Sex-Ed in India: Moving From Protection To Pleasure

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Did you ever have a sex education class in school — you know the one where they rushed through badly illustrated versions of your sexual organs and preached abstinence till marriage? This hilarious video is the most apt illustration of how sex-ed is dealt with in our educational institutions. This report describes the glaring gap in comprehensive sexuality education for Indian in great detail. Not having adequate sex-ed is a violation of the human rights of children and adolescents.

Sure, conversations around sex-ed have gotten better: teachers are more willing to answer questions, students ask more questions, and the internet does provides a gateway to some half baked information. But do you notice how all our dialogue around sex, in sex-ed class or otherwise, focuses on protection and prevention? Barely anyone talks about sex from a pleasure perspective and pretty much no one teaches a sex-ed class from that angle. Is it any wonder that we grow up knowing nothing about sex beyond its basic mechanics? That while reading stories of bad sex leave us feeling uneasy and with a sense of ‘oh, that has happened to me’, we still don’t know how to fix it?

I’m not going to tell you that we are the land of Kamasutra and we should do better because of some historical reasons, because it’s irrelevant. You deserve sex and sexuality education that teaches you about pleasure today, irrespective of where you’ve come from. At the beginning of 2017, the Indian Health Ministry put together a pretty rad manual on reproductive health and sexuality. It impressively spoke of same sex love (at a time when sexual relations between people of the same sex remain criminalised in India), consent, relationships and trust — and involved young people in training and delivery. Unfortunately, the curriculum hasn’t been incorporated widely across States.

Our understanding of sex has to move beyond procreation. We have to ensure that young persons understand their own sexuality and sexual desires and know how to express it in a healthy and consensual manner. This expression of sexual desire is so often political, as is.

Here are some things I’ve found effective to bridge the gap in sex-ed, try some of it out and tell me how it goes:

  1. Parents need to start talking more. Schools and colleges aren’t the only places responsible for ensuring good sex-ed for children and young adults. Don’t just tell them to wait till marriage to engage in anything sexual, or in a better scenario use condoms whenever they have sex — actually talk to them about the pleasure associated with sex. Help them understand that what they feel when they are stimulated is acceptable, help them also understand that not feeling stimulated is equally acceptable — normalise their sexual needs.
  2. Use the internet for more than just porn. When it comes to sex, the internet can be a fabulous resource for anyone to learn more about sex, reproductive rights, sexuality and sexual pleasure. Knowing where to look is extremely important. Initiatives like Agents of Ishq and Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI) are a great starting point.
  3. Talk to people around you. Have a younger cousin who is just hitting puberty while you’ve been sexually active for a while? Talk to them about the importance of sexual pleasure and of your experiences. The complete lack of accessible information on sexual pleasure from an educative standpoint creatives a massive problem of information asymmetry (putting my Economics degree to use!). If you have had access to content to educate yourself, help take this to others, with their consent. Make sure the information you have had access to is reliable.
  4. Teachers cannot do everything. Your maths, language, or even biology teacher may not be equipped to deliver sex-ed content that goes beyond a descriptive study of sexual organs — get the right people onboard for it. Often this is the first exposure young persons have to sex-ed from an adult, ensure that this is a safe judgement free space. And absolutely do not call an external trainer and then hand them a memo to conduct the exact same class that a teacher would take.
  5. Better sex-ed modules. Can’t find them? Build them. Put it out for peer review online or reach out to experts for an opinion — and then take this content to young people wherever you can. Sexual pleasure isn’t necessarily difficult when people are taught to look for it as a norm and not an aberration.

People who understand sex comprehensively are able to recognise pleasure in themselves and in others. They have fewer feelings of guilt and shame associated with sex and their own needs and identities. Such education does away with the taboos around sex, brings it out from behind curtains of silence and let’s young people know their desires are acceptable — in turn also teaching them what isn’t acceptable. This goes a long way in building better sexual relationships, understandings of consent and breaking down stigma around sex.

Vandita Morarka is the founder and CEO of One Future Collective.