Written by Avni Gupta
One relies on adults and institutions like schools and colleges to provide the very-much necessary sex education. In India, however, the two apparently reliable sources have failed us at many levels. In this scenario, the youth ends up educating themselves through means like social media, pornographic websites, and the most ‘foolproof’ of all – peers.
In this time of hush-hush conversations, Indians saw a beam of light: Mumbai Mirror’s Ask the Sexpert column. Residing in Mumbai or not, the column has reached every corner of the country through social media. The man behind this quirky column was none other than Dr. Mahinder Watsa. Sadly, at 96-years of age, the sexpert passed away on December 28, 2020.
Pratisandhi remembers Dr. Watsa for enlightening the country’s youth on sex education. His contribution to the field is commendable and cannot be stressed enough. Over the years, he has managed to develop a cult following with his hilarious, yet informative responses.
Dr. Watsa began his journey by writing a column called Dear Doctor in a women’s magazine, Trends. On receiving numerous letters from distressed young women, he realized the lack of sexual education that prevails in our country. Women wrote to him – confessing they would commit suicide, worried about the wedding night, what would they do if their husbands found out they’re not virgins, and so on.
Soon, he set on a life-long mission to provide sex education to the youth of the country. In 1974, Dr. Watsa began working as a medical affairs consultant for the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI). He proposed the idea of initiating sexual counseling and education program in the organization – which led to the setting up of India’s first sex-ed, counseling, and therapy center.
Later, Dr. Watsa achieved the mission through his very own organization, the Council of Sex Education and Parenthood International (CSEPI). Currently, the organization is affiliated to the World Association for Sexual Health. Over the years, CSEPI has become the foremost Sexual Health Organization in India, with over 600 fellows and members. The Council brings about the training of health care professionals by conducting an annual National Conference in the domain of human sexuality. By this, it aims to promote sexual health and awareness amongst the Indian population.
In 2005, Dr. Watsa began writing for the famous newspaper column Ask the Sexpert. During his years as a columnist, he managed to answer more than 20,000 queries by commoners about sex. Not just teenagers, even adults, who never received an opportunity, were introduced to the world of having open conversations. A survey on letters sent to the column was conducted by Dr. Suchitra Dalvie – revealing a lack of sex education even amongst well-educated citizens living in urban areas of the country.
In the last few decades, sex education in India has seen improvement on a textual basis – schools have introduced the topic in their curriculum. Surprisingly, children are neither encouraged nor engaged in frank conversations. School teachers often choose to skip the chapter talking about human reproduction.
Dr. Mahinder Watsa preferred talking about sex in an easy and witty matter, rather than taking the usual medical and serious tone. Answers written by him were not crammed with medical jargon. His approach to answering sex-related queries was simple: he talked in a language that readers would enjoy and also learn from.
Audiences from all spheres – be it rural or urban – were addressed through his column. His crisp one-liners often managed to leave the readers giggling. Ask the Sexpert posed a perfect combination of pragmatism, scientific facts, psychological support, non-judgemental space, and humor. With this extremely significant work, he aimed to inspire and strike healthy conversations regarding sex and sexual well-being.
A series of humorous QnA is curated by Homegrown: We Illustrated The Best Of Dr. Mahinder Watsa’s ‘Ask The Sexpert’ Column – laden with quirky illustrations, it is a must-read.
A feature-length documentary titled Ask the Sexpert was released on Netflix, in 2017. Filmmaker Vaishali Sinha filmed the sexologist for several years – capturing his journey of imparting sex education and bringing about a change in society. In a recent Bollywood film, ‘Made in China’, actor Boman Irani portrayed the role of a sexologist facing the issue of acceptance in the country. This character was heavily inspired by Dr. Mahinder Watsa and his contributions.
In times where the word ‘sex’ is burdened with loads of taboo, his initiative has left quite an impact on us. As preachers of sex education in the country, we are undoubtedly following in his footsteps. Organizations like Pratisandhi are addressing many myths and misconceptions about sex – just like Dr. Watsa. In his very own words “Every generation has these questions – somebody has to answer them.”
Read more on our E-Newsletter – Pratisandhi