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Did You Receive A Sex Ed Talk? If Not, You May Want To Check These Sex Educators Out

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I went to a school under the aegis of the central government. The physical and educational infrastructure of the school was crumbling, but it tried its best to provide for its many hundreds of students. When I reached secondary school, we had a session on sex education. Given that my school was a co-ed one, certain parts of the talk were common. But, when it came to the part on periods and pads, the “boys” were sent out and the “girls” stayed back.

We were segregated according to the gender binary (which was imposed on me as a child, because I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate my transness back in school). They must have talked to the boys about boners and becoming “decent” men, I assume. I can’t know for sure, because I was never allowed to be there. Sex education in Indian schools is nothing but a binary, abstinence-oriented, one-time intervention.

Such education is incomplete. It doesn’t take into account the realities of Indian youths’ lives.

Where Indians once needed to avoid a lot of scrutinies to go on with their love lives, we now have access to each other at our fingertips (via screens). Young people, especially now, are on the cusp of many freedoms. Access to the Internet has revolutionised how we interact with each other.

To think that we are not sexual beings, or to assume that all of us are heterosexual and/or not transgender, is a massive flaw. Don’t infantilise us! We need open spaces to have these conversations, again and again, instead of being “shamed” for being “curious”.

Photo Artist: Liv & Dom

Why Is Sex Ed So Important?

My sister, now 29, went to the same school as me, for a bit. One of the hats that my sister, Apurupa Vatsalya, dons is that of being a sex educator. Naturally, I wanted to talk to them about what they thought of the sex education we had received in school. They said, “I didn’t receive any sex education in school, barring one chapter in biology, which was assigned as self-study.”

This was the chapter detailing the so-called female and male “reproductive organs”. I was taken aback to hear that someone who is just three years older, didn’t even receive the basic talk I had.

Apurupa Vatsalya (on the right).

Speaking about the long-term impact of not having received a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), they added, “I’m an intersectional, sex-positive, queer feminist. Because  I was deprived of sexuality education, I ended up internalizing a lot of misinformation, stemming from brahminical patriarchy. I struggled in taking care of my own sexual health, needs and well-being as a result of this.”

They have become the teacher they needed, growing up. Today, they run a popular Instagram page, as a sexuality educator.

What Is Comprehensive Sexuality Education?

According to UNESCO, it “is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.”

Unlike the popular misconception about it, CSE actually leads teenagers and young adults to make responsible choices. It is NOT a greenlight to sexually experiment. Apart from one’s common sense, there are research studies to prove otherwise.

For instance, a study with a sample size of more than 900 adolescents, studying at a Marathi-medium school in Pune, Maharashtra, concluded that: “Students who were not exposed to scientific literature on reproductive and sexual health were more likely to have initiated sex early.” (Sahay, Nirmalkar, Sane, Verma, Reddy, & Mehendale, 2013).

CSE provides children and young people with a safe space that equips us with the knowledge we need, to look after our own sexual and reproductive needs as well as health. A meta-analysis by Khubchandani, Clark, & Kumar (2014) showed that “Comprehensive sexuality education has greater efficacy and cost-effectiveness (even in the developing countries) with regard to improving sexual health outcomes in adolescents.”

Photo artist: Liv & Dom/ Instagram

The Internet As A Safe Space

Karishma Swarup.

Next, I thought of reaching out to a couple of other sex educators. Karishma Swarup is one of them. She is also a sex educator on the Internet. Her school counsellor “tried to be sex-positive and said ‘sex is a sport, it’s all about experimentation, but she never actually gave us any hard skills about healthy relationships, consent, condoms, STIs [sexually transmitted infections] and pregnancy prevention.”

Like many of us millennials have, Swarup resorted to the Internet to fill in the blanks. “The bulk of my actual knowledge about CSE, as a teen, came from YouTube videos by feminist creators like Laci Green, and then my training when I started teaching peer sex education in college [Brown University],” added the 24-year-old.

Sex Ed Needs To Be Shame-free

Nikita Barton.

My sister, Swarup and 27-year-old Nikita Barton are the three (CSE for all) musketeers, the way I see it. Barton facilitates queer and trans-affirming CSE.

They went to a “catholic school”, where they received “the bare minimum [information] on menstruation and mood swings during adolescence etc.” They were also fed ridiculous lies like, “Children whose parents truly love them don’t waste time dating because their heart is already full.”

Absolute hogwash, I say! Young people are likely to be drawn to each other, irrespective of the parental love we may (or may not) receive. Learning about our own and each others’ bodies is also a part of learning how to be well-adjusted adults. Currently, Barton conducts one-on-one as well as group sessions for all age groups. They believe that it’s never too late to learn.

In these sessions, they touch upon the scientific as well as societal aspects of sexuality. They “celebrate every individual and assure them that they are worthy of love, respect and consensual, pleasure-filled sex if they so choose!” One of the workshops they have designed is called ‘pleasure 101’. They added, “Having access to information that is affirming, allows us to think through our decisions, without the unnecessary burden of shame, stigma and hatred.”

Is CSE Fully Inclusive?

While everyone is trying their best to be inclusive on the Internet, there is still a long way to go before CSE is accessible to all. Not everyone has access to a smartphone and the Internet, for instance. Even those who do may not understand English. Other intersections such as caste and disability also impact one’s sexuality.

Vatsalya knows that they have only catered to a certain section of society. “The response has been positive, barring unwanted dick pics and abusive messages on social media. I haven’t personally faced a lot of backlash because I’m cognizant that I have majorly catered to a very privileged slice of society,” she says.

Varuna Srinivasan, a doctor by training and sexual health consultant based in the USA, weighed in. “Well, it does get frustrating when I try to be intersectional. For example, when I bring in issues of race and caste, people are not so willing to talk about the ways in which they impact sexuality. It’s important for us all to keep talking about these nuances too!”, she explains.

Varuna Srinivasan

In an attempt to do so, she “creates [virtual] spaces that encourage curiosity and empowerment.” Having gone through the journey herself, she feels so much more sure and confident about her body. Hence, by “working to import thorough comprehensive sex education in our communities, I am hopefully telling others that they too deserve to feel the same way.”

We Have Questions To Ask

Swarup said, More than the hate in my comments and DMs [direct messages], I am flooded with questionspeople have so much to ask and they don’t know where to go because this is ‘literally’ the ‘talk you never got’.”

From teaching in schools, she moved her work online due to the pandemic. What I didn’t expect was the number of young adultscollege students, newlyweds, young people in generalwho had the exact same questions and clarifications as the high school students I’ve taught in the past,” she adds.

If there is one thing I know for sure about CSE, it’s that as young people, we need it. We want to talk about sex and all things related. We want to dispel the shame that is associated with sexuality. It’s about time us Indians started talking about these things candidly, instead of brushing them under the carpet. Shouldn’t we be in a position where I am prepared to look after all my needs and boundaries, sexual or non-sexual?

Other pages with CSE-focused content, on Instagram, one could follow include: Leeza Mangaldas, Tanaya Narendra, Team Taarini and the Sangya Project.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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