By Tejaswini Pagadala:
The ludicrous episode of three Karnataka ministers watching porn during the assembly session brings to the forefront a significant question of how sex is viewed in our society. Leaving beside how their attempts to justify their action proved futile, this (incident) is a classic example of how soft porn or sex, in our society, has crept from bedroom sheets to public places and other media too.
From Babas, (read: Nityananda Swami’s sex scandal) who are synonymous to Gods in India, to Babus who have left no stone unturned in exploring their sexual side at work, our country has it all. The increasing use of smart phones and Internet also gives a larger picture of how adult content has become all pervasive. Porn clips available for free online provide more reasons than one for people, including children, to watch them. That being said, screening online content is not possible as there is no control over the flow of information on internet. For example, the mini advertisements which appear online on a webpage woo people into buying a product and once the person clicks on the ad, unknowingly, he or she bumps into a porn site. This happens or has happened to all of us, at some point of time, while surfing the net
Further, sleaze in films, a form of adult content, has become acceptable more than ever now. Songs like ‘Chikni Chameli, Munni Badnaam Hui, Sheela ki Jawaani, Bapuji zara dheere chalo’ with perverse meanings and actors dancing in skimpy clothes point to a burgeoning trend in movies normalising adult content. And, with some theatres screening only adult movies, we have already allowed soft porn into our lives. Adding to this, certification of movies with voyeuristic content, promiscuity and sleaze as U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition) or sometimes, UA (Unrestricted Public Exhibition but with parental discretion for children below 12 yrs. of age) also needs to be checked. This sheer violation of some provisions under section 5A of Part II of Cinematographic Act of 1952, under which the Central Board of Film Certification falls, has made adult content acceptable in society and people are content seeing its proliferation in the new media, even among kids who discuss it.
A survey conducted by MTV and published in Mint, found that sexual awareness picks up somewhere in the late teens and that most youth are sexually active by the time they are 24 years of age. The survey also revealed the gender differences in their attitude towards sexual promiscuity. While one out of two males found sexual promiscuity to be a sign of coolness and sexual prowess for a single guy, the ratio was two for every five females. Similarly, on the issue of sexual promiscuity being a sign of loose morals for a girl, more than one out of two men believed so, while only two out five females thought so. A survey conducted by India Today on ‘sex life of youngsters’ in our country found that urbanisation in India has led to shaping of sexual identities, not only in the physical realm but also in the psychological space.
This clearly marks a shift in attitudes towards the concept of sex, while sex and sexuality education still remains largely ignored.
What is Sex and Sexuality Education?
Sex education includes the anatomy of organs, how they function, contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. But, sexuality education is something that involves sexual personality considering the personal, social, behavioural, emotional, psychological and inter-personal aspects.
The difference between sex and sexuality education is that sex education is biological but sexuality education is social construct and is about identity.
Most doctors, sexologists and psychologists opine that parents have to teach their children sexuality etiquette like they teach social etiquette because they can be the best supervisors than teachers in this matter.Â While sex education still remains a topic of debate, the age at which one should impart sex education to kids still varies from person to person. This apart, parents must also impart sexuality education as soon as the child recognizes himself or herself. This means, parents should teach their children about their biological attributes and their development. At the same it is also important to help the child regulate and guard his or her physicality. As a result, this can prevent a child from becoming a victim of child sex abuse.
Gender and Identity Issues as part of Sexuality Education
Sexuality education is associated to gender and identity because it includes social, biological and more significantly, individual contribution. It is important to note that gender and sexual orientation can be different from person to person while the anatomy remains the same. So, discussing this makes it easier for children to understand that every person is different from the other individual irrespective of the fact that genital organs remain same. Sex education allows children to be confident and empowered to make choices that will affect not only their own lives but also lives of other people. This also empowers them to stand up to abuse, exploitation and unwanted pregnancies.
Myths about Sex Education
The necessity to impart sex and sexuality education emerges from the fact that there are misconceptions regarding the same. People are either ignorant or know very less about it. Sometimes, they are afraid too. For example, very often one cannot talk about reproduction to a five-year-old child because it can be information overload. Instead, one can explain it from the point of view of contact and attention. Good contact and bad contact, acceptable and not-acceptable attention. Sex education has an impact on child’s psyche too. Depending on the child’s understanding of the subject, parents have to increase the degree of information based on child’s age and ability. A child definitely becomes curious to know what is happening to his or her body during puberty. At that time, instead of complicating the issue, parents have to explain to their kids that the physical changes are normal.
A myth that imparting sex education escalates sexual activity in children also exists. According to the data obtained from Enfold Proactive Health Trust website, a survey of 35 sex education projects conducted by the World Health Organization found that sex education in schools did not encourage young people to have sex at an earlier age or more frequently. The survey pointed out that early sex education delays the start of sexual activity, reduces sexual activity among young people and encourages those already sexually active to have safer sex.
Enfold found a similar sentiment expressed by over 400 high school students surveyed after a course on human sexuality had been conducted for them. “An informed child is the one who knows how it works and therefore, knows whether it is safe to indulge in a sexual activity or not,” says, Dr. Sangeeta Saksena, founder of Enfold Proactive Health Trust. “If an uninformed child wants to indulge in any sexual activity, he or she has to pay the price for his or her choice,” she adds.
Explaining Sexuality to Children
While most parents do not know how to unravel sex as a concep to their children, it is also important that they take cues from children and decided on the right time to talk to their children about sexuality. When children behave differently or throw tantrums to get rid of a relative or a family member, do not shun it away interpreting it as bad behaviour, say experts, who state that it signifies the child’s reluctance to be with that person.
The Role of Teachers
Though there is much hue and cry about introducing sex education into classrooms, the role of teachers in shaping sexuality of a child also matters. A sexuality education teacher should be prepared and comfortable to deal with the topic rather than sweat through a class.
According to an www.justdotherightthing.org, an online course for teachers, a sex education teacher should use four methods — Information and fact-giving, discussion, various teaching techniques and peer education to teach teens about sex.
Books to Create Awareness
Books also can help the parents to educate children on sex, sexuality and gender issues. Shobhna S. Kumar, director of Queer Ink, a website on gender and sexuality issues, sex education shapes a young person’s skills and knowledge to make informed choices about their behaviour and its consequences. “It is also wrong to use ‘Indian culture’ to hide behind an issue that is crucial in child development that will shape how responsibly or irresponsibly they will live their lives in future,” she said. She suggests some books which can be helpful for parents and teachers to teach sex and sexuality education to children. ‘Girlology: A Girl’s Guide to Stuff that Matters”, “But How’d I Get in There in the First Place?’, ‘The Orange Book – a workbook for teachers’ and ‘ Good Times for Everyone: Sexuality Questions, Feminist Answers’ are some of such books.
The irony is despite the introduction of programs like Adolescent Education Programme by the Department of Education and the National AIDS Control Organisation in partnership with UNICEF, UNESCO and UNFPA, sex and sexuality education is not being addressed adequately in schools or by parents when there is a dire need for it in an evolving society like ours.