June 15, 2009

No sex education for us. We’re Indian.

INDIA IS A populous country, and I’m pretty sure the citizens of India have something to do with it. I don’t think the storks are delivering all those babies, or that they are gifts of the Gods a la Kunti. Thus the move to squash teaching of basic sex education in schools is quite surprising. A few months back, the Committee on Petitions, comprising Rajya Sabha members and headed by BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu, said “there should be no sex education in schools” since “our country’s social and cultural ethos are such that sex education has absolutely no place in it”. ”

Let’s trot out that pony again — India’s glorious cultural ethos. Let’s hide behind it again. We won’t do it because it’s against our cultural ethos. Let’s all burrow our heads in the sand and ignore the problem, because it’s “against the Indian cultural ethos”.

Watch Indian TV nowadays, and if it isn’t Ekta Kapoor’s sindoor-anointed, scheming pativrata naris in backless cholis, it’s pretty young things in short-short skirts swinging to some very suggestive lyrics. Sexy is the new buzzword. Looking pretty is not good enough — you’ve got to look sexy. Most advertisements use women to sell their products. These are mostly pretty women, and they sell soaps, shampoos, refrigerators, hair dyes and even car tyres (Ceat tyres had an animated cartoony advertisement featuring a well-endowed woman in a low-cut blouse and shorts and you can’t see the face of the woman). A lot of these ads feature women in little clothing, mouthing suggestive dialogues.

Watch Bollywood films, and you will realise that most feature women in secondary roles, playing second-fiddle to the men and assumming subservient roles. There are also those, which pandering to the NRI, portray foreign-bred women who are all too happy to trade-in autonomous life to smilingly melt into the arms of our handsome, chauvinistic hero. Women as depicted in such media are shown as having little independence.

Many rural women marry young, conceive early and die in child-birth. Knowledge of contraceptives is limited. There are few people “progressive” enough to go to a doctor for such advice, leave alone uneducated women who have no agency of their own. Attitudes in the country still remain vastly chauvinistic — you’ll read about it in the newspapers (foeticide, infanticide and child marriage) and you’ll see it in the street molestation everyday. The youth remains uninformed about sexual choices and we shy away from educating them because it’s against the “cultural ethos” ?

“The committee ruled that children must be given the message that sex before marriage is “immoral, unethical and unhealthy” ”

The young people of this country are being bombarded by suggestive messages on the one hand and being denied basic sex education on the other. Pativrata nari vs. oomph-laden, skirt-suited pretty woman — guess who wins the image war these days ? Mr Naidu and his Committee might think pre-marital sex is “immoral”, but it’s happening anyway. And if the folk having pre-marital sex don’t know about basic safety, it’s probably adding to the AIDS numbers, if not creating unwanted children.

The urban youth has access to the net and other media. If you don’t give them information straight up, they will find it, and it might be pretty warped depending upon the source. Apart from that, what about curiosity ? If a girl starts menstruating early, she might be a little curious as to what’s going on. Mr Venkaiah Naidu might be blind, but most young folk are not.

“Advocating “instinct control” and “dignity of restraint”, the committee called for a new curriculum to include material on lives and teaching of saints, spiritual leaders, freedom fighters and national heroes.”

While I do think kids should have knowledge of saints, freedom fighters etc, I doubt that learning about Bhagat Singh will help the cause of abstinence any. The cultural invasion has already come. And it’s a little worrying to hear statements like the above from eminently sane people with good vision, and one assumes, satifisfactory hearing. Are they actually living in modern-day India ? Do they actually not see Govinda (now an MP) cavort on screen and thrust his pelvis or have they missed out on all those little gems of fine Indian film-making ? Do they think he is hinting at “instinct control”?

The Committee had better realise that the day for preaching the “dignity of restraint” has come and gone. In other words, that boat sailed. Long ago. And Mr Naidu wasn’t on it. And if at all applicable in this context, there is “dignity” only in not treating our youth as if they were pea-brained. As for restraint, Mr Naidu might apply it to avoid placing his foot in his mouth.

The committee said chapters on Naturopathy, Ayurveda, Unani and Yoga and moral values should be made integral parts of the syllabus to enable “total development of the child”. Chapters like “Physical and Mental Development in Adolescents” and “HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases” and related topics should be removed from the curriculum and incorporated in biology books only at the 10+2 stage.

When I was in school, some 20 years back, education on puberty and bodily changes was dealt with in the 9th standard. Much too late, I have always thought. I cannot imagine it being pushed out even further. At that time, a child is already 14-15 years of age, well into the age of puberty. And whether you like it or not, they are noticing these changes. It is high time for adults to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

There is a case to be made for considering the subject essential to proper growth and a balanced viewpoint. And for starting this education earlier. The more we consider this taboo and hide information, the more mystique is built around it. And the more alluring it gets.

