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Parents Must Talk To Kids About Sex Because These Ridiculous Myths Still Exist

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By Ananya Saha:

Apollonian? Good. Dyonisian? Bad. The mind is a yes, but the body is a big no. Never mind the words in the lexis related to the act of sex; uttering the very names of the sexual/erogenous/reproductive parts of the body, especially female body are still considered to be a taboo in an alarming number of households in the present times. I am aware that there are quite a few demographic factors to be taken into consideration here; such as rural v/s urban, affluent v/s impoverished and so on. But for the sake of sheer convenience and a holistic overview; let us keep those aside for a moment.

The female body has always been a site of polemics in the historiography of social orders. The female desire is a threat to hierarchy, and, therefore, must be curbed or labeled hysteric. A million contributions to this discourse have been made but nothing is ever enough. But this piece is not about female sexual rights par excellence. It is a step before that, the rights to knowledge of the body.

One will be alarmed if they check the number of queries that are generated by the primary search engines (Google and Yahoo as reference here) regarding the anatomy of the vagina from females themselves. Though partially arbitrary, one can common sensibly guess from the approach, attitude, language and even the usernames that many of these are from females belonging to younger age groups of India, if not exclusively so.

One would be alarmed about the lack of knowledge in basic biology, which should be a part of every school curriculum within the tenth grade. There are actually questions such as, ‘How many openings does the female genitals have? Is it two or three?‘ ‘Are the vaginal and the urethral opening the same?‘ Or, ‘I am not a whore to sleep around or something, but when the time comes, would he know what goes where?‘ Which ensued a rough debate about the use of the word ‘whore’. Thus, the original question remained sidetracked. As any reader with knowledge of Biology 101 would know that there are three, and no, the vaginal and the urethral orifices are not the same. But the fault does not lie with them. It is in the predicament that they are brought up in.

Image source: Flickr/Kayla Kandzorra
Image source: Flickr/Kayla Kandzorra

Leave alone indulge in the pleasures of the body; to talk about the body in open, to write about the body, to utter words such as ‘vagina’ and ‘clitoris’ inadvertently invites body or slut shaming. Girls are often taught not to indulge into the knowledge about their sexual organs because it would be ‘immoral’. Hence the aforementioned questions. If one would refer to this article, one would find that the talk about ‘birds and bees’ is still not a common phenomenon in many Indian households. Children usually learn from their peers through debatable sources, which often result into confused half knowledge. I have actually encountered some pre-teen girls who believed a kiss on the mouth would impregnate them.

Yes, it is a rite of passage to talk about the body and share little secrets with same-sex friends as a phase of growing up. But it should also be the duty of the parent to disseminate clear information to the growing child about the anatomy, hygiene and functions of the private part. Especially the female child, as our genitalia is not as outwardly situated as the male one. Ladies, our ‘inner plumbing system is high maintenance’, as Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory would say. Hence, grab a mirror, refer to the online health posts, take the help of the GYN/OBG (An annual visit is a must by the way); but familiarize yourself with your body. In this stage, especially if pre-teens and adolescents are concerned; it does not have to do necessarily with sex. Hence, alarmed parents, there is no need to be alarmed even more. It is essential to encourage a healthy body image without excluding or eliding over any part of it. It is not something dirty. It is completely OK to talk about it as well. One cannot protect their darling girl child from unsafe sex through a lack of knowledge. But a thorough set of information about the pros and cons might do the trick.

Being a scholar of literature, I am reminded of the 20th-century novelist Ford Madox Ford’s work, Parade’s End in this context. Herein, the young Valentine Wannop, the games teacher of a girls’ school in London finds a book about sexual health and knowledge in the changing room. The other teachers are in favour of finding and punishing the owner of the book, as, according to them, it is unsuitable for the students.

Valentine argues with her colleagues that the title suggests that it is for girls who are to be married which some of the students would soon be old enough for. She convinces others that the lack of knowledge would make the soon to be married girls unhappy in matrimony and it is better if they are informed well about both the male and the female body. This is the first half of the twentieth century that we are talking about. And if we peruse through another article, where it has not been clearly mentioned; but a lack of knowledge of the body can still be a prominent reason for divorces caused by sexual dissatisfaction. Some, of course, put up with it still as the ‘good wife’ is supposed to do, which is hardly ideal. The temples of Khajuraho, the caves of Ajanta and such other sites have celebrated the erotic beauty of the female form. One must not praise them and shame the woman curious about her body in the same breath. Know thyself; said Socrates and body need not be alienated from the discourse.

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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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