ByÂ Jocelyn Jose:
My decision to conduct a research study on HIV and female sex workers (FSWs) for my dissertation in Delhi two years ago provided me with some unforgettable experiences. These experiences taught me so much about ignorance, not just others but also my own.
Having completed my MA degree in social work, I got the opportunity to work in a variety of settings and places that left my friends and family stunned. When I decided to work with FSWs I saw a horrid reaction on my mother’s face. Her first question was “why?” Why did I decide on this topic of all the others I could’ve chosen to examine? I worked really hard to explain my reasoning and after the initial concerns, I made up my mind to pursue this field of research no matter what opposition I would face in my community and family. For me, this topic was not just to fetch marks and get my degree. I wanted to step into a world I would otherwise never have access to.
During my visits to the brothels, I had a variety of experiences and reactions from the FSWs, their clients, as well as the pimps. I had to present a brave, serious face even when I was asked my own “rate” by the clients. I was scared in the beginning but after a few visits I was completely at ease being the inquisitive visitor or simply being referred to as “madam ji.”
The data collection was the most difficult task to conquer and doing so using an interview schedule was anything but easy. To make the women answer my questions, especially about their condom usage, health status, etc. was the most time consuming component of the research. What struck me the most was their awareness levels about HIV/AIDS and safe sex. I had always been under the impression that it was ignorance about the disease and lack of safe sex options that led to the rapid spread of this pandemic. However, I came to know that it is the public who are the most ignorant about many aspects of sex and sexuality, safe sex, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
When discussing sex and safe practices with my peers, I was disturbed by the lack of awareness and education. I, myself, admit that I used to be quite naÃ¯ve and unaware about sex education. The prevalent taboos within our society about sex and masturbation deprive people like me from knowing about even our own bodies. Topics like premarital sex are considered so unmentionable that parents today are just not willing to accept that whether they like it or not some children will become sexually active before marrying.
A friend of mine once told me that when she turned eighteen, the only thing her mother told her was to always practice safe sex. She was never told her not to have sex. And it amazed me that this type of parenting also existed in India. It shows that you can gain your child’s trust, as well as teach them to be safe.
Parents today have become a lot more open and liberal about explaining sex to their children. Depriving them of knowledge just because it could be embarrassing is a mindset that needs changing.
I was way past my teenage years when I began to question sex and sexuality. Even today I admit that I lack a thorough understanding of my own body and sexuality. I am not opposed to learning and discussing these sensitive issues but I feel I need someone open-minded enough to teach me everything that I missed during my adolescence.
As my research concluded, I realized that I had learned so much more from the FSWs than I could have ever taught them. They knew so much and were so confident that I wished I could bring them to my college to give a lecture for all of the ignorant students like me. I wanted everyone to know that there is nothing “bad” in knowing and discussing what is true and what is so relevant to us all.
The need for workshops and other learning platforms to teach children and youth about sex and sexuality and to promote safe sex is needed at all levels in this country. I have begun my sexual education and I hope that other students find teachers who are willing to shed all of the inhibitions and dogmas that Indian society preaches about the dreaded word “sex!”
This article has also been published here.