Adequate sex education has been lacking in India for centuries. The notion of sex and sexuality has been so heavily branded as taboo in our homes, at school and in society by extension, that it has led to a total breakdown of communication and lack of an anxiously needed education on sex.
Handicapped by generational stigma, hostile dogma and an entirely skewed sense of morality, sitting adolescent health programs in India are rendered unable to culture children or tackle basic health issues that children are, and will be vulnerable to. Seriously dangerous sexual and reproductive health issues such as early and closely spaced pregnancy, unsafe abortions, STD’s, HIV/AIDS, and sexual violence are rising at a shocking rate and can only really be attributed to a lack of understanding about sex and what it means. India has, for instance, the 3rd most positive HIV cases worldwide. There are over 2.3 million people over the age of 15 who are HIV positive. This is roughly 31% of the total population infected with HIV/AIDs in the country. What is even scarier is the further lack of awareness and prevention about a host of other STD’s. This level of susceptibility can be managed if familial exchanges flowed freely and schools abided by the National AIDS Prevention and Control Policy of 2002 which implores educators to instill knowledge surrounding this enormous issue to their pupils. Female menstruation, for instance, is still heavily denounced as unclean and exchanges around it considered distasteful even amongst those whom you’d think are the “educated” urban kind. Young girls and women aren’t taught basic hygiene surrounding their period and may not know how often to change their sanitary pad or how to use a tampon. Gender sensitivity at schools and colleges require supreme attention so that girls don’t feel embarrassed about a careless boy teasing her for carrying a whisper packet in her bag. Boys shouldn’t be afraid of going camping with their friends for fear of having a wet dream (or nocturnal emissions) not knowing that its perfectly normal. These issues factor as the most basic elements that make up the discourse on sex education.
In the absence of healthy conversations at home and at school, children and even adults it seems turn to other portals for information such as the internet, social media (laden with falsities) and pornography to have their questions surrounding sex answered. Porn dehumanizes sex. It takes respect, love and consent entirely out of the balance, leaving only the physicality (which is often brutal) of it to be seen. It frequently paints women as subservient to men, with men usually dictating and sometimes forcing performance. In a country plagued by sexual violence and a proclivity towards belligerent sexism, the urgency of a deeply granular education is dire. Without it, we have generations of children who grow up, depending on potentially dangerous sources of information, such as pornography, to form their ideas of what sex is. The consequences of this don’t need to be spelt out, considering we live in a country branded by its failure to protect its women and children; where one woman was raped every fifteen minutes in 2018 and 50% of young boys and girls face sexual abuse in their lives.
There are programs in place such as the Adolescence Education Program (AEP), but they have faced severe backlash. In 2007, India’s National AIDS Control Organization and its Ministry of Human Resource Development developed a scripture to be followed country wide by schools to inculcate teachings on sex to students. This however faced fervent opposition by many parents, teachers and government officials who thought it contrary to Indian values and against our code of conduct, resulting in it being banned in as many as 12 states. In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out a new program, hoping to achieve greater success in this area. This new module involves role-playing and activity centered structures that are taught by trained teachers student educators. The unfortunate ground level reality is that most teachers and health care professionals lack the knowledge and training required for the careful delivery of this matter.
The demands of the hour stand more desperate than ever before in an India pioneering and thriving in the wake of globalization and increased connectedness but lying arrested in the basic development of human studies. The foundation of sexual education needs to be reimagined in the context of India today, to that which goes beyond talking about sex as an act. It needs to encompass human sexuality at large and the paradigms within which that exists such as gender identity, gender sensitivity, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual problems, a healthy way of sexual expression, consent and awareness about sexual abuse. The main agenda should be to equip and empower the youth with tools to help them navigate their own sexuality, an understanding of their bodies and future relationships.