A country with a population of 137 crore ironically has a taboo around ‘sex’. People feel so uncomfortable by just saying the word forget discussing it. It is largely believed that talking about sexuality and its awareness may instead corrupt young adolescents. Sexuality education, as the UNESCO defines it, “provides opportunities to build decision-making, communication and risk reduction skills about many aspects of sexuality, encompasses the full range of information, skills, and values to enable young people to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to make decisions about their health and sexuality”.
In a country that reports high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexual abuse, one would think that the need for a curriculum focusing on gender equality, the importance of consent, and boundaries, would not be a matter of debate.
However, imparting sex education in India has always been a very controversial topic. There are two camps one in support of it and the other against it as they find it offensive to the Indian values.
In 2007 the central government introduced the Adolescent Education Programme in schools with NARO, NCERT and UN agencies. Though the program covers sensitive issues such as body image, violence, and abuse, gender and sexuality, STIs, etc, it left out the thing of utmost importance the negotiation and consent required in intimate relationships. However, 13 states immediately called for a ban in the name of moral policing. Not much has changed in the last decade. The ban still continues in around 5 states. There is no uniformity in the way the subject is approached around the country.
Sex education in school can clear up many notions about sex and its effects, but only if the subject is approached in an interactive, clinical manner. Teenagers have many questions but nobody to ask – most do not want to talk to their parents about it, and they hardly receive any useful inputs from friends. In this scenario, sex education for teenagers becomes an essential activity. There are numerous reasons for providing sex education in schools. Parents are often worried that their children might get wrong information about sex.
But when they are not given any information, their curiosity takes them to their peers and friends or in today’s time the children have easy access to the internet or pornography. Teenagers buying into these stories may end up with several wrong ideas about sex, and indeed, about the opposite gender and their approach to sex. But that is all the information available to them. But if it is given by a responsible adult they can ensure the absolutely correct and necessary information is given to them. Sex education in schools can ensure the same.
Adolescence is a period that is like a roller coaster ride for children. They are undergoing many changes both physically and emotionally which they have no idea how to deal with. At this stage, sex education can help teenage girls and boys to understand the various changes that their bodies are undergoing. Adolescents are unaware of what is happening in their bodies and some even lose confidence. It also helps to understand the opposite genders. Like both, the girls and boys should understand the menstrual cycle so that the girls accept the normalcy of the process and boys do not get grossed out by it.
Another extremely important reason is that the children become aware of what sexual abuse is. Every 15 minutes, at least one child is sexually abused in India, as per the National Crime Records Bureau. Often children are sexually abused at younger ages and are even unaware of what is happening with them and are bribed by the abusers by small things like chocolates to keep it a secret. Later in life when they come to know they realize what it was. Even if they know about it they don’t have the courage to go up to their parents and tell as sex is always considered as something that should not be discussed. Good sex education teaches young people about sexual violence and how to find help if they have been assaulted.
Awareness about sex will definitely create awareness about pregnancies and other related issues including safe sex, using contraceptives and diseases like Sexual Transmitted Disease (STD) and Human Immune Virus (HIV). According to WHO, the age group of 12 to 19 years counts for some 34 percent of the HIV-infected persons in the world.
Lately, huge steps have been taken towards equality for LGBTQ groups. But they are still victims of discrimination. Sex education can also help to encourage children to show dignity and respect to all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sex is an interpersonal activity that involves both the physical and emotional interaction between two people. If both are not at similar levels of awareness and acceptance, the resulting conflict can be damaging, physically and emotionally. Therefore, sex education has to address both aspects. It is also necessary to give the right information at the right time and not all at once.
The National Education Policy draft, which was submitted to Union Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank in May this year, states that sex education will also be included in secondary school for future judgment surrounding consent, harassment, respect for women, safety, family planning, and STD prevention. Recently comments were made regarding this that sex education is not required in schools.
The greatest threat to sex education reform in India continues to lie in conservatism and religious fundamentalism. In a country where issues of sexual abuse, consent, teen pregnancies are becoming increasingly grave and where high and discriminatory attitudes towards women persist, sex education becomes crucial. The road to achieving sexual awareness is paved with many roadblocks. There is a clear need for the government to be far more vocal about these initiatives and not shy away behind the veil of ‘culture’ as it only encourages rape culture.
Sex education will make the young more responsible and thus they will take the decision of having sex with full knowledge of the possible outcome instead of indulging in it out of curiosity and without any information thus bearing the brunt of the repercussions. Comprehensive sex education is a great option that will focus on gender equality and sexual well-being, which is in line with changing social realities and developments in rights jurisprudence. This will make students better citizens by being aware of the wide spectrum of gender-diverse identities around them.