Sex Education and Sexuality in India

In India, sex education has long been a contentious issue. While some people understand the need of teaching sex education to kids at a young age, others do not believe it is necessary to teach or even discuss sex with their children and that it would tarnish the minds of their kids. We do not talk about sexual harassment or abuse of any kind because it is too controversial, unethical and still considered taboo in India. 

Sex education in ancient India and the impact of colonialism

India has always been rich in its culture and history from the very beginning and is known to be one of the oldest counties to teach sex education or sexuality in the world. A few scripts like Kamasutra (Aphorisms of love), manusmriti from Hindu literature, and Rheki, the Sufist poetry of the 13th Century where human desires and same-sex relations are written and explained are some of the best examples of from ancient times. You can even find sculptures on some Hindu temples constructed a thousand years ago where women and men are shown embracing each other. What could only possibly be imagined and performed, was most beautifully and poetically described through these texts and carvings. 

After the British came in the year 1756, they ruled over us and our ideas for centuries and somehow impacted our sexual mores as well. Sir Richard Burton translated some of our Indian texts into English. Besides that, they worked along with Indian leaders for female empowerment by abolishing the Purdah system, sati, and allowing widow remarriages.

However, the infamous section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was introduced by the colonialists per se in 1861 which criminalized sexual activities “against the order of nature”, which included homosexuality and intercourse with minors. Ironically, we think homosexuality is a Western or European influence, while the Britishers thought of it as something “against nature”. By imposing body policing and medicalization, they marginalized the trans section of India aka hijras, who still remain the unseen, unidentified, and neglected group of society. 

We live in a “modern” India now

However, the idea of sex education seems alien to us. Although Section 377 of IPC has been decriminalized in 2019, we are not able to completely accept trans people as the third gender. My grandmother had recently seen an LGBTQ film and was interested in learning more about the community and their way of life. It seemed as though the concept of two girls or boys together was so strange to her that she became uncomfortable and questioned some very fundamental issues that should have been taught to her in her teenage years.

I recall studying Reproduction in Humans in Biology class, the only sex education we got. We used to ask a lot of questions, but none of them were ever answered because our teacher thought it was inappropriate to discuss such topics in class. Even the school’s menstruation awareness lesson was so “hushed” that the boys in the class were unaware of it, and bringing a pad from class to the washroom was a mission per se.

The myths related to sex education

Sexual education is so controversial in a country like India where the population is greater and denser than its land area. I came up with a few reasons why:

  • The traditions and morals do not allow any pre-marital sex as these are “Christian or Western influences”.
  • If the teenagers are provided with sex education, they will become corrupted and engage in sexual activities.
  • The concept of homosexuality and gender identities is shown only in movies, if a child watches such movies, they might get the idea and become homosexual.
  • Men do not have to know about menstruation or pregnancy because only females go through it.

All of these arguments appear to be humorous, right? After all, there can’t be a logical rationale for it. But to our plight, most of the parents and even ministers have such views. The former health minister of India in an interview proclaimed that the “so-called” sex education should be outlawed and yoga should be made compulsory in schools instead. “Condoms promise safe sex”, he continues, “but safest sex is through faithfulness to one’s partner.”

The need for sex education in India 

India is a country with the majority of the population being youth and more than 50% of the population less than 25 years of age. According to UN reports, India has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the world, and adolescents in the age group of 15-25 years, contribute to 31% of the total. Moreover, India has the highest rate of population growth and teen pregnancy. Even so, our healthcare systems are overlooking the reproductive health of adolescents. 

Moreover, sexual abuse among young adults including male abuse is an alarming concern. One of my friends told me, “I was sexually assaulted by one of my cousins when I was 12.” She alleged that while they were playing, the 14-year-old kid touched her upper body parts. She realized that he did it out of sheer curiosity as he understood amidst his act that he did something wrong. All of this could have been avoided if sexual education had been offered at the appropriate age.

  • In India, around 53% of children between the ages of 5-12 years have been subjected to sexual abuse. The sole reason for the victims not speaking up is, often, they are not even aware if and how they are being assaulted or they are too shy to talk to their parents about this. 
  • We have never been taught about our bodies and desires, henceforth the concept of homosexuality seems alien. Teaching about gender and sexuality will help one and society to identify their sexuality and be comfortable with it. 
  • Since everyone has easy access to the internet nowadays, therefore they have access to various porn sites, which shows the fake and malicious side of sexuality. Instead of accepting porn and its behavior as normal, comprehensive education must be taught in schools to convey the appropriate information.

