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‘Sex-Ed’: The Most ‘Fun’ Thing In School That Didn’t Really Happen

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By Gaurav Sharma

Ma’am, do we have to make the diagram on page 144?” asked a boy as the others tried controlling their laughter. It was the usual diagram of a female reproductive organ. It didn’t look anything like a vagina and yet everyone thought they were looking at one. Our Biology teacher said nothing and moved on. All the boys thought that the alien-like diagram they just saw in their books is what a real vagina looks like, and were completely stupefied. At this point, we still had no idea that sexual intercourse between a man and woman involves a penis going into a vagina. This was grade 7.

school children classroom
In 9 grade 9, a friend of mine, in some bizarre excitement, came up to me and kissed me on the lips. This was the time when none of us had any idea about homosexuality, let alone any other sexual orientations. It was something that I felt was messed up, but I never thought of it as a big deal. Maybe there were a few kids at that time who knew they were gay. It was the time when most of of us boys had started masturbating, and porn images and videos from rented porn CDs, or ‘blue films’ as they were then called, were playing a big role. This was also the time a class topper was told that a guy has to put his penis inside a girl’s vagina to have children, and he just didn’t believe it. This is after we had had two classes on life cycle, and many girls in the class were visibly going through physical changes because of adolescence. The girls had hit puberty earlier and knew better than us (perhaps because someone talked to them about menstruation at least, if not other things), yet they weren’t the ones making sexual innuendos. It was all too confusing for all of us.

And then we grew up. It was in grade 11 when we started thinking about having sex. It was more about getting sex than being a part of it with a partner. This was also the time when we started to find out that the girls ‘wanted it’ too. It was a time when many found out about homosexuality and felt the same way about it as they would about falling in a manhole while walking. Because we did not know any better. It was just assumed that everyone was straight and was desperate to have sex; and yet no one did.

Even though there was much secrecy around the whole idea of sex, it was not uncommon to see bursts of its expression all around. And it wasn’t just us boys. The girls had started wearing shorter skirts, putting kajal, and rolling up their sleeves. Curiosity was all around in our adolescent heads, but no one really knew what to or not to do, or whether it was even okay to do something in the first place. This is when we had our first and last ‘sex-ed’ class. One of the guys in class thought he’d show off his libido and casually asked, “Ma’am how many times in a day can a guy masturbate?” But he received no answer.

I realised that hints were really subtle and no one would ever explicitly say that they wanted to make out or have sex. I figured out that I would have to take my chances with the girl I liked then, and thankfully it worked out for me. But it was lucky that it did, as no one ever spoke to us about the dos and don’ts of consent. With only porn as my guide, I learnt what to do with a woman’s body and mine when together; but it was not exactly like how it was portrayed.

There were many gaps between sex in real life and sex depicted in porn, and no one to clarify or clear the myths. Some of the many doubts were cleared when I first had sex but there was a lot that I learnt much later. For instance, information about a woman’s menstrual cycle or the fact that a girl can have sex even when on her period. We weren’t taught about different sexual orientations, or even the concept of ‘sexual orientation’. We were told to use a condom to prevent diseases and not that it is also a contraceptive measure. There was no information of how a morning-after pill works or how it differs from getting an abortion. Wait? Abortion? There was no talk of abortion, the availability of clinics, or its legality. Somehow when I think about it I feel we all could’ve done a lot better had we known more. It seems now as though the tiny bit of ‘sex-ed’ that we did get was more from a straight male’s point-of-view.

What’s done is done. I feel I will discover more in the years to come. From thinking that transgender people are the same as homosexual people, I’ve surely come a long way. But I hope young people in school today are not veiled from the reality of sex and sexuality.

About the author: Gaurav Sharma is an internet junkie. A copywriter by profession, he spends most of his time coming up with lame jokes and puns. He likes to stay at home and play video games but he’s also a closet party animal. He aspires to write a book one day but then he also aspires to rule the world, so don’t keep your hopes up.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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