(Article) CSM - January 2013: Sex Education In India - Need of The Hour
The term ‘Sex Education’, also known as sexuality education or sex and relationships education, is widely used to depict education about reproductive system, sexual interaction and other facets of human sexual behavior. It is the procedure of gaining knowledge and developing mind-set as well as ideas about sex, sexual identity, human relations, closeness, gender roles, contraception methods and prevention of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)1 and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD)2. It is also an effective way to respect one’s partner, wife, husband and also a means to admire sexual preferences. The misinterpretation of the people that are generally kept under the wraps should be cleared and they should be convinced about the need for sex education in this rapidly changing era. It is important that youth should be familiar with the purpose of providing education in order to develop an open and healthy approach towards sex and sexuality in order to assist them to make well-thought judgments.
A parliamentary committee, with a varied political membership, recently recommended that there should be no sex education in schools. Sex even if done at the proper time, with a proper person, in a proper place, is a topic that makes many Indians uncomfortable. The committee itself refused a power point presentation on the question “after going through the hard copy because of its explicit contents. The Committee felt that it was not comfortable with it and could be embarrassing especially to the lady Members and other lady staff present.” The committee has recommended that chapters like ‘Physical and Mental Development in Adolescents’ and ‘HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases’ be removed from the general curriculum. Instead, they want these topics to be included in biology syllabus for school leaving classes. This leaves the students of the non-Biology streams at sea. In school, two years before school leaving exams, I remember waiting expectantly as our Biology teacher reached the last page of a chapter on the Skin, which ended with a description of the anatomy of the female breast. The teacher, a female, was an old hand and probably sensed the collective eagerness. She promptly skipped the page and went on to the questions at the end of the chapter. A couple of years later as a Biology student in my school leaving year, the most dog eared pages in our Biology text book described the physiology of the female orgasm and the female reproductive system. These pages too were skipped on the plea of self study. At home, any discussion of ‘these’ was possible only in hushed tones with my brother. Involving your parents was out of question. Nice kids are not supposed to take any interest in ‘these’ things. It’s a given. Jyoti Bajpai, a development professional working in the field of reproductive and sexual health, recalls her own experience on sex education. She and her female class mates at school were called away for a session on sex education on a pretext. “What information we were imparted was limited to menstruation and menstrual hygiene and little else. It’s amazing that boys in my class were kept completely out of this. We were expressly warned against discussing any thing with them.” When my mother was growing up her parents did their best to postpone the acknowledgement of the fact. She had to turn to her friends.
Things were much the same for my parents and my generation, but are they finally going to change for the coming generation? But many Indians don’t see it as reason to deny adolescents the right knowledge, especially with 2.47 million cases of HIV infected persons in the country and with sexual transmission being the predominant mode of HIV transmission. The NACO website says, “Most young people become sexually active during adolescence. In the absence of right guidance and information at this stage they are more likely to have multi-partner unprotected sex with high risk behaviour groups… “ With increasing exposure to television and internet sex education does not imply teaching kids about sex, which knowledge they will pick up anyways, but for many proponents of sex education it definitely means teaching them about what safe, healthy and acceptable sexual behaviour is.
A whole political culture has been built upon sexual mores- ranging from the Congress-led government calling homosexuality a disease to Hindu fundamentalist groups equating women visiting pubs as ‘loose’. With two phases of elections to go it remains to be seen if this is going to earn political dividends. Are our representatives in the parliament providing us leadership or abdicating it by following and mobilising their followers on their less informed instincts?
Why India should go all the way:
The lesson that Indian leaders seem to take from sex education: Prevention is better than cure. But this may not be the best formula for a country with a high incidence of child marriages and teenage pregnancies. Experts say that the case for sex education in India is quite different from in the West because it is ‘legitimate’ here for young people to have sex. According to the National Family Health Survey conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and Macro International in 2005-06, 12% women aged between 15-19 years are mothers. The survey said that one in six Indian women aged 15-19 starts to have children. Dr Sunil Mehra, director of the MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child, says, “Youth in India needs sex education more than in any other country since child marriage ensures that you not only have sex at a young age, you also have teenage pregnancy.”
Contrast this with the received wisdom of our politicians. The Committee on Petitions headed by the BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu is a crossparty group up of nine Rajya Sabha members. The Committee has said there should be no sex education in schools because it promotes promiscuity and India’s “social and cultural ethos are such that sex education has absolutely no place in it.” The Committee directed its outrage at the human resource development ministry’s (HRD) Adult Education Programme (AEP). Launched in 2005 and backed by the National Aids Control Organization (NACO), the AEP’s focus is safer sex, as well as the physical and mental development of 14-18-year-olds. But the Committee said that it was “highly embarrassed” by the HRD ministry’s curriculum and insisted that premarital sex, together with sex outside marriage, is “immoral, unethical and unhealthy”. It also said that consensual sex before the age of 16 “amounts to rape”. But Mehra is one of many who point to the facts. Child marriage means huge numbers of adolescent Indians indulge in “legal” sexual activity. The IIPS says that 47.4% of all women aged 20 to 24 are married by the time they are 18. About 18% are married by the time they are 15. Mehra says politicians have long promoted regressive policy on the pretext of culture. “It is due to this so-called culture that many young girls are forced into marriage and sex and early pregnancy,” he says.
Sex education can also help with India’s fight against Aids. Government statistics indicate that 40% of new sexually transmitted infections are in the 15-29 age group. More than 31% of all reported Aids cases occur in this age group, which indicates that young Indians are a high-risk demographic. But all is not lost. A four-year study by MAMTA underlines the difference good sex education classes can make. The study was conducted in four schools in Haryana from 2004. Two schools were in urban Rewari; the other two in rural Bawal. Fivehundred students participated. Sex education classes led 78% of the rural schoolgirls and 33% of the urban to declare they would decline sex without a condom. It was a startling rise in condom-awareness. Before the classes, just 5% of the rural schoolgirls and 10% of the urban knew about the need for a condom. Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research says sex education achieves many goals missed by a blinkered Parliamentary Committee. Not least sexual abuse. A nationwide study by the Department of Women and Child Development says that 53.2% children have faced one or more forms of sexual abuse and at least half the perpetrators were known to the child.
Awareness of sex is the most significant factor necessary to lead a secure life. Usual educational practices are very simple to learn, but we cannot consider sex education on the same line. It comprises of physiological, psychological and social issues, especially when we think of including it as a part of academic syllabus. As these complications occur, a question may arise in the mind of people about the need for sex education providing to the children. While children reach teenage level, lack of sex education may lead the way to their unusual behavior. If not corrected at the exact time, it may generate problems of immature misbehaviors in these children’s life.