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Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby: The Failures Of Indian Sex Education

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Puberty is a word we’re semi-unacquainted with. Contemporary education has made us remember all the characteristic features of puberty such as breast growth, menstruation, and growth of pubic hair in women and development of the penis, deepening of the voice, the emergence of defined Adam’s apple in males, and whatnot. It does teach you about puberty, you see, it just doesn’t teach you how to navigate through it.

Everything Wrong With Indian Sex Education

Sex education equals life skills, period. These are learnings that you actually take with you and practice throughout your life in some way or the other. Not everybody will use trigonometry or quantum physics. However, the large majority will, at some point in their life, be involved with sexuality, which is why the lack of emphasis on sex-ed in schools is not only astonishing but also repulsive.

There are so many things wrong with how sex education is conducted in school. The first being – how even if we make an effort to teach our students about sexuality and reproductive physiology, there is a designated time and space for that. Schools, institutions, parents, and other involved organizations preach about normalizing talking about sex; however, that ideology is propagated only in biannual workshops or during biology lectures.

Source: Careerizma

There is a need to normalize sex education for students beyond the Bi-annual workshop.

Breaking The Abstinence Norm

How will we normalize sex education if we provide sex-talk an exclusive status of existing only behind closed doors? While breaking stigmas and norms may seem too Spartan in nature, it’s the first step towards normalization. 

In a world where social media reigns the lives and Google is treated as a John Hopkins Medical School graduate, in the absence of having “the talk” or being told to focus on more ‘age-appropriate domains– teenagers will resort to seeking answers and exploring uncharted territory on the Internet, often falling in the pit hole of misinformation. Abstinence education is not education. Shaming and humiliating curious youngsters about something they wish to learn about and selling a fixed narrative of ‘abstinence until married’ is not education. This abstinence-only ideology withholds critical, science-based information young people need to make safer decisions on their sexual and reproductive health. 

Destructive To Instructive Power

In our plight of teaching teenagers to abstain from sexual activity of any kind, we tend to overlook the fact that teenagers are curious creatures and hold a vehement desire to explore their sexuality and the world around them. During the volatile years of teenage, the frontal cortex is still developing indeed, but this curiosity is not limited to teenagers. Irrespective of their demographic, all humans possess an inherent desire to resolve the uncertainty that is independent of the consequences, says Christopher K. Hsee and Bowen Ruan in a study of curiosity’s potential adverse effects.

As educated individuals, we need to come to terms with the fact that teenagers will explore sexuality. After all, it’s a part of their identity. Explaining the risks of dangerous behaviors doesn’t necessarily act as a deterrent.

Instead, it’s better to transform the destructive power of curiosity into instructive power. Instead of saying, “Don’t get intimate before you get married,” try saying, “If you do choose to indulge in intimacy, do take care of the necessary contraceptives.” At the same time, it is important to educate our children about the respective legalities of engaging in sexual activity as a minor, which is entirely different from abstinence-education and fulfills the desired purpose.

Source: Quartz

Initiating Changes And Building Reforms 

We all know the drill of sex education classes. Girls go to one classroom, and boys go to the other room. Both groups come out giggling in light of the new information they’ve acquired. This gender divide in sex education does more in building the stigma than breaking the stigma. Womxn have as much right to know about the opposite sex’s anatomy as they have their own. It takes two to tango, but in the pursuit of muting conversations about sex and resisting changes in the pop-culture, somewhere along the way, we end up losing that insight. 

A common misconception about sex education today is that sex education is all about the act of indulging in sex and plants voluptuous ideas in the heads of young and rebellious kids. However, open, frank, and compassionate conversations about sex help explore other neighboring domains of consent, sexual and reproductive health, sexuality, and gender. If we initiate open and honest conversations about sex globally and teach people about consent — its reversibility and its principles, we’ll naturally observe a decline in sexual harassment cases.

By the time schools and parents initiate conversations about sex and reproduction, most children are already aware of half-baked information, acquired from different sources. Talking about vaginismus, PCOS, lubrication, contraceptives, body positivity, and erectile dysfunction amongst many others will help youngsters get more prepared for what lies ahead and beyond their teenage dream and not walk through murky waters without support.

In the Netherlands, the conversation about sex starts at the ripe age of just 4 years. As a result, children grow up talking about sex, progressively learning more and more about sex, and making informed decisions. Today, the Netherlands is one of the safest countries in the world for both men and womxn.

 Unavoidable Presence In Our Culture

Sex today is part of popular culture. In the pursuit of denying and resisting that, we keep depriving teenagers of information that helps them make safe and informed decisions autonomously. We see pieces of sex and sexuality everywhere. Be it in item songs or lingerie stores; sex is everywhere.

Initiating a conversation about sex beyond the bedroom literally and metaphorically will help normalize the conversation about sex and help build critical thinking skills. Kindling discussions about objectification in media, actors and actresses in the porn-industry, sex work, harassment, and rape, among other topics, gives meaning to sex beyond the bedroom and helps normalize the conversation, making sure children make informed decisions autonomously.

Written by: Saairah Mehta

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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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