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Of Giggles, Whispers, And Embarrassed Teachers: The ‘Sex-Ed’ Classes That Taught Us Nothing

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By Nistha Relan:

I remember an incident from my 5th grade, when a boy from the class had giggled and asked a classmate, “Do you know what sex is?”, and everybody who heard him knew he was in trouble. He was taken to the principal of the school. I remember it being the first time I heard the word ‘sex’ spoken so arrogantly and clearly, that too in an environment where we were supposed to pray in the morning, mug up lessons, prepare for sports functions and not think about anything other than utilitarian success, and this contrast was everything that embarrassed and excited us.



Entering adolescence, it is normal and healthy for teenagers to feel curious about the changes occurring in their own bodies and their peers’, and to want to know more about sex and sexuality, especially when the popular culture bombards them with sensual images and their parents keep trying to change the channel or flip the pages to ignore them. In a country where talking about sexuality is taboo, it is usually a struggle for teenagers to tackle puberty without harbouring a negative body image or making sense of the hormonal and physical changes, in the absence of adequate guidance. From personal experience and from the general attitude of the teachers towards teaching the prescribed chapters on sexual reproduction, we know that the often hurried teaching and the commonly silent reception of the State-prescribed syllabus does little to make children understand the larger ambit of human sexuality and subjectivity of sexual experiences. There are about 243 million people aged between 10 to 19 years, a major chunk of India’s population, several of who are or will soon be sexually active in the coming years. Considering all this, it is hilarious on one hand and outrageous on the other when people do not want to address this, in the name of ‘preserving culture’. We need to talk about sex, sexuality, contraception, consent, sexual abuse and harassment, etc. out loud. And if it isn’t obvious yet, we need sex and sexuality to be taught in its vibrant entirety in schools.

One look at the syllabus regarding sexual reproduction in the textbooks of 8th or 10th grade will tell you that the aim of such education is meant to propagate the dominant picture of heteronormative sex stressing the sole dimension of procreation. The problem here is that the students do not get to think about the other dimensions of sexuality, which are subjective, fun, and free from taboo. Such limited, theoretical lectures would hardly prepare students who are beginning to become curious about sexuality to have the correct information that enables them to make informed and responsible decisions regarding their sexual lives. They deserve to learn and have spaces to talk about and discuss these issues, free from frightening myths and feelings of guilt and shame. Moreover, sexuality is NOT the same as sex!

Adolescents need to know about various important issues regarding consent, tackling peer pressure, and the fact that one should not be bad-mouthed or discriminated against for having or being curious about sexual relations. Many teenagers deal with feelings of depression due to issues around body image, in the absence of information that questions the notions of what really is an ‘ideal’ or rather ‘idolised’ body image, and where do such notions come from. Students, who do not conform to heterosexuality, or to the gender they are ascribed, need to know that they aren’t ‘abnormal’ and they need not cut off from social contact. LGBTQIA issues need to be taken up in times like these, when an increase in social and cyber bullying often proves fatal for teenagers who dare to speak out about their sexuality.

Then there are people who fail to react in cases of sexual abuse or harassment, due to the guilt of having been a victim, blaming oneself for having been in an unfortunate situation, and/or having no one to talk to. The thought of parents and acquaintances knowing about the harassment is often accompanied with a fear of loss of family honour, for men and women. This needs to be talked about and delinked.

But that’s not it. People, and not just children, need to understand that sexuality has nothing to do with a person’s honour. School-going teens often develop intimacy and emotional attachment, many of them date their peers, which is a part of growing up and it is important for them to learn about healthy relationships and respect. It is necessary for them to know about the practical, easily available means of protection and contraception, without morality colouring any aspect of it. Moreover, need one mention that there are thousands, if not millions of married adolescents in this country, who need this information too? Not everybody has access to internet for their questions or information, and not a lot of teenagers are comfortable with the thought of talking about their intimate sexual experiences with counsellors.

Thus, there is a need to impart Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), which is sensitive to multitude of issues encompassing sexuality, instead of experiencing fear and/or anxiety due to incomplete, impractical and prejudiced information. In fact, this debate should have long been over. Sex is normal. Sexuality is beautiful. Then why should we let young people live with ignorance and misinformation regarding this central aspect of human life?

Question: Do you think terminology is important and should be paid attention to? What term would you prefer and why:

Sex Education
Adolescence Education
Life Skills Education
Comprehensive Sexuality Education
Any other?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

You must be to comment.
  1. Iyal

    Terminology should be important, I feel Adolescence Education/ Life Skills Education would satisfy the purpose while not affecting the conservative Indian mindset, otherwise we would have a wage a battle with the parents and up sensitizing them, which though necessary is not our intentions here.
    I never thought even modern city bred well educated kids, had a issues until I recently, discovered through a friend who thought consent is not even a consideration in marriage.
    I think it is high time we implement a comprehensive syllabus regarding sex education in our schooling system.
    Though the present govt might end up saying “Sex is a Myth….” as the mockery by Eastern Indian Comedy goes.

    1. Fem

      As simple as it seems, I guess its a great suggestion. I agree with you on terminology. For most of the detractors its the three letters word starting with ‘s’ which is offensive. I am from a small town from ‘not so advance’ Bihar and we had sex ed in our high school (with male students for some sessions)! Albeit named as ‘Family Guidance Seminar’. So all the parents, kids, teachers, everybody was completely cool with it. Nonchalant more like. Don’t think they would have been so agreeable if it was named for what it was.

  2. Green Lantern

    There is no such thing as safe sex. There are repercussions sooner or later. Thousands of people who use condoms end up with infections, incurable STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Instead of teaching people to avoid risks by abstaining from sex before marriage, we want to tell them to reduce the risks, as if trying to reduce them made a difference to the skyrocketing rate of STDs, abortions and teenage pregnancies in the western world. The so called sex-ed programs are a hoax and have made negligible difference in those societies where sex before marriage is not seen as vile. American society is fucked. India wants to follow suit. Typical brown slave mentality.

    1. Fem

      You stay the course my friend. You stay the course. Do not let these western demons defile you (if you are still pure).

    2. avatar

      green lantern , hope you get peace of mind and soul , and god in all his glory purify you ,but dont make earth hell for yourself and others

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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