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This List Clears Every Single Doubt You May Have About Gender, Sex And Sexuality

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By Jogya Chakravorty:

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) has evolved from sex education to sexuality education, and finally into its present form. Like we have said before, CSE covers a vast array of issues and topics concerning sexual and reproductive health.

Across the world, however, there is a considerable push to limit the scope of CSE and omit certain ‘controversial’ issues. The problem is, different countries find different topics controversial – some consider abortion contentious, while others have a problem with the word ‘sex’ itself! This selective acceptance of sexuality education must be resisted since it is these uncomfortable, debatable and differentially-interpreted topics that most adversely affect our sexual and reproductive lives and health.

With this in mind, we put together a helpful glossary of terms that must be a part of any sexuality education curriculum for it to be comprehensive.

The Spectrum Of The Anatomy Of Sex

Our biology textbooks tell us that there are only two sets of sexual and reproductive organs – male and female. Everything that does not fit into these categories is treated as ‘abnormal’. But these organs are often more complex than we acknowledge them to be. Our reproductive organs and their various parts have a variety of sizes, shapes and combinations.

One way by which we can break the strong link between ‘variation’ and ‘abnormality’ is by removing the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ altogether, when defining reproductive organs. So without further ado, here is that list:

  • Vulva refers to a set of external genitals that typically comprise the labia, mons pubis, clitoris and the vaginal opening.
  • The labia make up a majority of the externally-visible portion of the vulva. They surround and protect the clitoris, urethral opening and vaginal opening. It’s commonly differentiated into the labia majora (outer lip) and labia minora (inner lip), both of which show significant variation in color, shape and size.
  • The clitoris is a sensitive erogenous zone and its sole function is to provide sexual pleasure. It’s located at the top of the vulva just above the urethra. It varies in shape, size and sensitivity.
  • A small hollow muscular organ, the uterus holds and nourishes the foetus from conception to birth.
  • The canal that forms the passage from the uterus to outside the body is called the vagina.
  • The penis is an outer sex organ that’s made up of spongy tissues and blood vessels. It contains a tube called urethra that lets urine and semen (the latter during sexual excitement) pass through and exit the body.
  • The ovaries are two glands that contain thousands of immature eggs.
  • Testes are two ball-like glands that are contained in the scrotum, which is a sac-like structure. The main function of testes is to produce sperm and testosterone (which is a hormone). Sperm are the cells that contain sex chromosomes.
  • Fallopian tubes carry the egg from the ovaries to the uterus.
  • The hymen is a tissue membrane that partially covers the vaginal opening to protect it during developing years. It may or may not exist in everyone who has a vagina – and its presence or absence does not share a necessary relationship with virginity. Hymens vary widely in elasticity and presentation.
  • The epididymus stores the sperm until they mature. From the epididymis, the sperm then pass through a tube called the vas deferens – first to the seminal vesicles and then to the prostate gland – both of which nourish and lubricate the sperm. The sperm, along with the lubricating and nourishing fluids, is called semen, which is a whitish fluid.

The process of the development of these sexual and reproductive organs is called puberty, which usually marks the onset of adolescence. This period of physical, psychological and social change and development continues till the onset of adulthood.

  • Around puberty, sometimes semen comes out of the penis at night, during sleep. This is called nocturnal emission, night fall or wet dreams. Nocturnal emission is not necessarily accompanied by sexual feelings or sexual dreams. This is a common occurrence, as semen cannot be stored by the body at the rate at which it’s produced.
  • Menstruation, (also known as periods, and by many different names colloquially) is the process by which blood, mucosal tissue (from the lining of the uterus) and the unfertilised ova come out of the vagina every month for a few days. Menstruation usually begins during puberty and ends with menopause. One does not menstruate during pregnancy, as the lining provides nourishment to the foetus.
  • Conception refers to the process by which the sperm fertilises the ova. The zygote formed from their fusion then implants itself in the uterus. This leads to pregnancy.
  • To prevent pregnancy, certain artificial methods are used which are collectively called contraceptives. There are several kinds of contraceptives like condoms, birth-control pills, emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), diaphragms, etc.
  • The process of terminating a pregnancy is called abortion. There are multiple methods of abortion depending on the length of the pregnancy. They include medical abortions (in which one has to take medicines) and surgical abortions (differs in different countries based on the law). Abortion is a highly-politicised issue – which is why there are many laws about it in each country, some of which criminalise abortion.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI) are infections that are transmitted through sexual contact (exchange of sex fluid or even blood). Reproductive tract infections (RTI) are another type of infection, which refer to those that affect the reproductive tract. Although they are two different things, they often overlap (some STIs can be RTIs, and vice versa). RTIs can either be caused by an overgrowth of organisms already present in the tract or by the introduction of certain microorganisms into the tract during sexual contact or medical procedures.
Image used for representative purposes only. (Photo by Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

