Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Isn’t it ironic? The same janta that shimmies to the tunes of Sheila ki jawaani, roll their eyes when asked about one of the biggest fruits of said jawaani, sexuality?
Indians, sometimes even the well-read urban kind, often tend to attach a whole lot of sensitivity to the topic of sex, regarding it with the most vicious taboo. It is thus a natural consequence that education that teaches their children about sexual well-being is met with the highest resistance possible – from parents, teachers, lawmakers and nosy neighbours, especially nosy neighbours.
Thereafter, sex suddenly features a lead role, albeit heavily masked under innuendoes, among otherwise conservative aunties who gently egg you for good news.
And unless you have managed to get your gyaan from some helpful forward-thinking cousin, you may find yourself scouring the net (quite futile now with the network ban on that thing that rhymes with corn) or skipping right ahead to the meatier pages of Mills & Boons for some self-taught Shiksha.
But jokes apart, this is serious business. Sexual Education, or as we like to address it with its PG euphemism, Family Life Education, is far from being accepted as a necessary component of education.
Despite the propaganda, and repeated favourable policies, it has been constantly rejected in various states in India.
A deep-rooted sense of morality binds the sentiment of a large population from seeing the benefits and necessities of launching such an education program throughout the country.
It is largely believed that talking about sexuality and its awareness may instead corrupt young adolescents.
A study was conducted in collaboration with UNICEF and the Population Council India about adolescents (the pimply teenagers between 10 and 19 years of age comprising nearly 250 million of India’s population) based on research conducted and published between 2002-2013.
They went to incredible details, but to summarize, adolescents face challenges in various aspects. Lack of education, child labour, lack of nutrition, substance abuse, child sexual abuse and a lack of understanding of their sexual and reproductive health are only some of the glaring shortcomings in their well-being.
The lack of comprehensive data on all adolescents makes it difficult to exactify the impact these problems have on them. However, here are some of the direct consequences of these issues, among the Indian youth.
Why is Sex Education, for adolescents, essential in India?
There are over 2.3 million people over 15 years with HIV infection. This is about 31% of the total population infected with AIDS/HIV, in India.
There is very little awareness about safe sexual encounters and the consequence of having unprotected relations with multiple partners.
Only 45% of young men and 28% of young women seem to have comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS and its prevention. This is more in cities than in rural areas. Same is the knowledge about HIV/AIDS testing facilities with only 42% young men and 30% young women, among the 15-19-year-olds, ever having heard of resources to get such a health check-up.
The importance of delivery of sex education in a timely fashion to this significant demographic is emphasized by current statistics that show that almost one in every fifth person on the globe is an adolescent. They comprise 18% (1.2 billion) of the world's population in 2009, with 88% living in developing countries. India has the largest adolescent population (243 million with more than 50% of the adolescent population living in urban areas). These figures indicate the importance of specifically addressing the healthcare needs of this considerable demographic, particularly for developing countries such as India.
Growing up in India
Young men in India mature and develop in a male-dominated environment, with little or no sex education. And in rural areas, with very little contact with female peers after puberty. Together, this leads to misdirected masculinity, characterised by male sexual dominance and unequal gender attitudes and behaviour.
A comprehensive curriculum-based sexuality module, such as the one launched by UNESCO in 2018, can help young boys and girls understand their bodies and the age-related changes better. And it can also teach young people about consent and respecting each others’ personal space. Sex education should also be a space to learn about menstruation, sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases and risks of pregnancy.
Young people also need to know about the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. This in turn will allow them to recognise abuse, should it occur, and protect themselves.
A CULTURAL CHALLENGE
Public discussion of topics of a sexual nature is widely considered as taboo in the Indian society, therefore acting as a barrier to the delivery of adequate and effective sexual education to Indian adolescents. Sex education at school level has attracted strong objections and apprehension from all areas of the society, including parents, teachers, and politicians, with its provision banned in six states which include Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka. Legislators contend that it corrupts the youth and offends “Indian values,” leading to promiscuity, experimentation, and irresponsible sexual behaviour. Some opponents argue that sex education has no place in a country such as India with its rich cultural traditions and ethos. These views lie at the heart of the traditional Indian psyche and will need to be approached tentatively with psychological insight when challenged. Expertise from healthcare professionals along with patience and time will be required in order to bring about what is likely to be a gradual change in the existing conservative attitudes.
A CHANGING CLIMATE AND THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA
Proponents argue that these conservative views are outdated in a fast modernizing society such as India, with an ever-growing adolescent population adopting rapidly evolving attitudes toward sex. Mass media has had a highly influential, yet mixed impact, on the Indian way of life. By helping bring sexual topics into discussions through the powerful mediums of television, radio, and the internet, it has allowed recognition of the urgent need to address the misinformed or uninformed youth. With studies showing that the majority of parents do not accept the responsibility for providing sex education, with 88% of the male and 58% of the female students in colleges in Mumbai reporting that they had received no sex education from parents. They were left to resort to information they gather from books, magazines, youth counsellors, and through pornography, with its increasing accessibility in recent times. Those exposed to sexually implicit content on the television and internet is more likely to initiate early/premarital sex, which comes with a host of negative implications which they often find themselves unequipped to deal with. This applies to a quarter of India's young people who indulge in premarital sex.
Why parents should talk to their kids about sex-
If parents do not teach their children about sex and sexuality, then they will learn about it from somewhere else, and an opportunity to insist family values may be missed.
A good strategy is to start talking to your child about sex when they are young and continue that conversation as they get older.
A child is exposed to information about sex from sources such as school, friends and the media at a much earlier age than many parents expect.
Parents should not rely on the school system to teach sex education. If your child is taught sex education at school, ask them what they learned and review it with them.
Talk to your child about sex, and start early. It will probably be a bit awkward, but it is necessary.
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