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Are ‘Sexpert’ Columns The Only Options Left For Our Deepest, Most Intimate Doubts?

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By Kirrat Sachdeva:

As soon as I hit my 20s, the adolescence that I had barely emerged from became the very center of amusing conversations. These throwback conversations were largely centered on how each of us stumbled upon sex and its knowhow. The naive discoveries have always left me in awe of how we made sense of things.

It was around the age of 10, that I first heard the word ‘sex’, along with its vaguest interpretation possible. It was something that grown-ups did but was largely condemned as a ‘dirty act’ by my friends and family. As half-baked the information could possibly be about sex at that time, I remember feeling that if adults in our families ‘did it’, then there must be something good about it too! I decided I too would ‘do it’ for sure when I grew up, but with some bare minimum clothes on. A few months later, I heard that apparently, ‘bare minimum’ wasn’t a part of the deal. I pondered over the ‘change in plan’ and decided to forego sex altogether.

When I first got my period, I got a once-in-a-lifetime low down on menstruation from my mother, which went above my head. I was the least bothered about how the change in my biology would shape the rest of my life, and that one-time conversation remained one-time only.

Two years later came the legendary biology class where ‘coitus’ and ‘copulation’ were the only two permitted words to be used in class. While school textbooks portrayed just one picture – that the by-product of coitus was a child and the act of procreation was nothing more than diagrams and a step-by-step procedure – the school grapevine, internet and the ‘sex-expert columns’ in magazines had an entirely different perspective to share. At 14, I realized that people from every corner of the world were stressed about ‘coitus’ and wanted answers. I kept reading and realised that their concerns were not just limited to ‘sexual intercourse’ as a process but rather issues like how to perform better, questions around ‘virginity’, same sex attraction, safe sex, body image issues, marriage, and so on. While on the one hand the questions posed in some of these ‘advice columns’ seemed extremely bizarre, on the other I could not help but think about how, for something so personal, the only space available for people to talk was through a medium so public. Also, there was the risk that a question sent in may not be chosen to get published with an answer – what then!?

When I asked my mother if my grandmother ever spoke to her about sex and sexuality, the answer came as a straight no. Her godmother was ‘Femina’. It was the August or September issue of Femina published in 1983 that was an eye opener for her that spoke volumes about sex, not just as an act but as an experience. We may have moved beyond Femina to a plethora of options, with access to internet and a range of magazines, but the space for any dialogue when it comes to sexuality, remains miniscule.

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While growing up many of us have laughed over the snippets from Dr. Mahinder Watsa’s column, Ask The Sexpert, featured in the Mumbai Mirror. The fact that such snippets continue to circulate on the internet even today is proof enough that there is so much misinformation out there that needs clarity. Sexuality is a word so diverse in itself and an aspect that is so dynamic and integral to our lives, that a session or two on sexuality in schools or in homes, cannot do justice to it.

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A few snippets from ‘sex expert’ columns will give you an insight enough into the kind of anxieties, pressures and doubts people experience with regard to sexuality. Some of the snippets given below on anxieties around nightfall, erection, penis size and male masturbation, reflect the effect of misinformation and myths. Girls may still receive a talk on menstruation by the school or by parents (even if inadequate), boys, on the other hand, are seldom spoken to regarding changes happening in their bodies at the time of puberty. The only discussion I remember having at school was in an auditorium full of girls, (with curtains drawn) on how life changing menstruation is going to be. Moreover, the discussions around sexual attraction and changes in the body were strictly hetero-normative. I did not know what ‘nightfall’ was till I was 20!

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There is lack of conversation around issues like nocturnal emission, erections, etc. This further ties in with patriarchal pressures of upholding ‘masculinity’ that men experience, which keeps them from talking about these issues and leaves many of them embarrassed and confused. If only sexuality education is provided at home or in educational institutions, men may start to question the constant pressure of meeting the ideals of ‘masculinity’ and the risk of being referred to as ‘not man enough’.

The anxieties around marriage are unaddressed too, by the assumption that ‘go-with-the-flow’ is the best way to learn and avoid any uncomfortable conversation. There is a need to replace the ‘crash course’ on sex that is usually imparted a few nights before the wedding with sexuality education that caters to the unaddressed anxieties around consent, conception, contraception and right over one’s own body.

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It is time we looked at these questions as a reflection of how we have created norms around something as vibrant and subjective as sexuality. The need for answers clearly highlights the pressure people feel to get things ‘right’. The ‘right’ that is so elusive and subjective, that time and again it gets pushed into categories of ‘yes, no and maybe’. On one hand, we are surrounded by sources aplenty to seek answers from, but if they all fit perfectly in the jigsaw of sexuality is what we need to answer. While a medium that exists as a weekly column in the newspaper or a forum on the internet at least creates a space for conversations on sexuality; but the lack of information reflected on the these mediums clearly highlights that sexuality education is indeed required to join the dots.

Information alone is not enough. Sexuality needs to be celebrated and spoken of without check-lists and certainly without shame. The education around it needs to be relevant to emotional and social development of individuals and their relationships.

Featured image credits: oc fernando

[alert type=yellow ] What sources of information did you refer to during your adolescence? The internet? Newspaper columns? Magazines? Friends? Any Other?
Answer in the comments section below! [/alert]

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  1. Krutika Katrat

    I completely agree with the article’s writer. Sexuality in India is a hush hush topic which is laughed over, mocked, discussed but hardly guided with authentic information. “Sexpert” columns and yahoo answers are some of those public forums were some people do ask their serious concerns and most of the times they are mocked or those questions are answered by people who can hardly be considered as “experts” on sex education and reproductive health. Even some questions in those sexpert columns seem to be too ridiculous to be true and asked with genuine interest in the actual answer.

    The problem that author has referred to in this article, is something that I and my colleague gauged and are hence currently working on building an online platform called OoWomaniya.com where we connect our users, females specially, to experts like Sexologists, Gynecologists who provide answers, provide consultation to people on their sexual and reproductive health concerns and issues. Users can post their questions anonymously, hence we wish to provide a non-judgmental and safe space to our users to get genuine help, advice and information related to sex, pregnancy, menstruation, breast care, infant health and emotional concerns.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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)’.

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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.

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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