As far as we have come with Mars missions, scientific breakthroughs, making history with same-sex marriage and equality, the world still struggles with the idea of sex and in India, especially, sexual awareness is still considered a subject of pure disgust and treated just as bad as an unspeakable act of crime. Neeti Vijaykumar takes a look at the significance of sex ed in India today
In 1994, India had vowed at the UN International Conference on Population and Development that there was a need for sex education, free and compulsory, so that young adults could freely make their own decisions about their bodies and what to do with it. We may have signed that all right, but there hasn’t been any follow through on that commitment yet; in fact we’ve only taken a few steps back. With a reported number of almost 2.4 million people iin India suffering from AIDS, the staggering numbers are enough to scare anybody. According to various surveys held by the Indian Government across thirtheen states, about 57% of the child interviewees reported to being sexually abused, out of which more than 20 % we severely abused. With such statistics, the importance for sex awareness and the incessant need for sex education in the country is only emphasised.
WHAT IS SEX ED?
Sex education does not, as most parents and ignorant communities fear, teach children how to have sex, or instill the belief that one must think of only sex. (That’s just our instinct.) Sex education is more serious in its approach, where the focus is on reproductive health, how to take care of one’s body, and what happens to one’s body at various stages of life. It spreads awareness about preventing STDs and teenage pregnancies, and more detailed curriculums also talk about the differences between the good touch and the bad touch.
WHY SHOULD IT BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS?
The point of any possible topic being taught in a school is so that a learned instructor imparts the right knowledge in the right way to students. It’s infinitely easy for kids to log on to the internet and “learn” about sex – which is where it stops – a half baked lesson, the most dangerous kind. It wouldn’t occur to a teenager to look up topics on the internet to understand the importance of safe sex, symptoms of disorders, whom to speak to about sexual health, and what’s good or bad for their health. This is why certified, confident, and well-meaning teachers need to be talking about sexual health in schools. Whether the students are 11-year olds, teenagers, or college students, they need to feel safe and positive about learning about sexual health through their teachers – whom they trust the most – rather than through word of mouth or the Internet, which we all know is a big bad dark place. We’ve had generations of teachers squirming away from even saying words like ‘periods’, ‘sex’, ‘sperm’ or ‘vagina’, which has created generations of men and women who have the exact reaction when they have to finally deal with those things.
WHY ARE PARENTS AND SCHOOLS AFRAID OF SEX ED?
A common complaint that parents have regarding inclusion of sex ed in schools is that their young ones are too young to learn about it. But you can’t ignore the elephant in the room any longer. The information could perhaps be age-appropriated, even culture-appropriated; but there are some things that have to be called what they are called, and shown as what they are, and not, for instance, flowers or fruits. A WHO study that looked into the effects of sex education on sexual behaviour of youngsters proves that sex ed, on the contrary, lets them make an informed decision on when to have sex, how often, and how to be safe. It did not, statistically, encourage them to have sex at an early age or increase the frequency. All of which invalidates the fear that parents have.
PREVENTING CHILD ABUSE
An important part of sex ed is learning to differentiate between the good touch and the bad touch, staving off unwanted advances, and speaking up when they’re being forced to do what they don’t want to. It’s a sad fact that most young children who are victims of child abuse do not even know that they’re being abused – a fact they learn only when they’re older, which causes them much more suffering and guilt than if they knew at that age and tried to stop it. Most child abusers take advantage of the innocence and silence of their victims, and it is the society, with their culture of relating sex with shame, that enables these abusers to get away with it by taking away victims’ voices. The only way this can end, the only way we can bring down the rate of child abuse, is if our children are informed, aware of their right to control their own bodies, educated about consent, and ensured that they can always speak up to their parents or teachers about threats.
HOW CAN WE REMOVE THE AWKWARDNESS ASSOCIATED WITH SEX EDUCATION?
The most straightforward way to do this would be to change our mindsets about sex and sexual health. Skirting around the issue cannot prevent any problems, much less burying our heads deep in soil. Sex, sexuality (or orientation) and sexual health doesn’t need to have an air of negativity around it. An open-minded society is a healthy one.
What we need in our society is just a more complete perspective. We believe it is okay to tell our daughter to dress more conservatively while going out, but telling our sons to not leer at women is an awkward talk to have, because parents are not supposed to have these talks with their kids. Why? Unlike adults, who have enough experience to know the ins and outs of such a vital part of life, teenagers are only just exploring a newly-developed biological process. Not talkingng to them about it is not only unhealthy, but also proves to be detrimental to our country’s youth. It is high time we get over our awkwardness and learn to talk and educate our youth on this vital information, don’t you think?
Ranadeep Singh Delhi Technological University, Delhi
I should be. It would help put all the myths and taboos to rest for sure. You may think that everyone already knows about sex, and the precautions you should take, but that’s just a small percentage. It’s an alien thing to many, either frowned upon or looked at as a prize. You can’t expect a country’s population to be fluent in English if it’s not taught to everyone in a somewhat regulated manner, why not the same with Sex Ed?
Karan Choudhary Delhi Technological University, Delhi
Students should be taught because it’s only because of the deprivation of this knowledge that they indulge in sexual activities without proper knowledge of birth control or STDs, which can turn out to be a bigger problem later on. If they are being taught they can be mature about it.
SUBARNA SADHU B.ARCH, JAMIA MILIA ISLAMIA, DELHI
I believe it is important to teach sex education in school to create the awareness and removing the common stereotypical reaction people have after hearing the word ‘sex’. It’s time for the authorities to stop skipping the adolescence chapter awkwardly and grow up.
Kanupriya Agrawal NIFT, Mumbai
Yeah I think it should be. I mean it’s time we grow up and stop treating it as such a taboo topic. Not talking about it, doesn’t stop youngsters from doing it, it only leads them to fall prey to STDs and teen pregnancy. Everyone is going to do it sometime, the schools might as well tell them the dos and don’ts for their healthy future.
STUDENT OPINION POLL
Volume 5 Issue 4