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Why Do Indians Do The Ostrich When It Comes To Sex-Ed?

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By Susmita Abani:

By now, many of you would have seen the trending video created by East India Comedy – a satirical spoof highlighting the disconnect between sex education in Indian schools and its students, who are growing in a rapidly evolving world in which both information and misinformation are readily available. Although fictional, the popularity of this video was attributable to it being a relatable, honest and disturbingly accurate depiction of sex education in India today. While countries abroad debate the finer nuances of the various approaches to sex education, Indian leaders are still grappling with the idea itself.

Last year, the (now ex) Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan sparked controversy with statements published on his website stating that sex education should be banned, and that Indian values should be emphasised in curriculums instead. These regressive assumptions have no place in a country where 47% of girls marry before the age of 18, over 50% of children between 5 and 12 have confronted some form of sexual abuse and where a large fraction of those suffering from HIV or AIDS fall within the age bracket of 15 and 29.

India is a melting pot of incongruence and polarisations, its demography including all categories – poor and rich, conservative and modern, educated and uneducated, the religious and secular. It is a terrifying mission for youngsters to form an understanding of sex and sexuality in such a multi-faceted environment with little assistance outside of their family, friends, TV, magazines and the internet – which is exactly why a Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) program is so vital for the youth of India.

CSE is a modern, all-encompassing approach to sexual education. More traditional sex education programs had focused primarily on the medical aspects of puberty, intercourse and child birth – and abstinence until marriage was promoted as the desirable and most superior form of contraception. While CSE supports abstinence and delaying sexual intimacy, it acknowledges that pre-marital sex among youngsters is an inevitable reality. CSE thus aims to impart unbiased and current information on STIs, contraception and abortion, while engaging students in a culturally relevant discourse around relationships, body issues, abuse and harassment, technology, gender-specific topics and sexual orientation. Through a CSE program, students can gain the confidence to make educated choices about their own sexual health and identity, and learn to treat their sexual maturity as being a natural part of growing up.

Despite the real need for sexual education in India, the idea is clouded by the myth that conversing with adolescents about sex will lead to greater promiscuity and sexually experimental behaviour. Research undertaken abroad has disproved this many times over, demonstrating that female receivers of CSE were 50% less prone to teenage pregnancy. Further to this “40 percent (of students) delayed sexual initiation, reduced the number of sexual partners, or increased condom or contraceptive use. 30 percent reduced the frequency of sex, including a return to abstinence. 60 percent (also) reduced unprotected sex.” Similar results were reproduced in Haryana, India.  While CSE has been proven to be effective at curbing irresponsible sexual acts, abstinence-only programs showed no promise of such efficacy.

From my own upbringing in Australia, I’ve received numerous doses of sex education throughout my school life, each representing a different approach. Having attended a Catholic high school, I’d been subjected to several attempts by our teachers at demonising pre-marital intercourse. In one interesting session with a conservative expert guest speaker, we were each allowed to anonymously write our private questions on pieces of paper and place them in a box, from which she selected a few to answer. One of the questions she picked read something along the lines of, “I was told to give a boy a blow-job. And I did. Does that make me a slut?” – Upon reading this question the trainer smugly retorted “Well, if you’re asking this, then you probably are”. The awkward silence in the room that immediately followed, and the frenzy of conversation that erupted subsequent  to our trainer’s departure expressed nothing short of astonishment. My friends and I felt deeply sympathetic towards the unknown girl who wrote the question, for we were sure that the lady’s response had rendered her extremely guilty, incredibly embarrassed and thoroughly confused. That was not the answer a trained sex educator should have given to a crowd of 15-16 year old girls.

Stories like these illustrate the subjective nature of abstinence-only or traditional sexual education. Education that refuses to sincerely recognise that our teenage years are indeed daunting and in great need of neutral information, simply cannot be accepted. Politicians or groups that claim good sexual health can only be attained by “promoting the integrity of the sexual relationship between husband and wife” and by instilling cultural values is a subjective opinion, and is somewhere ultimately preventing our youth from becoming wholly informed about their own bodies, and as a result, about their own future.

Also check: ‘Do Condoms Reduce Pleasure?’ Watch What These Young People Have To Say About Sex-Ed And More

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  1. Green Lantern

    There isn’t much to demonize about premarital sex, it isn’t exactly holy. Never mind the abortions, teen pregnancies, AIDS, the hidden filming of such acts and the money extortions, suicides, guilt and regret. The girl you mentioned towards the end of the article does not need sympathy at the expense of her trainer, so please don’t try and inflict guilt on the reader. The modus operandi does not work. The act she indulged in was neither noble, nor someting to be proud of. Your concluding sentence is a worry, telling the readers that the idea of being pure for your spouse prevents people from understanding their body, thus leaving an impression that the most learnt are those who sleep around the most. Lastly, our forefathers did not have any issues pertaining to sex, we do; courtesy of our promiscuity.

    1. Susmita Abani

      Thanks for your comment. I think you missed the part where I wrote that sexual education actually results in students to delay having sex, and also take precautions about STIs and pregnancies. The risks associated with sleeping around is exactly why you need honest sexual education. Refusing to talk about it, or demonising some prevalent sexual behaviours doesn’t help. Our sub-continental upbringing assumes that by simply telling children something is “unholy” or taboo will result in good behaviour. That hasn’t worked, so we should look at other approaches too.