All Things Sex-y

‘Sex’ refers to two things:

1. The activities we engage in (either alone or with other people) for sexual pleasure (and occasionally reproduction), like these –

  • Intercourse refers to the penetration of the vagina or the anus by the penis or any other object.
  • Outercourse expands the meaning of sexual activity to include everything that is done for sexual pleasure (other than penetration).
  • All acts that we do to sexually pleasure ourselves are known as masturbation. One way this is done is through exploring one’s body – usually by touching or rubbing our own genitals.
  • The peak or climax of sexual excitement is called an orgasm. It is an intensely pleasurable feeling usually centered around our genitals, and may or may not be accompanied by release of sexual fluids from the body.

In any discussion about sex, consent has to take the centre-stage! Simply put, giving consent means to actively, enthusiastically, and explicitly agree to something with full understanding of the situation and without pressure of any kind.

But ‘sex’ also refers to:

2. The physiological and chromosomal makeup of a person at birth that results in categories being assigned to them:

  • A person is generally assigned male at birth on the basis of the presence of a commonly-occurring combination of external genitalia – the penis and the scrotum.
  • If a person’s genitalia at birth appears to be a vulva, they are assigned female at birth.
  • Intersex is a term assigned to persons who have an atypical composition or combination of genitals, hormones, chromosomes, etc. Intersex is not a defined category – and there is no consensus on the characteristics that help decide whether to place people in this category. It tends to be decided by doctors during the person’s birth. Their opinions vary considerably.

The Gender Spectrum

Gender is a social construct that consists of specific traits, roles and expectations that society attaches to males and females. There are two distinct prototypes that defines ‘men’ and ‘women’ and what their lives and behaviour should ideally be like.

But these prototypes perfectly fit only a small percentage of people. Most of us are a combination of both. Thus, it makes sense to see gender as a ‘fluid spectrum’ (instead of just one or the other), where several different experiences, identities and expressions exist and are accepted.

The constant interaction between how society sees you, how you experience yourself in relation to society and how you choose to define yourself make up your gender. This is not fixed and can change multiple times over the course of your lifetime, depending on what identity you are comfortable aligning yourself with. There are more identities that we can define – but here are some of them:

  • A cisgendered person is one whose gender identity reflects the sex assigned to them at birth.
  • Trans is an umbrella term that houses many different identities that describe someone who doesn’t relate or identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. These are very diverse and include identities like trans man or woman, transvestite, bigender, gender fluid, pangender, agender, gender non binary, gender neutral and gender two-spirit, among others.

Trans identities can be independent of one’s anatomical/physiological sex. It is also separate from one’s sexual orientation and identity, which is understood from our experience of sexual, romantic attraction and towards whom we direct these feelings.

Like gender, sexual orientations are fluid, can change over time, and have many different labels, some of which are:

  • Heterosexual – being sexually or romantically attracted to the opposite sex/gender.
  • Homosexual – being sexually or romantically attracted to the same sex/gender. Other terms include ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’.
  • Bisexual – When an individual is attracted to male and female sexes/genders.
  • Asexual  When one doesn’t experience sexual desire or attraction.
  • Pansexual – Persons who are sexually attracted to another of any sex or gender.
  • Demisexual  being sexually attracted to individuals that one has formed an emotional connection with.

The word ‘queer’ also falls within this category and in the gender spectrum. While it was initially used as a pejorative term for homosexual individuals, it has since been reclaimed by many people as a term that’s broader and more ambiguous in its scope than LGBTQI+ labels.

Sexuality encompasses everything we’ve talked about so far. As a concept, it is one that’s constantly evolving and changing. Sexuality can be experienced and expressed in thoughts, desires, values, behaviours, roles and relationships. It is also influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political and cultural factors.

Design: Kruttika Susarla

The YP Foundation’s KYBKYR (2.0) campaign is a continuation of the Know Your Body, Know Your Rights campaign that we ran in 2010–2011. KYBKYR 2.o focuses on increasing awareness on the need for young people to have access to SRHR information that is fact-checked, evidence based, and sex-positive. The campaign provides resources that assist young people to advocate for access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) with the decision-makers and authority figures in their lives, including family members, teachers, and administrators in educational institutions. The campaign also reaches out to these individuals directly to support young people’s demand for access to CSE.

This post was originally published on www.theypfoundation.org.

The author is a third year undergraduate at Jesus & Mary College, and is a TYPF Fellow 2016-17.

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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Vintage Animations/YouTube
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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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