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How I Had To Unlearn Everything About Sex And My Body To Really Understand It

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By Ritika Ghosh:

Till 2016, the only conversations I had around gender and sexuality were influenced by my course in English literature. The conversations we had in college were usually completely theoretical and everyone would constantly try to one-up each other. My professors encouraged my feminist politics and thoughts – but even then, I was never sure or comfortable enough to assert myself in my home, college or social circles. I felt like I didn’t have the ability to translate the conversations I had in the classroom into something I could use in the other parts of my life.

I felt this most strongly when a few friends of mine and I used to go to the college gym – only to notice a few boys ogling us while we were working out. It reached a point where all my female friends and I decided to go in a pack to the gym in order to feel safe.

One morning, I asked a friend to let me know when they were planning to go to the gym. She only laughed at me, saying that I had nothing to worry about because no one was interested in harassing me. I remember the stinging hurt, but I also couldn’t help but think that maybe she was right, that no boy would harass an overweight girl.

It is only now that I realise how messed up it was that we equated harassment with being desirable – and not with the violation of our bodily integrity.

In my third year of college, I volunteered with the YP Foundation without knowing what to expect. The few months of training I went through shifted my attitudes and knowledge on issues like sexuality, caste, queer politics and governance.

When I look back, the dominant feeling I carried during the training was of discomfort – not just because the conversations I had with the other volunteers pushed me out of my comfort zone, but because it also forced me to take a hard look at my own prejudices and judgment, and even about myself. When I finally started working with adolescents from marginalised communities, I changed in ways which I couldn’t even have anticipated. I stopped going into these communities intending to ‘help’ them – because the more I talked to them, the more I understood that we are not messiahs.

Everyone is entitled to information to make better choices about their own bodies.

I remember a conversation I had with a girl during a session on violence and rape. She nervously came to me afterwards and told me that her uncle makes sexual advances towards her when drunk. She went on to ask if she had the right to say ‘no’ to him, or if she would be punished for doing that. In the long conversation that followed, we talked about how she is well within her rights to say ‘no’, and also about how she could keep herself safe from him.

A version of this conversation came up in a different part of my life. Once, while chilling in college in a mixed group of friends, one of the girls in the group talked about being touched without her consent at a party. While my first reaction was concern, the guys in the group made a few jokes, told her to lighten up, and not to talk about such ‘heavy things’ while they were trying to have a good time. I remember the look on her face at that moment. There wasn’t a lot I could do then – but I made it a point to let her know afterwards that I would support her with whatever she needed to get through the incident.

Giving – and getting – comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) has forced me to examine the ‘boxes’ in which I tend to put other people around me. Having conversations with others about ‘sex’, ‘pleasure’, ‘choice’ and ‘body’ has also caused a significant shift in the way I talk to myself about my own body. Now I know that a lot of the shame and disgust I used to feel was not accidental.

We have to unlearn the layers of stigma around ‘desire’ and ‘pleasure’ – something that can often take a lifetime.

Above all, the feeling I have carried all my life is that I wish that these were things that someone had talked to me about, in a safe and respectful way, while I was growing up.

The author is a TYPF Peer Educator and Youth Advocate, and has been working with TYPF since 2016. She graduated from Delhi University in 2017.


Design: Kruttika Susarla

The YP Foundation’s KYBKYR campaign 2.0 is a continuation of the Know Your Body, Know Your Rights campaign that we ran in 2010–2011. KYBKYR 2.o focuses on the need for young people to have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights 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.

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


Do you have an experience you’d like to share? Tell us your stories about talking about sexuality and sex, and why you think sexuality education is important! Write to info@theypfoundation.org with your story, or tag your YKA article with “Know Your Body, Know Your Rights”.

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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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