“Sex education is un-Indian"
Sex education is a major contributing factor towards a stable society. However, India’s neglect of this concept is a matter of concern.
India is a country where shivalings are worshipped, where the Kamasutra was written and has the second-largest population in the world.
Regardless, sex, sexuality and anything related to them is a huge taboo in India. Unfortunately, sex education also falls into the category of taboo subjects.
The year 2007 witnessed a huge controversy over sex education for adolescents in India. The Ministry of Human Resource Development took initiatives to include it in the educational curriculum.
The initiative faced widespread protests. Several states including Maharashtra, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan to name a few, banned sex education.
We explore the stigma surrounding sex education in India and possible initiatives to tackle this.
The lack of understanding and a high level of ignorance concerning sex education is a major issue in India.
During 2007, a teacher’s association in Uttar Pradesh threatened to burn the books provided to them to teach sexual and reproductive health.
Ram Madhav, a member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S), commented:
“Sex education is un-Indian.”
Other leaders of R.S.S. declared sex education to be a western concept not suitable to the cultural aspect of Indian society.
In 2014, the health minister of India publically stated that sex education should be banned in India and replaced with compulsory yoga instead.
With this kind of mindset, good sex education is not getting the focus it really needs in a country like India.
Sunil*, an Indian student says:
“Sex Education in foreign schools is quite common but as far as India is concerned, the mentality of people here and their outlook is not the same.”
In India, premarital sex is still a taboo. Hence, the general perception is that since no one is supposed to have intercourse before marriage there is no requirement to talk about it.
This viewpoint is ignorance of the fact that premarital sex is a reality in India in the name of preserving Indian culture.
However, sex before marriage is not the huge taboo it was once. Indian youth are indulging in premarital sex albeit it secretly.
Therefore, the country’s strict view about sex is also ignorant of this gradual but underlying change, hence, increasing the need for good sex education in India.
Why is Sex Education Necessary?
Children are bound to raise questions as they grow especially when they enter puberty and notice the changes in their body.
Indian parents rarely ever take the initiative to talk about sexual and reproductive health to their children. Also, it is barely addressed in schools.
Thus, this is partly why a clear majority of adolescents and adults have numerous misconceptions and false notions about sex and related diseases.
Moreover, over two million people are living with HIV according to HIV estimation report of 2017. Also, in India sexual abuse and rape of children are rampant.
Therefore, sex education for people in India is a necessity for numerous reasons, including:
- Helps them understand their own body, its functions, and changes in puberty better
- Teaches them the process of reproduction
- Clarifies the concepts of abuse, consent, and what is acceptable and what is not
- Emphasises the importance of protected sex
- Keeps a check on the spread of AIDS and STDs
- Helps them avoid unwanted and teenage pregnancies
These are some of the reasons why correcting the approach to sex through education in India can be very helpful.
Meena*, a student, says:
“There should definitely be an education. Because it will tell people what they should do, how and what they cannot do.”
Jodha*, a college student says:
“Nowadays, many unwanted pregnancies and all that is happening. So, it is better they are more readily educated about it, in school only.”
Sex Education for Adolescents
In India, sex education is the need of the hour, for adolescents as well as adults, especially in rural and underdeveloped areas.
The paucity of discussions and dialogue on sex is not only detrimental to wellbeing and growth of adolescents but also puts many at risk of diseases.
Furthermore, the lack of sex education is now being replaced by porn in the age of the internet which leads to ghastly consequences.
The porn industry has been time and again criticised for creating videos which commodify women’s bodies, valorise rape and violence.
The little knowledge that many teenagers possess about sex is from such free depraved porn available just a Google search away.
Deepak*, a school student says:
“We get more information about sex outside than we do in school. We should have education more openly in 9th and 10th.”
Additionally, the false representation of consent is a major factor. Consent must be given by both people involved regardless of gender.
In this instance, Bollywood can be seen as a culprit. The male harassing the female as a means of winning her over is a normalised notion. Whereas, it is important to understand that ‘no’ means ‘no’.
Since Bollywood and porn is their first and only source of information about sex, their perceptions are false. Therefore, they adopt the same behaviour and attitudes; considering women’s bodies as objects and properties, leading to potential rape and sex crimes.
Good education about the respect and treatment of women and approach to sex could help reduce such crimes.
Karan*, a student says:
“Young girls if they got the education, with so many rapes happening, they would be much more aware of such situations and it would be better.”
Support for Arranged Marriages
Arranged marriages are still very popular in India and there are many couples tying the knot with very little knowledge about their sexual needs or desires.
Many Indian people are getting married and finding themselves in a bedroom on their first night with a stranger. Someone they have not had a relationship with before marrying.
The lack of sex education presents a tremendous challenge for many couples, both men and women.
They are faced with anxiety, nerves and a lack of confidence being unsure of what to do and how.
Thus, good sex education in India can be very helpful to this traditional form of marriage providing knowledge to newly married couples, very much needed.
Priyanka*, a recently married woman, says:
“I was very nervous about sex on my first night and time. I had no idea and my husband too was not very experienced. So, I feel if we had some kind of education about sex, it would’ve been much easier for us.”
