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#TalkSexuality: Because ‘Sex-ed’ Classes Taught Us Nothing, And Porn Is Only ‘Entertainment’

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By Kirrat Sachdeva

Talking about the need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education has never been a drawing room discussion. While most people avoid bringing up anything remotely related to sex, the conversation past that, one that engages with sexuality and more, has always found itself buried beneath whispers. Carrying the weight of taboos but dismantling them for an all-inclusive conversation is what #TalkSexuality aimed to do. Out of the closets and out in the world, things that were taboo were put up for discussion, and the lessons learnt, shared and absorbed were many. And now that the conversation has begun, we intend to keep it going a bit longer because we must, lest ignorance gets us all.
So just to quickly round up what Phase I of #TalkSexuality (January-March, 2015) reminded us of:

talk sexuality

1. The ‘Sex-Ed’ Classes Taught Us Nothing. Zilch.

Because really, sexuality is NOT the same as sex!

One look at the syllabus regarding human 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.

2. Women Masturbate Too. Yup. Who’d Have Thunk!

Pleasure for women so often comes with the baggage of shame, which further dictates the categorical dichotomy of women as the ‘mother’ or the ‘whore’. A woman who enjoys her sexuality and is able to talk about it would be too scandalous for some people, inviting labels like ‘slut’, which in turn reinforces the stereotype of female desire being ‘abnormal’. To think that so many women deny themselves the relief of sexual satisfaction due to the guilt of desiring it is terrible! Furthermore, considering masturbation as merely a substitute for sex, is a gross undermining of the powers of human sexual capability. Of course, society is skeptical and mostly dismissive when it comes to sexual enjoyment removed from the process of procreation, for people of all genders, but never in equal measure. Exploring one’s body without having to deal with the guilt can only be possible if we learn that what we experience is not ‘wrong’.

3. That ‘Sexpert’ Columns Should Not Be The Only Options Left For Our Deepest, Most Intimate Doubts

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, the lack of information reflected on the these media clearly highlights the fact that sexuality education is indeed required to join the dots. Information alone is not enough. Sexuality needs to be celebrated and spoken of without shame. The education around it needs to be relevant to emotional and social development of individuals and their relationships.

4. Believe It Or Not, Folks, Porn, For All Its Pleasures, Is Not Reality. It’s Entertainment

Growing up, turning to porn as a source of information is a likely story for many of us. We have few platforms to discuss sexuality in India, least of all with teenagers. This is a country where a majority of schools don’t have ‘sex education’ classes. Even in classrooms, students’ natural curiosities are shut down with either avoidance or curt responses by teachers. Ultimately, we are failing our young generation by leaving them to uncover such information covertly. Porn for all its pleasures, is not reality. It’s entertainment. Using it for education about sexuality is like looking at Dabangg for information about the Indian police force! And if our young men traipse around and expect a woman saying no to actually mean ‘yes’, it’s because we have left all the edifying to videos with titles like ‘Indian aunty hot sex’.

5. That The Endless Search For ‘Ideal’ And ‘Desirable’ Bodies Needs To End. Now.

What is most amazing about body image, as is with most socially constructed prisons, is that it is arbitrary. Body image is contingent on the standards that are set in a particular time and space and are susceptible to change. The absence of sex-positive and body-positive education runs the risk of giving rise or contributing to feelings of inadequacy, frustration, low self-esteem and confidence, anxiety in many people, especially young people. Including body positivism within sexuality education will help address such feelings as young people would be urged to think about the politics behind ‘body image’ and will be more informed regarding how to perceive and tackle this issue.

6. Because Menstruation Should Not Be A Woman’s ‘Worst Kept Secret’.

From strict control over mobility during ‘that time of the month‘ to being frowned upon on the mere suggestion of washing hair on the first two days of the menstrual cycle, to avoiding sour or spicy food and not touching pickles – menstrual taboos are a dime a dozen. When asked the reason behind this, many girls are heavily reprimanded for apparently disrespecting elders in the house.

All that these restrictions create shame and resentment towards one’s own bodily processes. The overall silence in the society around these menstruation myths makes matters worse. Menstruation itself is regarded as a ‘dirty’ event in a woman’s life and becomes the ‘worst kept secret’.

7. That Consent Is Not A Grey Area. ‘No’ Means Back Off!

Consent is not something that is spoken to us actively. In urban India, among friends during our adolescence, we may discuss ‘how far’ should one go, at ‘what age’ and with ‘whom’. Our discussions are based on random notions of how a certain ‘base’ was alright for a certain age, and if anyone ‘crossed that line’, or experienced less than that, they would find themselves the subjects of whispers and rumors and became either ‘bad’ or ‘uncool’ people. The biggest worry that emerges is negotiating with one’s partner. There need to be conversations around the fact that consent to kiss is not consent for sexual intercourse, that verbal and physical resistance is a ‘no’. That only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no’.

Conversations that empower, enable and make one aware is what #TalkSexuality is about. In the first phase of the campaign, over 8,000 people took the poll on whether Comprehensive Sexuality Education should be available to young people. So let’s carry on the conversation, you and me, us and them, today and tomorrow.

Watch out for Phase II of #TalkSexuality which will bring forth some more young voices and also voices of professionals working in the field of CSE and/or sexual and reproductive health and rights.

With inputs from Artika Raj.

You must be to comment.
  1. B

    If there is anything we need to teach people, it is the harms of porn and sex outside or before marriage. If you play with fire, you will get burnt. Premarital sex and extramarital affairs are responsible for teen abortions, AIDS, teen pregnancies, paternity fraud, divorces, broken families, STDs, etc. Also, porn addiction and masturbation addiction has destroyed many lives. We should live pure and holy lives, the way Allah SWT has designed for us to live, and not watch two people indulge in sexual activity who were probably drawn towards the industry through some financial crises.

  2. G. 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.

  3. Ebi

    Sex education is about teaching children about human sexuality, biological sexes, gender identity, sexual orientations and developing acceptance for those diversities.

    It teaches about appreciation of beauty and helps in reducing self-objectification & objectification of people.

    It teaches how to respect other genders and sexes and develop love for their own body.

    It creates awareness on sexually transmitted infections and safer sex practices.

    It teaches us how not to discriminate people, how to accept and respect them. Your children will learn not to discriminate or hate people on the basis of their sex, gender, orientation, STD they have, contraceptive they take and their past experiences.

    It will teach your children to overcome trauma from hate crime, sexual assault experiences and accept, forget the past and love, live life.

    Teaching children about appreciation, respect for other genders and what to do and not to, to avoid harm to themselves and others can reduce all forms of sexual assault, rape, child sex abuse, child to child sex abuse, marital rape, molestation, hate crimes and STDs.

    It can save and improve many people lives. You won’t get to marry a closeted queer, there will be none. You won’t fear to get tested for STDs because you will be treated like any other patient. Victims of sexual assault won’t be depressed or attempt suicide as they will speak up and will be heard. You won’t get molested in public transports or places because they will fear your and other’s response. You will feel free to buy contraceptives of your choice, people won’t care.

    Comprehensive Sexuality Education should be just the beginning.

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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.

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.

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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)’.

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.

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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.

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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.

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
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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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