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5 Things About Sex That Schools Should Teach

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Editor’s note: This story is in response to Youth Ki Awaaz’s topic for this week – #LetsTalkSex to talk about the misconceptions about sex and sexuality we grow up with because of a lack of awareness and education. If you have an experience to share, write to us here.

Sex, it is described by our elders as something that is almost as essential as food and water we intake. It is part of life and is a natural phenomenon. But, the discussions surrounding it, the methods related to “hows” and “whens” and above all, the necessity of it based on gender is a topic under debate and scrutiny. Union health minister created controversy when his comment, out of context, “sex education should be banned” made rounds. Sex is a taboo as per the Indian context but the ones who read “Kamasutra” know that it never really was, though most points mentioned in it are biased. As much as we should bust myths surrounding the activity, here are 5 things that need to be highlighted in sex education.

1. The “how”

In my school days, sex education was introduced to us in 7th grade as a minor topic under “human body”. It was a subject which led to laughs, whispers, and curiosity among students. My teacher tried his best to keep a straight face while teaching it but the topic was limited to the structure of male and female reproductive system. Then, it was casually mentioned in the textbook, “Sperms from male enters the female bodies and it meets with the ovum in the fallopian tube.” I remember the looks girls gave each other saying, they feared this entry of sperms.

One girl whispered to me, “Ask sir, how does a sperm enter a female body?” I became angry and refused after listening to all the giggles and urged her to ask for herself. With a deep breath, she got up and asked loudly, “Sir, how does a sperm enter the female body?” He looked at her and a mild grin on his face which reduced her confidence, backed by gasps from boys in the class. “Through sexual activity,” he said with a soft voice and quickly moved away. I knew that her next question is “What is sexual activity?” and that she was trying to ask but then muttered, “Forget it” under her breath. Two years later, we stumbled across this topic again and the teacher elaborated, “Process of copulation between male and female is called ‘sex’,” and a girl muttered under her breath, “What happens during copulation? What is copulation?”

Sex education is done such that the anatomy, physiology and the aftermath, throwing light on pregnancy and STDs, are taught but two aspects are always missing: the “how” and “consent”. Due to this, most kids have a lot of doubt but the taboos prevent these kids from asking all that. Since it is part of human life, it needs to be taught in such a way that students can open and talk about their doubts and insecurities. This is a digital age and there is a very good chance that children will come across something or the other related to the same online. So the basics of sex education, i.e. anatomy and physiology, should be taught as early as in 5th grade.

2. Consent is mandatory

The rise in sexual assault cases and violence against women have everything to do with the lack of respect given to the individual’s consent. “No means no” and it needs to be like a “hypodermic needle method” in terms of teaching. When I was in college, a priest came to teach us about our lifestyle and value education. He, as expected, threw light on women’s roles as “cleaners”, “cooks”, “nurturers” and “motivators” of their husbands, without paying any heed to their individual dreams and desires.

What disturbed me more is his lessons related to sex where he emphasized that it is a wife’s duty and she should be “available” whenever her husband needs her, or else it will affect their relationship. I thought to myself, “A relationship is affected only if the husband is upset?” And, his next topic was about rape and how women should protect themselves. I just wish I had the chance to confront this priest to criticize his anti-woman views.

people protesting in Bangalore

Most people argue that men’s desire for sex is part of nature and nothing can stop them and, almost all animals “do” that to their female counterparts. I have witnessed a female duck being gang raped by its male counterparts. But, the catch is that unlike ducks, human beings have something called “prefrontal cortex” which is unique to mammals. This part of the brain gives an individual the ability to make decisions and to control emotions. Unless he is programmed since childhood that “raping a woman is ‘natural'” rape shouldn’t cross one’s mind.

As per social notions, only men desire sex and women should be “available for them”. Some talk about legalizing sex work to reduce rapes, some say that girls should be married early but how often do we talk about consent? Legalizing sex work to prevent rapes is equivalent to saying that it doesn’t matter if the sex worker is raped. As per the law, marital rape is legal and wife’s “no” is disregarded. Personally, I believe that proper education can change the perspective and improve morality. That’s what education is about, defining one’s character along with knowledge enhancement.

Consent is the most important aspect of a healthy sexual activity. There is no term called “non-consensual sex”; only consensual sex and rape. If either party says no and if the other person forces himself or herself then it is rape which is traumatizing for the latter. Also, a child is the future of humankind, this mindset is built based on what he or she is taught. We should challenge every system, whether it is an institution or a religious group from addressing it as a “wife duty” and, make it into a statement, ‘the responsibility to ensure the other person’s interests as well along with one’s comfort’. At the end of the day, rape is a crime which knows no gender. Sex is an activity which takes place with consent.

3. Better teachers than the internet

Taking up sex education in rural women
Image Credits: Flickr/ Women’s Worlds

When I was in 9th grade, a fellow classmate of mine was convinced that hugging a guy can lead to pregnancy as it was shown in the movie “Main Aisa Hi Hoon”. Esha Deol’s character hugs Ajay Devgan’s characters and in the next scene, she is pregnant. Eventually, discussions on whether actresses become pregnant started making rounds. Based on my observations, the number of students passing 10th grade who is taught about sex is less.

Most of these students find out by themselves by referring to the internet or pornographic material. I learned about it from a textbook, I came across in the library, named “Human Reproduction”, which is meant for medical students. In that, it was clearly mentioned, “Only penetration leads to pregnancy”. So teachers should communicate these ideas and ensure that the environment is comfortable for the students. Learning through a proper discussion with teachers is better than referring to the internet.

4. Psychological and physiological aspects of sex need to be mentioned

Recently, I read an article which mentioned that anal sex is very painful for women without proper lubrication. Just like how 45 minutes long foreplay is necessary for peno-vaginal penetration, same should be considered for anal sex. Similarly, women are taught that sex could be painful, especially the first time. That is not true, painful sex could also mean that the woman is having an infection in the vagina or there is no proper lubrication.

Most women, who don’t get proper sex education, might not know about the “bleeding” aspect. I came across a forum which was written by a woman where she mentioned that she cried after seeing blood. She was under the impression that there is some injury inside her. The changes happening in men and women during sexual libido and after sex are visible and these are essential for people to be aware of their bodies.

5. Sex is not a taboo, ignorance is

Earlier, sex was seen as a sin and kids were prevented from mentioning the “S” word. Religious as well as cultural pressure play another role in it. A Swedish filmmaker once asked me, “India is the land of Kamasutra. India probably ‘invented’ lip kissing, yet the topic is still a taboo here”. I had no reply for him as I myself was raised in a conservative family.

Thanks to the liberal media and better friends circle, today, kids learn about sex and consent better. At the sametime, the way it is discussed needs to be regulated by those who are communicating. People throw words and instances to insult women and to make her uncomfortable. Words like “whore”, “slut”, “cunt” etc. are used to insult women in social media platforms. It has a lot to do with the mindset that sees women as objects and by those who sexualise women and end up defaming them.

The reason why rape is considered as one of the worst crimes is because of this taboo nature; due to this women are seen as “vessels” that needs to be kept pure. Apart from the restriction on women’s autonomy, men are simply given liberty as their activities are never really questioned. Women also have desires and they should not be shamed into suppression just like how men’s excessive libido, making them a perpetrator, should not be normalized. Schools barely touch topics like sexuality, sexual orientation, emotions, and gender spectrum.

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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 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.”

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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
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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