Sex Education for Adults
India is the second most populated country in the world. For development, it is imperative to curb the increasing population in India.
According to the 2011 census, more than 30% of the population is illiterate in India. This is why sex education is necessary even for adults.
Illiteracy can breed ignorance about various aspects of life including sexual intercourse.
Therefore, sex education classes for adults, including lectures on the necessity of family planning and the importance of protected sex. As well as the knowledge of female as well as male contraceptives is a pre-requisite for development.
Tina, a young shop assistant says:
“Good education is very much needed. Because today’s generation on one level is quite ahead, being in relationships so they are doing mistakes these days. They ware watching it on TV and I feel parents should be educated too.”
Sex Education in Rural Areas
According to the Global Childhood Report 2019 released by UK-based NGO Save the Children, the number of child marriages in India has decreased.
However, there are still plenty of occurrences in rural areas.
Child marriages result in teenage pregnancies. They are not only a risk to the lives of the mother and her child but can also scar the mother, who is herself a child, for life.
Thus, sex education in rural areas is even more urgent.
Other than instructing people about protected sex and safe contraception, sex education must consider other issues.
Curriculums should be designed to instruct people about the damaging consequences of child marriages and underage pregnancies.
Issues of rape and mistreatment of young children and women are becoming an issue in rural areas as much as the cities in India, if not more, due to the lack of literacy and awareness.
Karamjit, a rural farmer says:
“The need for good education related to sex and relationships I think is needed in rural areas even more so that cities. Young people with access to mobile phones is increasing physical relations in such areas.”
Measures to Popularise Sex Education
While some Indian schools cover basic sex education between 8th to 14th grade, the desire for it to be of better quality is still a requirement.
Lowering the grade to 6th or 7th grade is something some people say would be a good idea.
Geeta, a student says:
“I think it should be taught at the 7th standard because even before this grade, young children are already aware of it nowadays.”
Indian authorities, as well as the public, share a common disdain for sex education because of false notions about it.
Swati Popat Vats, director of the Podar Institute of Education, believes that the term sex education can be misleading for some. She refers to it as:
“Body Intelligence Workshop.”
This has been done to clear people’s misconceptions that it is more about human bodies and less about sex.
While changing terminology might not change people’s mind-sets but it might help make a start.
They could also start with a sexual and reproductive awareness class for the adults. This would make them realise the importance of it and then proceed to teach their adolescent children.
Online platforms such as websites, audio and video platforms are fast becoming a popular way for young people in India to obtain sex education.
YouTube, for example, has become a learning ground for many about sex education in India. Both for cynical views and actual attempts to ‘fix’ the problem with Q&A’s, sketches, interviews with people on the streets and web series.
An East India Comedy video showing how sex education is marginalised by the educational system in India has become very popular to make the point.
Watch the lack of sex education video:
The popular YouTube channel, The Urban Fight acknowledges the lack of sex education in schools in India and is trying to help its viewers by answering the most frequently asked questions about sex.
Answering the question Is Sex Painful? the presenter says:
“I wouldn’t say painful but the first few times, sex would be uncomfortable. Frankly, it will feel like things are being stretched. The more you relax your body, the better it gets. But if it hurts too much, then stop.”
She goes on to mention when sex can be painful:
“You are not ready for it. You are not comfortable with your partner. Having a physical condition like UTIs or STDs.”
These simple points are often not discussed. However, they are significant in acquiring basic knowledge about sexual intercourse.
Furthermore, the dreaded topic discussion between parents and their children is the sex talk. The Urban Fight was asked the question: what is the right age for parents to talk to their kids about sex?
“Teach them anatomically correct names for their genitals. When they are 4 or 5, teach them about personal boundaries. This is where they will start learning about consent.”
Moreover, how children can access material related to sex must be considered. She goes on to mention:
“When they are about 9 0r 10 and spend time online, teach them about internet safety. Frankly, tell them that is illegal to share sexually explicit photos of themselves or their peers.”
Channels like this and sexologists answering questions on popular news websites such as the Bangalore Mirror are trying hard to establish themselves as an independent reliable source for sex education in India.
However, this is not a united front and changes in the national and government approach to sex education in India are needed.
Change in Outlook
The deep-rooted shame, taboo, and prohibition that are associated with sex are deterrents to sex education. Yet, this perception has other consequences too.
Also, this regressive outlook is responsible for rape crimes as punishment and child marriage. This is treated as a solution to stop women from sexually engaging with their own will after they grow up.
It is important to understand that sex is something that our bodies are genetically engineered to perform. In the same manner, as we are designed to eat and sleep.
What is required is providing more knowledge about the process. Therefore, intercourse can be undertaken with consent and safety of both partners.
To successfully establish an institutionalised system of sex education in India, a change in the general outlook of people is necessary: understanding, acceptance and willingness.
It is better a more formalised and strategic approach is taken to good sex education in India, with educational institutes, parents, health workers and communities all participating and doing their part.
Otherwise, the dangers of sex education being learned from unrealistic sources such as pornography on the internet can only lead misinformation, which will then take even longer to correct in the long run.
India needs to take a responsible step in ensuring children and youth are well informed about this important part of life such that is is respected, trusted and above all, not abused by biased and patriarchal viewpoints.