India’s attempt at introducing sex education programmes

Family Planning Association of India (FPAI) was formed in the year 1949 for the first time for sexual education awareness.

In 1969, the government started to develop population educational interventions and established clinics where they would provide family counseling.

Later in the year 1980, the National Population Education Program was introduced to teach about the population situation of family, community, nation, and the world.

Sonagachi is a small neighborhood in Kolkata that is famous in Asia for sex workers and multi-story brothels. The “Sonagachi Project” was launched in 1992 in West Bengal to empower sex workers to stand up against sexual abuse and create awareness about the use of condoms. There are also other NGOs and institutions like Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI) formed in 1996, Nirantar Trust, Pratisandhi, Iesha Learning, etc. who have created a safe space to talk about adolescent education, consent, sexuality, and more.

The YP Foundation in India has created a safe platform for the kids of the age group 12-20 years where they have different programs for creating awareness about sexual health, consent, safe abortion, youth empowerment, etc. For example, their ‘Mardon wali baat’ is a program in which they teach the kids the norms of positive masculinity in order to bring a change in the patriarchal perception of future generations. 

In 2005, sex education was introduced as AEP (Adolescent Education Programme) in the school curriculum by the National Council of Education as a part of Research and Training. It was not only widely opposed by various states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Goa but also by parents and schools. By the end of 2007, it was denounced and several institutions came up with their own version of “sexual education curriculum”.

On September 25th, 2018, under the Ayushman Bharat, it was emphasized that teachers, health workers, parents, and communities are jointly engaged to improve the overall situation of health and well-being of the students. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of HRD, Government of India announced sexual education guidelines in schools which remains a controversial issue till now.

The present structure was also introduced by the ministries of Human Resource Development and Health and Family Welfare on 20th February 2020. Although the announcement did not mention “sex education” but they did introduce the phrase “adolescence education” and “Family Life Education” for adolescents. The adolescence education course structure lacked a few integral points, but it was a start, but only a few months after that, it started receiving backlashes. The Teacher-Training Manual on Transgender was criticized on social media and the National Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) asked NCERT to “take appropriate action in rectifying the anomalies present in the document”, resulting in the removal of the manual from the curriculum. 

The way forward

Although the efforts of private organizations were successful on a state or regional level, government interventions are required for advancement. The introduction of a book or a chapter on comprehensive sex education for class 9 and 10 students which would then be followed by general discussions on sexual health and issues with trained teachers can be a good start.

There is a need to normalize talking about STDs ( Sexually Transmitted Diseases) not only with students but also their parents and teachers. We’ve seen community criticism in the past, which I believe should be addressed first. It is essential to persuade the elders of our society of the importance of sexual education before imposing it because no matter how sagacious a policy may be, it cannot be enforced.

The ministry of health and family welfare has to take more steps to support foundations like the YP Foundation and TARSHI, and along with that should provide sexual education training to teachers and parents. The women in rural areas should be given a monthly session by trained local SHGs or health workers about menstrual hygiene, consent, and contraception. The concept of personal space is an important one to be taught to all children and women in both urban and rural areas. 

The goal is to improve the quality of life of the people and to empower them by increasing access to information and making them aware of their rights. Sex education has remained at an impasse in India, but it is better to live in a healthy and progressive society rather than the one where carrying a sanitary pad is still shameful for a 14-year-old girl from her classroom in front of all the “boys”.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2715158/
  2. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/37274947.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_education_in_India#Advocacy_organisations_and_movements 
  4. https://theprint.in/india/education/sex-education-breaking-gender-stereotypes-in-modi-govts-new-school-curriculum/367475/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4711229/
  6. https://yaleglobalhealthreview.com/2016/12/21/sex-education-in-india-a-public-problem-with-a-private-solution/ 

About Akanksha Kumari

Akanksha Chaturvedi is a software Developer with experience in development and implementation of web based applications. Presently manifesting her goal to study master's in public policy and preparing for entrance exams of different universities, she is majorly interested in working and learning about technology, gender inequality, women empowerment and sustainability related policies and its impact on the lives of communities.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

3 thoughts on “Sex Education and Sexuality in India”

  1. Appreciated for the way how it was presented. A proper awareness is what actually needed, from home and from schooling. Even educated, some may immaturely expect about physical/sexual desires and needs or some gender discriminations or because of some fear which they come across daily, that is dominant over their emotions, giving some misperceptions of sex education.

  2. Tanya Chaturvedi

    Beautifully written and composed article. Sex education is a must in a developing country India. Students must have knowledge about topics like sex education and sexuality. And this article sheds light on necessary topics which are not discussed or considered taboo in today’s society.

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