It is all very well to talk about the high road and moral values, but it is another to assume that problems will dissappear once we try to inculcate our moral values in young folk, without first answering their pertinent questions. And as much as I am a fan of Yoga, I do think that the Committee is a tad out of touch with the youth’s mindset to think that it would do any good in this respect.

Ignoring sex education for young adults has done enough damage already. From a burgeoning AIDS crisis to exponential population growth, and young folk with repressed sexualities and stunted mentalities, it is bad enough already. It should not be allowed to get any worse.

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About: Amodini Sharma

Amodini Sharma is a software programmer based in the US. She believes that society is still chauvinistic and immune to indignities against women, and that speaking up and writing about this is an important first step towards changing attitudes. Among other things, she is passionate about films and a keen reader. She blogs

26 comments to No sex education for us. We’re Indian.

  • [...] be taught ‘dignity of restraint’ when the media doesn’t show any according to Amodini Sharma, who advocates earlier sex education in schools. Watch Indian TV nowadays, and if it isn’t Ekta [...]

  • ammel

    women’s groups and others have taken a progressive step in demanding sexuality education, rather than sex ed. http://www.sacw.net/article905.html

  • I love the post. There is a another interesting point that needs to be made. If India needs to be proud of its tradition, we should definitely one of our most popular contributions to the world – the Kamasutra. I don’t get it – these old fuddy duddies up there, claiming to be our representatives don’t get a say in what policies need to be made, unless we give in.

    I strongly believe that sex education is something that should be made compulsory in schools. At least kids won’t grow up learning the wrong thing. I still remember my 6th grade biology class, when the teacher totally skipped the human reproduction system and claimed later that she went through it already. I mean wtf??

  • Very topical and very needed. Unless we change our attitude about sex-ed, we will never quite be able to contain sexual assaults that have only gained momentum in recent time. Time enough for us to realize that prayer is not the best way to birth-control.

  • Pravin

    I beleive that sex education is best done by parents.Why should a teacher in a school be better attuned to the needs of 40-50 pubescent people? Each child needs individual attention. If parents elect not to impart any education at all,so be it.As guardians they may have derelicted their duties.
    I dont see any reason for sex education to be a compulsory part of school education. My teachers avoided it.My parents too beat around the bush .My initial sex education came from my friends and um books (if debonair can be called a book;).But guess what I turned out ok. I didnt engage in reckless sex nor did I transmogrify(sp?) into a chauvinistic monster.It finally comes down what you learn from your parents/surroundings/experiences .

    I dont see any good coming out of making this subject a school subject. It is a parental issue.Or atleast,put it to the market test. Let parents who dont want their wards to be sex-educated in schools be allowed to opt out of the sex-ed classes.-though i would be amazed if curious tweens wanted to do so -especially if it is a coed!

  • Exactly the same things are also said by Vatican and Talibans, all talk about morality and family values, no to sex education, family planning, homosexuality, etc. So the pure Indian (Hindu) values are quite similar to pure Islamic and conservative Christian values!

    In addition, perhaps we are a little repressed and prude about sex, since during my medical college days, I still remember the anatomy professor telling us to read the male and female reproductive systems by ourselves, wonder if that has changed now?

  • Well said. I wouldn’t mind kids learning about sex from a school text book, but it surely is a concern for me if they learn the same from TV soaps or the so called ‘music’ channels. I think the entire Indian male outlook(out-stare in fact) about women is attributable partially to the so called sexually sensitive teachers and parents who avoid chapters dealing with sex straight and leave them to ‘deal with’ it themselves. Its not just a question of morality(don’t tell me about the morality of those who are trying to impose it on us, who can be bribed to do any mean things), but also about personal hygiene, civics, clear thinking etc as well.

  • I was born and raised in the U.S., had sex-ed in various forms from 6th grade through the completion of high-school and was myself a peer educator in a sex-ed program as a teenager. So my perspective is pretty specific. I can’t imagine having negotiated my – healthy, happy, well-adjusted – experiences since that time without the invaluable information on how to keep myself and my partners safe and healthy that I was provided with in school. My parents, Indian immigrants who are quite liberal but exasperatingly reserved on the topic of sexuality, would never have provided me with this information. I’m not sure they would even know how to do so properly, but they were glad that they were saved the embarrassment of trying while still feeling assured that I had all the knowledge I needed about what safe sex entails. This is an important cause and I’m glad to see there are folks fighting for it – it will save lives, guaranteed.

