realised that she wasn’t in complete isolation from this prejudice, as her maternal aunt and uncle were also harshly nicknamed on the basis of their skin colour — Kaali (black) and Savla (wheatish). Aggarwal was left mortified by what many South Asians sadly still continue to casually exercise. Echoing similar incidents within my social proximity, it’s infuriating witnessing the recipients of such remarks surrender to laughing at themselves too. 

Except it isn’t funny. Born into a culture where conversations on religion, caste and hierarchy in India are still so prominent, the comparison of Aggarwal’s skin colour being as dark as that of the domestic help (often from poorer families), prematurely planted seeds in her mind that she simply didn’t belong with her family, especially  when she was sent to boarding school. Her lack of self-worth coupled with these taunts, gave her a whole new vocabulary for the letter B, that grew in parallel with the ongoing prejudice and anxiety. B for blackie, beggar’s child, bedwetter! Not funny, but derogatory. Post her book launch that Brown Girl Magazine attended, she tells me,

I personally feel we are way behind when it comes to understanding the importance of mental health. Name-calling was normalised and if you objected, you were ridiculed further with remarks such as ‘So sensitive! Can’t you take a joke?’ Body and colour shaming can lead to a feeling of inadequacy in the victim, which can further lead to depression and much worse mental illnesses.

During the 1984 Hindu Sikh riots in India, where over 3000 Sikhs lost their lives, Aggarwal recollects the frightening moment when she and her classmates fled into hiding to escape the violence during a school trip. As a means to save all the students from harm, the Sikh boys were forced to remove their turbans and long hair — their visible identities stripped to keep them alive. Yet, ironically, even in this horrifying situation, Aggarwal felt least at risk, attributing this self-assurance to her darker appearance. 

The crux of her self-loathe was the love-hate relationship she formed with skin whitening creams. The birth of Fair and Lovely, India’s most renown brand (now known as Glow and Lovely following a backlash) was notorious for selling the damaging message that fairer skin equated to a happier and fulfilling life. For it was fairer skin women that would qualify for marriage — clearly their only sole purpose! 

Tactfully using famous fair-skinned Bollywood actresses in television ads and posters, their so-called perfection would scream out to vulnerable young girls. (Men were targeted much later on, but the importance seemed less). Akin to the wretched beach body posters plastered on every corner in January — because apparently bikinis only look good on a certain body type —  the damaging message remains the same. Social acceptance comes at a cost, and that cost is to look a certain way. 

[Read Related: Dear Priyanka Chopra, Endorsing Colorism and Discrimination is not ok. It Never was and Never Will Be]

It’s an extension of the dated methods imposed on women from the womb, where mothers are lectured on drinking milk with saffron to ensure the baby is fair, traditional matrimonial sites asking women to specify skin colour, and women being told to stay out of the sun. These socially ingrained views are eventually developed into modern day methods in the form of cleverly marketed consumables. Aggarwal admits, 

Most people only use the cream on their face just as I did. At that time, I didn’t even think about the rest of the body. I felt that if the face becomes fairer, that will be enough for acceptance. My mum noticed the difference for sure and I was lighter by the time I met my husband, Amit. I must admit the addiction is a combination of three factors: the justification in your own head, the strong marketing message that ONLY fair is beautiful, and the ‘compliments’ from those around you. 

I admired Shweta’s honesty on admitting what essentially was a dangerous obsession that she remained faithful to throughout her teenage and adult life. A ritual that, whilst prompted gradual results in her appearance, was never going to eliminate the insecurities she felt within herself. Moments of joy with her husband and children on holidays abroad, would be broken up by the need to ‘fix’ any damage the sun may have inflicted i.e. reverse her tan. The booming tanning industry in U.K., her now home, and admiration of her ‘sun-kissed’ look by Brits initially surprised Aggarwal — as if her colour had now gained acceptance. 

But who are we seeking acceptance from? A society that is still deep rooted in patriarchy forcing women even now to adhere to dated rites of passage that holds no relevance? Or a society that seeks to point out one’s indifference because of how they look — their skin, their religious attire, their weight? Or a society that passes judgement on a woman’s self-worth, and continues to abuse that same woman behind closed doors under the eyes of Goddess Kali? Aggarwarl goes on to explain,

The more damaging perceptions of colourism, are that ‘fair is rich’, ‘fair is successful’ and ‘fair is better educated’. Essentially, ‘fair is supreme’ in every sense. And if that’s the case, where does that leave dark-skinned people? In Ukraine, for example black and brown people were discriminated against and  not given a fair chance to save their lives. Is it fair to be denied a basic human right — survival — based on your colour? 

I personally was curious to know from my family what the definition of prejudice in the Hindi vocabulary is and how it is/was applied to in India. “Pakshappat” (taking sides) or “poorva dhaarna”, were the closest pure Hindi definitions known to my cousin, yet rarely used. However, my dad stated that “hum bedh bhau nahin hai” was the common term used to state amongst family and friends when someone was not biased and believed in equality. Somehow, colourism never really came under that category. A sentiment echoed by some of my Chinese and black friends . Even in parts of China and Africa, the belief that darker skin is perceived as inferior, is accredited to stereotyping certain groups of people as manual labourers working under the sun, and therefore of a lower class or caste. Does Shweta believe we can change this attitude?  

