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Sex Education Not So Sexy In India

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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. 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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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