      The 15 year old girl who asked the question may not have done the right thing. But all I’m saying is that a professional trainer for teenage girls should be able to maintain a neutral demeanour. Just like how we don’t expect our doctors or our psychologists to laugh at us or insult us when we reveal our most intimate secrets, a sex trainer should also be careful about these things, especially to teenagers who are pretty impressionable. She could have said “There is no need to burden yourself with guilt, but it is important to realise that if you are not comfortable with a sexual act then you should stand your ground against it.” – and then proceed to explain to the group what a blow-job is, what STIs it can cause etc. By sniggering, the trainer lost her trust. That girl would never return to the trainer with another question from fear. But if she had explained calmly, the girl would’ve been more likely to take on board the advise.

    2. Susmita Abani

      Secondly, you completely misinterpreted my last sentence. It actually got slightly changed in the editorial process, but essentially what it means is that although promoting monogamy and marriage and abstinence until marriage might be one way of teaching sexual health, it doesn’t give the full picture of human sexual behaviour. The inevitable truth is that there will be young people having multiple sexual partners, prior to marriage. The truth is that sexuality is a spectrum and not black or white. There are multitudes of truths, and if sex education cannot shed light on the safest ways (psychologically and physically) for our youth to deal with these issues, then it’s not holistic.

      And my friend, I think you’ve been lied to by your forefathers generation. Many of our parents like to boast about their golden age of purity, but that’s not the case. Although my mother was 14 when she married and so had no time to engage in romantic affairs before marriage, she was honest enough to tell me many stories of her peers that suggest they were no different to our generation. Their generation had their own issues as we have ours.

    3. Green Lantern

      Thanks for the time and effort taken to construct your reply. I am, however, still struggling with your statement, “I’d been subjected to several attempts by our teachers at demonising pre-marital intercourse”. If, through sex-ed, we can get people to delay having sex, as you have mentioned in the opening sentence of your comment, what is wrong with demonizing it to sway away the possibilities of the harms and dangers associated with premarital sex?

    4. Green Lantern

      Kindly elaborate on the ‘issues’ of our forefathers. Thanks.

    5. Susmita Abani

      There is a difference between demonisingsomething, and explaining what could go wrong with it, and giving techniques to avoid it or be safe from it. Demonising – means to say something is sinful or immoral without giving any logical or scientific explanation for it. If you don’t have facts to back up your claims, then young adults will quickly see through your arguments and assume you’re lying. Especially if not all the students are religious, they will not listen unless something is based on research.

  2. TheSeeker

    There is nothing wrong with pre marital sex or any sexual activity as long as you’re safe about it, which is what sex education aims to teaches. But of course, people first need to agree with my first sentence. And also stop associating holiness, nobility and purity with sex. Those are just religious attachments. It should be the person’s choice.

    1. Green Lantern

      One reason why young people have premarital sex is because it is ‘cool’, and being a virgin can mean being laughed at. You can never be a 100% safe regardless of protection, and of course, instances of being filmed in the act are increasingly becoming a source of concern. People who can’t control their desires before marriage find it difficult to stay faithful after it. Sex used to be an emotional thing worth waiting for, not anymore. People have started copulating like animals, whenever, wherever and with whomever, resulting in the rot of civilization.

    2. TheSeeker

      “One reason why young people have premarital sex is because it is ‘cool’, and being a virgin can mean being laughed at”
      You’re right. But this belief will be abolished if sex is talked about openly. It’s only considered cool because it is rare and glorified.

      “You can never be a 100% safe regardless of protection, and of course, instances of being filmed in the act are increasingly becoming a source of concern.”
      These problems are as likely to happen during post marital sex. Birth control and condoms are important. And as for being filmed, you should catch the person doing the filming, not the one being filmed. But in India it I suppose it happens the other way round.

      “People who can’t control their desires before marriage find it difficult to stay faithful after it. Sex used to be an emotional thing worth waiting for, not anymore.”
      Hormones and love are not the same things, you know? Premarital sex helps you in distinguishing that and also helps in finding a partner you are compatible with. This is why I think arranged marriages (if not marriages) are a disaster because the ’emotional’ excitement associated with sex after marriage is just a myth. Several of my married friends have said that they should have had some prior experience before marriage.

      “People have started copulating like animals, whenever, wherever and with whomever, resulting in the rot of civilization.”
      Let me remind you, humans are animals as well :). Why does one have sexual urges during puberty and after? Why do people masturbate? Why do people watch porn? Because sex is a natural, inborn thing that humans have suppressed. And for your information, sex has numerous health benefits, if done safely (which is where sex education comes into picture).

      I can sense what you’re trying to say, and you are free to have your own opinion. But the government has no right to control a person’s sex or love life. In my opinion, there are frequent rapes in India because it is sexually suppressed and deprived.

    3. chakradhar bandaru

      Anywhere rapes are because of sex hunger beasts ? who are they ? how are they created ?
      In olden days girls used to get mature at age of 14. But now I dnt knw wht hpd it is happening at age of 12.
      I might be considered as beast for my next line. But spare me for saying it. this is what i feel.
      If girl/ boy at age of even 16 to 18 yrs develops themselves fully. there should be no trouble in marrying them. But population control is another aspect to be considered.

      My next sentences are writers 4th para in reverse way.
      60 % students got indulged in it. Some are indulging with more than one and decreased to indulge with out safety. 70 % of indulged were yet doing at higher frequency. 40 % of indulged were only who were doing it unprotected.

      It is very hard for me to believe that it happened in haryana???

      Any way I’m neutral.
      In my region most believe. a indulging partner should be one. Parents hesitate about kids safety. Literate in this sub. parents teach their kids ethos of it when they feel it is needed or they keep silent until their kid gets married.

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