A couple of my aunts are still reluctant to help me with my mission. One even said ‘it’s pointless fighting it’, while one said, ‘everyone has the right to define beauty for themselves and being fairer is what beauty is for some.’ The problem with this is that people then start to look down on people who aren’t. Colourism, casteism and classism divide people, creating more unrest in society. If we continue to aspire to be fairer, we’re still encouraging white skin privilege, and encouraging colonial values. The more we allow ourselves to succumb to these social constructs, the more enslaved we feel internally. Melanin is crucial for protecting our skin against the harmful radiation of the sun. Feel blessed that you have it and wear it with pride! 

I wonder how we can dare to walk shoulder to shoulder with our black friends in the Black Lives Matter movement, if we refuse to face up to our own biases against colour? We seek equality in the U.K., but deny our deep-rooted prejudice, whilst a white privileged man lectures the world on the difference between racism and unconscious bias (yes Prince Harry, I’m looking at you!). “The Black Rose” has paved a way for many more voices to speak out against the damaging impact of colourism, and in my view, rightly belongs under the definition of prejudice in the collective South Asian vocabulary.

“The Black Rose” is available to purchase on Amazon.


Photo Courtesy: Shweta Aggarwal

By Sejal Sehmi

Brown Girl Magazine’s U.K. Editor Sejal Sehmi is an IT consultant by day, whose passion for writing stemmed from challenging … Read more ›

Painful Sex is More Common Than you Think

Close up on couple having intimacy moments

Ten to 28% of the world’s population of women experience painful sex. Keep in mind, that this is just what is reported. As embarrassing and as vulnerable as you may feel, you are absolutely not alone. The good news is that in addition to your traditional medical care to treat painful sex (also known as dyspareunia) such as medication, injections and surgery — a conservative approach is effective and long-lasting. Conservative care ranges from pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture which are beneficial in treating the root cause of painful sex, as well as symptoms, for long-term healing. 

Some of the signs to look out for if you experience pain are:

  1. Deep pain/burning during or after sex
    • Pain descriptors: sharp, stabbing, deep, dull, burning
  2. Vaginal Dryness
  3. Low Libido
  4. Tightening at the vaginal opening

[Read Related: 12 Beliefs About Sex That South Asians Need to Throw Out the Window]

Treatment Options 

Treatment options for painful sex such as pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture provide a long-lasting and profound effect on the pelvic floor and address your entire physical well-being.

The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that range from the pubic bone to the tailbone. The purpose of these muscles is to assist in bowel and bladder control, support a baby during pregnancy and contribute to sexual sensations. Just like any other muscle in your body, these pelvic floor muscles can become tight or weak which can be a contributing factor to pain.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Pelvic floor therapy can assist by strengthening and relaxing the muscles which is necessary to relieve pain during sex. 

[Read Related: My Awkward First Time at the Gyno]

Chiropractic Physician

Chiropractors can be extremely beneficial with assisting in helping relieve pain. Associated pain and discomfort can originate from the lower back and buttock muscles. Chiropractors are trained in taking a history and performing a neurological, orthopedic and soft tissue examination to identify treatment options. Deep tissue massage, skin rolling, Active Release Technique, muscle energy technique, ice, heat and electrical stimulation are just to name a few.


Acupuncture can activate the human dopamine system which helps regulate hormone levels and can assist in psychological factors. Acupuncture can improve mood, decrease pain and can be vastly beneficial in managing pain and mental health symptoms. 

Ask for help

“Everyone is having pelvic pain and no one is talking about it”

  1. Start with seeing your gynecologist who you trust for a history and examination of current symptoms to rule out any other medical conditions that could be a contributing factor to symptoms. 
  2. Locate a pelvic floor physical therapist through Apta Pelvic Health or Pelvic Rehab.  
  3. Locate proper chiropractic care that is trained as a licensed acupuncturist; look for credentials such as DC, LAc. 

[Read Related: Not Your Auntie’s Tips: 5 Sex Myths Busted]

How to talk to your partner about this in a safe/healthy way

Being open with your partner about your symptoms and painful sex may seem like a difficult conversation. Intercourse should never be painful and learning when to stay ‘stop’ is important in communication. Talking about pain before, during and after sex is important also in your own health diagnosis to see if pain symptoms are improving or becoming worse. Having open communication does not only benefit your relationship but most importantly, your own health.

To experience these symptoms may seem taboo or unheard of but quite frankly, they are common in many women. Women deserve to be directed to proper healthcare. 

Disclaimer: These are based on recommendations from a board-certified chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist. If symptoms become new or worse, consult with a primary care physician and or OBGYN to co-manage symptoms.


Reference: Tayyeb M, Gupta V. Dyspareunia. [Updated 2022 Jun 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:


Photo by anushkaniroshan stock photo ID: 2071991336

jasmine bhoola
By Jasmine Bhoola

Jasmine Bhoola DC, LAC - A chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Midtown East Manhattan. A graduate from the University … Read more ›