Marriage between Sikhs is not just a symbolic union, but is also considered to be a fusion between two souls. For this reason, marriage is considered to be a semi-holy state that everyone ought to aspire to, and sexual relations outside of the marriage – either pre-marital or adulterous – are forbidden.
Although this spiritual union is seen as being 'for life', if one partner dies, the survivor is encouraged gently to marry again (especially women) after their period of mourning.
Younger Sikhs, influenced by the western societies in which they are growing up, may have difficulties with some of the restrictions on their sexual freedom. Co-habitation is seen as an evil thing – but if it is associated with a stable relationship, it is greatly preferable to promiscuity. Man and woman are meant to balance each other out and provide shelter from the world for each other – hence the importance of marriage.
Culturally, children are considered to be the wealth of a Sikh family, and so having as many children as possible – especially boys – is encouraged. Although Sikhism puts men and women as equals, the traditional preference for sons still holds true as a cultural ideal.
If a couple have not had a child within a few years of their marriage, they may be under pressure from their family to have a child. Sikhism has accepted the use of infertility treatments within the context of a solid marriage between two Sikhs, but discussion about the fate of unused embryos at the end of a successful treatment may be necessary.
Contraception is permissible under certain circumstances. All sexual relations for Sikhs are meant to be confined to the marriage state, and so any discussion of contraception with unmarried Sikhs may cause problems – either embarrassment or even anger from their parents later.
Between married couples, contraception is allowed providing the central reason for sex – the creation of new life – is not forgotten. Sensual indulgence is to be avoided, and contraception for the purpose of 'safe' illicit sexual relations (adultery or pre-marital sex) is not permitted. Lust (kam) is regarded as one of the five major sins in Sikhism.
A hysterectomy may be a devastating event for an Asian woman because of the importance of having a large family. If a hysterectomy is an absolute medical necessity, the woman will probably accept the fact, but counselling ought to be offered to help her through this difficult time. Her husband ought to be involved in the consultation. There may be a degree of family censure or pressure on the woman to refuse the procedure.
termination of pregnancy
Termination is taboo for Sikhs. It is permissible for married Sikh couples to use contraception, but once an embryo has been created, it is alive and so cannot then be deliberately killed. Some westernised Sikhs may consider termination if the mother's life was in danger, but it would be wise to discuss this with a granthi and the family before taking any action.
miscarriage and stillbirth
Do not offer the family a lock of hair from their dead child; even in death, a Sikh must not have their hair cut. Instead, offer to take photographs of the child, or make prints of the feet. Wrap the body in a clean white cloth, and give the body to the parents for burial or cremation.
Sikhism is a very tolerant religion and seeks to find the truth rather than adhere rigidly to rules. Homosexuality is not specifically banned in any of the writings of the Gurus, but they do stress that God has intended people to live as man and wife, or to be celibate, with no deviation from this design. This ambivalence allows most Sikhs to be very tolerant of homosexuality and accept a homosexual individual while still regarding the practice as against God's design.
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