By Archeeta Pujari
Why are we so scared of talking about sex? What kind of twisted logic drives some of our parents, teachers, and education ministers to protect children from sex education, and perpetuate the vicious cycle of cultural taboo and dangerous misinformation?
There are numerous misconceptions surrounding sex education in India. In my head, I imagine the conversation going something like this…
“Dear school teacher,
As a concerned parent, I wish to protest against the introduction of sex education in my child’s curriculum. You are clearly not aware of this, but sex is a shameful act, it is against the Indian culture and should be banned. Sex is a western concept. Indians don’t need sex education. If we want a child, we pray to God, and he grants our wish. See what happens when westerners teach about sex – their kids think that it’s okay to do it! Please don’t corrupt my child with myths, such as equal sexual rights for men and women, positive body image, and alternative sexual orientation. I prefer them to grow up with good moral values and correct beliefs, such as rape and molestation is always the woman’s fault, sex is a taboo subject, men cannot be sexually assaulted, homosexuality is a disease, and good people cannot contract HIV/AIDS.
An indignant parent”
“Sex education is not for my child…it is obscene; teaches our children to have sex at an early age.”
Sex education does not teach children how to have sex at an early age. It teaches them about the physiological, social, and biological aspects of leading a healthy sexual life in the future. This encompasses not only the physical act of sex, but also – gender identity, physical changes, consent, awareness about sexual abuse, birth control measures, and prevention of AIDS and STDs.
“If we ban sex education, our children will never find out about it, and this will solve all our problems.”
Children are naturally curious about sex. Denying them the correct, scientific information leads them to seek knowledge from other sources, such as friends, movies, or the Internet. These promote rumours, misconceptions, and half-baked truths that are dangerous, and without any trusted source to clear them up, perpetuate well into adulthood. This has caused generations of adult Indians to ask questions like these:
Can I get pregnant from watching porn videos?
I have heard that regular application of semen to the face will cure pimples?
Does man and woman sleeping in the same bed cause pregnancy?
If I swallow during oral sex, will it cause pregnancy?
“Sex education is only needed in the West, where they have all these silly problems like teen pregnancy and child abuse. We in India, with all our moral values, culture, and traditions don’t need it.”
Yes we do. India has the highest rate of population growth in the world; one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS infection; and a shockingly high rate of sexual abuse amongst children and adults – men and women. The leading cause: reluctance to educate our youth about their bodies, their urges, and the meaning and importance of safe sexual practices. Moral values are not contraceptives; our culture does not prevent rape, our traditions do not educate the youth about health issues, and the consequences of early pregnancy.
“Sex is an adult topic. Adults learn about it on their own after marriage. Very young children should not be corrupted with sex education.”
In India, a shocking 53% of children between the ages of 5 and 12 have been subjected to sexual abuse. 53 percent. That’s more than half. The culture of silence and shame surrounding sexual issues means that the victims cannot speak up, often, they don’t even know that they are being abused.
“Teaching children about sex will only cause them to have more sex. Sex education is the reason behind teen pregnancy.”
India’s rate of teenage pregnancy, 62 teens out of every 1000 pregnant women, is almost double of the US, 3 times that of the UK, and 10 times higher than Western Europe. Together with the other countries in South Asia and the Middle East, it is amongst the highest in the world. Why? 18% of the girls in India aremarried before the age of 15 and 47% before the age of 18. Teenage pregnancy is NOT a western import; it is a deeply ingrained problem in our society, resulting from out-dated practices, and perpetuated by a complete lack of awareness of the bodily functions, sexual choices, birth control, and contraceptive measures.
“Teaching about homosexuality will make my child a homosexual. This is morally wrong and against nature.”
Homosexuality is normal and innate; it cannot be cured or prevented. Teaching your child about gender and sexuality issues will help them come to terms with it and accept both themselves and others for who they are.
“Men don’t get pregnant. Men don’t get raped. Men don’t need sex education. Sex education is for girls only.”
Of the surveyed children who reported experiencing severe sexual abuse, including rape or sodomy, 57.3% were boys and 42.7% were girls. Approximately 18% of the Indian adult men surveyed, reported being coerced or forced to have sex. 61% of the HIC/AIDS sufferers in India are men. Sex education is for everyone.
“There is no medical benefit of sex education.”
Almost half of the young people in India do not know how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. Ignorance takes its toll – 26% of the Indians are infected with HIV/AIDS.
Over 50% of the girls surveyed in rural India and 6.7% of the girls in urban India were unaware of the meaning of menstruation. A very low percentage of girls in both groups were aware of the importance and the reasons behind the menstrual cycle, correct marriage age, safe sex, use of contraceptives, and knowledge about family planning, or health issues, such as anaemia, unsafe abortions, miscarriage, and sexual exploitation. It is estimated that almost one-third of the girls in rural India drop out of school due to taboos and myths surrounding menstruation.
Half-baked, incorrect knowledge about sex can be dangerous. Would you like your children to be unaware, instead of enabling them to make the right choices and live safer, happier and healthier lives?