‘Sex Bomb’ celebrates the joy of embracing sexuality and love as a British-Indian Muslim woman

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“It’s so easy to put women in boxes,” writes comedian Sadia Azmat in her memoir Sex Bomb: The Life and Loves of an Asian Girl. “Judging if we’re the right or the wrong type of girl, trying to make our identities and facets work for your head and your understanding of the world, but ultimately you can take the hijab off the girl, but you don’t can’t pull the girl out of the hijab.”

Azmat, which hosts the BBC podcast No country for young women, has written a book about her experience as a sex-loving Anglo-Indian Hijabi Muslim woman. In this hilarious and honest memoir, Azmat takes us on a journey from the early days of forming her sexual identity as an “Asian Babe” (a term that will probably make a little more sense when you read the following excerpt), until rejecting an arranged marriage, and rejecting the stereotypes, politicization and fetishization of the hijab.

Ultimately, it’s a book about enjoying sex on your own terms and rejecting what other people think of you. should do or be. It’s about overturning society’s rigid ideas of what it means to be a South Asian woman and rejecting the prioritization of white women as the pinnacle of beauty.

Sex Bomb: The Life and Loves of an Asian Girl, published by Headline, is now available. You can read an excerpt below.


Once, when I drew the short straw, my mother asked me to go to the newsagents to buy groceries and pick up the usual – pitta bread, milk and butter. I was about eight years old and tried to avoid boring chores whenever I could, but my parents were aware of empowering me as soon as possible. There was always the feeling that we were on borrowed time and that they didn’t want to encourage complacency.

I had put on a white T-shirt and blue shorts and hunched my shoulders in defeat as I walked down the road to the local store. I was easily distracted by the goodies when I arrived. I always took my time going through all the shelves and looking at the ice cream through the freezer door, my fingers hurt from letting them too long against the cold glass. Although I made many trips to the local store, this time stuck with me as that day I saw an old white man in a suit browsing the magazine section. On the top shelf, which was too high for me, I noticed that the entire row was devoted to pornographic magazines. I had come across references to it on television before, but this was the first time I had come across it in real life. I was captivated even though I knew that I was not their target audience: these magazines were reserved for “adults only”.

Magazine after glossy magazine showed women dressed as if they had an important commitment to honor, except they couldn’t go anywhere because they were all posing with their breasts. I was initially shocked at the merchant’s negligence as I felt it was his responsibility to protect me from such explicit images. At the same time, I felt intrigued, and with the blame firmly on my shoulders, I continued to watch. All the magazines had white and blonde women on the front page, except the one the man had chosen.

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The magazine in his hand was bright yellow and bore the title Asian Girls written in all caps at the top, in the same style as the bubble font used for Bollywood movie posters. Asian Babes was a British softcore pornographic magazine that featured photographs of women of South Asian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Thai descent. There were three Asian women on the cover, one of which looked distinctly Indian. I would have gasped but I knew it was something I shouldn’t have been watching. I tried to save my modesty by focusing on their faces rather than the rest of them. They were smiling and looking so happy. It was two firsts for me, seeing brunette girls on the cover of a magazine and seeing them in compromising positions. I almost dropped the pita bread.

Even though I knew their semi-nudity was naughty, because that’s what I was told, I didn’t know why. I couldn’t understand why, if it was wrong, they were on display in a store in broad daylight. Yes, the magazines were out of reach, but they certainly weren’t out of sight. Of course, the fact that these women were scantily clad was an attraction to the men looking at them, but I also knew that the reason men lusted after these Asian women was because they couldn’t have them. It was taboo. They were inaccessible, part of a group they were forbidden to explore. These guys weren’t just into Asian women, they were jerking off with us. It was very curious for me. I looked carefully at the cover of the magazine and wondered what the women’s parents thought or had they run away from home, but what I couldn’t bring myself to consider at the time was c was that it was their choice, or that they might have enjoyed this job. I did not understand the place these women would occupy in their family or community.

Once they had everything online, could they be part of the same structures that I was part of, or did they have to sacrifice them for their work? I thought about what motivated them to be photographed half-naked, because until then I had been told that all of their specials had to be for one person only. Was it giving back to society by sharing their special elements with the world, and in doing so, were they still special? Were they off the beaten track, and if so, could they just go home if they had to choose to do so later? I had never seen Asian women portrayed this way before and almost felt betrayed. Until then, I had only seen Asian women tremble with shyness if a man approached them within a meter in Bollywood films. I had always been taught how innocent we were and how good housewives we were. Suddenly I realized that Asian women could be a “type” or sexually desirable, and they could even be confident enough to show off their bodies on a public platform.

I had never seen Asian women portrayed this way before and almost felt betrayed.

Obviously, as a kid, it’s usually not that impressive to see a woman with her bits, but because it was rare and unheard of, it had a revolutionary impact on me. At its peak in the 1990s, Asian Girls was the highest-grossing erotic magazine in the UK, which was no small feat given that these women were seen as ‘repressed’, ‘conservative’ and ‘frosty’. Standing in that local store that day was the first time I understood that I, Sadia Azmat, owned sexuality. It made me feel goofy and funny but also a bit mean (in a good way). Until then, everything was hidden and kept secret with a lack of knowledge but, at that time, standing with the blanket staring at me, there was nowhere to hide. I was confronted for the first time with sex bombs, and not only that, the consideration that a sex bomb could be an Asian like me. It opened up the possibility for me that, for my future partner, I could be one. Although I was able to become aware that I had a sexuality, that didn’t mean that I had any idea what it meant or what I was going to do with it. And that’s where this book comes in.


At Sadia Azmat Sex Bomb: The Life and Loves of an Asian Girl is now available through Headline.

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