Our country has been able to uproot various social evils and stigmas on a bigger or smaller scale. In an era where sex is normalised as a natural phenomenon, Indians still find themselves demurrring or going astray when it comes to a slightest mention of the word “sex”.
In a social milieu where the phrase “the personal is political,” is outcried at the top of our lungs, sex education still occupies a backseat with a sense of ‘hush-hush’ around the topic. Often considered a ‘personal’ matter, sexual health and sex education have been continuously overlooked due to the culture of silence, hesitation and shame. The existence of strong stigma around us pervades our sexual life and the vague experimentations not only challenge our sexuality but also exacerbate the navigation and differentiation of our behavioural patterns as well as attitudes, especially in the case of an adolescent.
An analysis from a reputed NGO showed that 70% of the calls received through their helpline number were queries about “sexual anatomy, physiology and reproductive health issues” from people below 30 years of age, irrespective of their marital status, while 33% calls were made by the age group of 15-24 years. This presents a thought-provoking picture where the future of this nation lacks even the adequate access and source to build-up an appropriate sexual knowledge. Unfortunately, when such curiosities and desire to explore this “taboo”out of the spectrum of reproductive needs are excessively suppressed, they culminate in other petrifying consequences affecting both the individual and the society adversely. Child abuse, gender stereotypes, rape and molestation, unsafe sexual practices, addiction to cheap and aggressive pornography, vilification of physiques, mannerisms and romantic-partner choice, sexist remarks and treatment offer somewhat a small, but highly detestable view born out of excessive suppression of psychological and physiological inquisitiveness.
The implications of incomplete, wrong or no sex education is more realised by an aware or educated Indian audience. Yet the irony is that the most educational institutions recede into the background when it comes to providing a formal sexual education. For one reason, it is believed to be provocative and inappropriate for the young minds, and the other reasons include socio-cultural or shame factors. Besides, considering this dominant issue as highly ‘personal’, there are good chances of a teacher or an instructor to be themselves devoid of such knowledge. Consequently, students enter the school and university spaces only to realise how stigmatized, non-existent and tabooed the word “sex” has become in a typical Indian household and society.
This stands true not only on domestic grounds but on political grounds as well. When in 2007 sex education was introduced by the National Council for Education, Research and Training in the curriculum, it was widely resented by the state governments and removed in progressive states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Goa. So was the take of our “developing” India on sex then. India has the largest adolescent population and with the introduction of the current national programme, FLE (family life/sex education) in the curriculum, it comes with its own shortcomings. It will take ample time for a programme like this to get rid of its foreign character and adapt a suitable cultural sensitivity.
In either ways, the onus is on us to normalise the conversation or discussion pivoting around sexual well-being and sexuality. Sex must be explained not just as a biological or pleasure-inducing need but in a moral and spiritual context as well. The loopholes in an Indianised version of sex education such as lesser focus on gender identity or sexual orientation, consent and dissent, identifying sexual or substance abuse and so forth must be addressed. Active participation and awareness on different platforms and in institutions might not ameliorate this deep-rooted, conservative approach at once but initiating a change is itself a big change. With a collective effort and a mature psyche, the government of India and its people can bring a social flexibility and openness which is imperative for sex education in India.
Samra Ejaz is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.