A teen steps into a room — it is filled with red-faced classmates. There’s a serious-looking person in front, they are talking about the p-word. Everyone has questions, but only giggles are tossed around. The nightmare is finally over, the doctor leaves. Several moons later, no one knew the practical would be so hard.
Indian sex education is an institution that hopes that sex-ed will trickle down to teens from friends, family or somewhere(!), and robs itself of the shameful responsibility of explaining about sex.
My mother told me about periods when I was nine. When I finally learnt it in school, it had been two years. After years of being shushed and with the internet at my disposal , I realised that we have made menstruation an inconvenient process. I was never introduced to tampons and menstrual cups; most Indian girls never are. I was alien to the concept of swimming or even no-stain periods!
During sex-ed, girls would be the only ones being taught about periods and sanitary napkins would be given a pedestal next to god (how I wish literally!). On a daily basis, girls have to hear uncomfortable comments passed by their male counterparts, whom girls would often be too shy to retaliate against. Instead of normalising the sight of period stains and sanitary napkins, teachers would treat them as something that shouldn’t be witnessed by boys or men.
We always had sanitary pads at our medical bay, but girls could never muster courage to carry them around with their head held high. We also understood that periods are the reason we would become child-bearers one day, but they always conveniently forgot to tell us how.
If there is one thing I learnt as a product of the Indian education system, it’s that sex is a no-no.
Books and sex-ed sessions in schools took every opportunity to abstain from explaining intercourse. One would hope that intercourse is at least mentioned in Biblical textbooks, and it was! They mentioned diseases caused by coitus and how active sex lives are wreaking havoc on the population.
Among the few questions about intercourse that sprang up, their answers narrated the ordeals of a man and woman. Always a man and woman. These sessions completely annihilated the existence of genderqueer or intersex individuals. Over time, sex-ed has been mandated as a gender-concerning knowledge, when it is not. This binary experience of sex-ed has fostered transphobia, biphobia, gender dysphoria and queerphobia over the years, and is the primary reason why the removal of Section 377 of IPC has proven to be ineffective in social scenario.
Where does the population of India, who will be entering its prime reproductive years, learn about sex? Porn and flower-kissing make-out of scenes of Indian films. Over the years, a huge chunk of the population has learnt to idolise sexual fantasies in pornography and erotic books. The opinion formed about sex thereafter is as bizarre as pornography itself. Non-consensual sex, tortuous sexual abuse against women, classism etc. is shown as common, while homosexual intercourse is portrayed as a phase.
Most of the young population is unaware of products that can be used for safe sexual practices. In a large demography such as India’s, where several porn websites have been banned, thousands of young adults form the wrong idea about sex. As a teenager living in urban areas, one comes across a threshold of sex-ed beyond which self-research may suffice. But in rural India, sex-ed is absent from school curricula. This may lead to population outburst, propagation of STIs and STDs, unsafe menstrual practices and deterioration of sexual health.
Masturbation is a topic alien to Indian teens. It’s been ages since formal channels of sex-ed forgot to speak about masturbation. Movies and TV shows in India also refrain from speaking about masturbation. This inbreeds bizarre myths and rumours that may lead teenagers to engage in unsafe practices. When one’s peer-group gossip becomes your best source of sex-ed, the experience doesn’t end well.
With adolescence comes the slow poison of adulting. Acquiring sex-ed by oneself does not qualify as self-dependence. After 75 years of Independence, we as a nation have greater things to shy away from than telling a bunch of teens what goes on behind closed doors at night.