Living room discussions in Indian families range from politics, education, and career to technology and “good behaviour”. Try saying “sex” in one of these chit-chats, and you’ll be met with an uncomfortable silence. It is 2020, and yet a discussion on something as normal as sex is still prohibited in most Indian households. This communication gap is dangerous, especially for teenagers, who have no one to reach out to in their homes if they have any questions regarding, gender, sex and sexuality. Lack of access to proper information and support could have life long ramifications.
Sexuality education is the need of the hour for every adolescent, given the state of teenage pregnancies and sheer ignorance towards consent in many relationships.
The reproductive system is as much a part of our bodies as is the nervous system or respiratory system. Then why do we tend to talk about this set of organs sotto voce? Why are we so shy to discuss sex even with our mothers? Why are schools in urban as well as rural areas not open to include sexuality education in their regular curriculum? How does this integral part of all our lives become something against the culture?
Sexuality is not something that is just physical it also affects our mental and emotional well-being. Despite the effects it has on our overall health, parents shy from these conversations. They haven’t been conditioned to open up about sex and sexuality, not just with their children but in general. Also, one chapter dedicated to reproductive health in our syllabus is read by teachers without raising their eyes to look at the students. When all these doors to seek information about their sexual health are shut on their face, many youngsters start relying on pornography to understand and explore their sexuality. That is certainly not the right way anyone should learn about sex.
How does this integral part of all our lives become something against the culture?
Sexuality education does not merely comprise of knowledge on sexual intercourse per se but also includes the biological and emotional factors like sexual anatomy, reproductive health and rights, safe sex and birth control. Sexuality education does not encourage sex but instead inculcates safe sex practices and emphasizes the age of consent which is eighteen in India.
Indian culture associates a girl’s virginity with purity and the family’s honor, and thus they keep them uninformed about sexuality until of course, they’re married off. Sexual awareness is seen as a “bad influence” which could “spoil” a girl and eventually her marital prospects. Closing our eyes to something won’t stop it from happening, would it? The lack of conversation within families on sexuality merely hints at their obliviousness to teenage and young adult life today, and how sexuality cannot be clamped by notions of morality. What it does is make matters worse.
There is a lack of awareness about contraception and safe sex practices among the youth. They need to be enlightened about these and parents and teachers play a major role in imparting this knowledge.
Teenage pregnancies are quite prevalent in India. 7.8 percent of women between 15 and 19 years of age are pregnant or are mothers, according to the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 data. Sexually transmitted infections too are widespread, especially in rural areas. This report reveals that every year six percent of the adult population in India is infected with sexually transmitted infections and reproductive tract infections (STIs/RTIs). Why are these so common in the country, you ask? The answer lies in your hesitation to be vocal about sexuality. There is a lack of awareness about contraception and safe sex practices among the youth. They need to be enlightened about these and parents and teachers play a major role in imparting this knowledge.
Don’t zip the mouth of your children when they ask what sexuality is. Talk to them about self-exploration, sexuality, reproductive health and shatter the taboos you’ve grown up with. Help them steer smoothly through teenage and adolescence. Read about how can you be more open to such conversations with your young kids because ignoring this is definitely not the solution.
Picture by Dr. Gayle Friend
Saavriti is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.