  • I am a sex therapist and psychologist in Irvine, CA, where there is a large Indian population. In my part of the world, we have come to know that many women from India have almost no sex education, which causes all kinds of problems when they marry. Please keep talking about this issue; I’d like to see Indian women enjoy sex, which is, I think, their birthright.

  • [...] Sharma at Ultra Violet advocates for proper sex education among the teens in India. Cancel this [...]

  • Nice article. Perhaps those dumb nitwits understand sex-ed to be purely about teaching young kids the how-to’s of sex. Perhaps a renaming of sex-ed into something mundane and less ‘sexy’ might cause them to ignore it? Most of what sex-ed is, is about knowing how things work and how to ensure that some things dont happen etc (broadly generalising!). Esp with examples you’ve stated such as early marriage, conception and multiple children, all avoidable cases where clear knowledge might have helped. God knows we need more awareness, even in urban India!

  • Nice article. I think sex-ed definitely needs to be implemented in schools, though there are many obstacles. Teachers are not going to be very comfortable teaching these sections, so some training will be very essential. Students too will probably be uncomfortable… I can imagine an outbreak of giggles in my high school. :)

    I have a friend who’s contemplating having sex with her boyfriend, and when we were discussing this, I was a little surprised to find that neither of us knew enough about the risks of STDs and pregnancies to [help her] make a properly informed decision. Maybe if we had some sex education in school, this would be different.

  • I think the whole paranoia is because these old foggies think sex education means teaching children how to have sex and sleep around. If they got their minds (one assumes that they have one) out of the stone age, they would realise that sex ed really empowers young people to make good choices for their life.

    A point made here was that schools need not get involved. I say, schools MUST get involved. It is an important place for secondary socialisation. Kids learn to forge relationships, learn to negotiate and deal with the ‘outside’ world in a controlled manner. What better place to equip kids with these essential knowledge and skills?

    And yes, there is a better term – I believe it is referred to as ‘Life Skills Education’

  • Amodini

    Guru, Scherezade, Santosh, Sunita, Sriram, Sumedha,
    Rightly said – proper education will empower young folk and prevent diseases and other problems.

    Dr. Buehler,
    Women enjoying sex – that too. However that’s sort of on my wishful thinking list for now, since a lot of women are not even familiar with the basics.

    -Amodini

  • Amodini

    Sunil,
    I don’t think it is the Hindu religion which is conservative or prude, it is the interpretation by the so-called saviors of religion/morality that is.

    Pravin,
    Parents should educate their children, but I doubt that desi parents are all that keen on this. I do believe that schools must play a role – that of delivering education (which is what it is) safely and correctly and in an open-minded environment.

    -Amodini

  • apu

    Excellent piece, Amodini. I’m hoping that with Kapil Sibal in the HRD Ministry, the govt. will adopt a slightly more progressive outlook. I think these guys really have their heads in the sand, “don’t tell the kids about sex and they’ll never learn that it exists.” And in the meanwhile, it is a known fact that teenagers are experimenting, many of them without any sort of protection… This is in urban areas, one can imagine the situation in rural India where even access to contraception is not a given…

  • [...] Ultra Violet » No sex education for us. We’re Indian. While I do think kids should have knowledge of saints, freedom fighters etc, I doubt that learning about Bhagat Singh will help the cause of abstinence any. (tags: india sexed) [...]

  • dipa

    Hello,Im born in India but brought up in the U.S and everytime i visit India, I find it interesting to know that adults/kids dont talk about sex education while i respect my elders because my parents did not talk about it or teach anything about i did have the opportinity to learn it in school and it is important. I think its so taboo when we dont talk about it but the movies show guys and girls falling in love, meeting, getting pregnant, indian soaps showing crazy contraversies but what about the real issue that is needed to face before thinking of what society or people will say because they will talk regardless, better to know what consequences will come from your actions. Ive been researching ways to set up something to make sex ed readily availabe in India. Parents do have a choice to talk about it or not but since our cultures are a bit conservative why not let someone teach it?! Love your article!

  • Ganeche

    I do think this article is very good.
    I was born in France, my parents were born in India.
    So I received both indian and french educations and cultures.
    India has to be proud of its culture, its traditions, and lot of foreigners admire it, I do.
    And when I look of indians facing sexual questions, I can’t understand that this such a taboo!
    In the history of India, maybe I’m wrong but, when you look at Indian history, monuments, you can see more sexual things than today, India has became hypocritic! Take a look at the godesses statues in temples…now look at bollywood movies or ads as you said!
    Young people wants the country to go ahead. Or at least be realistic be modern, think about globalization! Globalization and evolution doesn’t mean abandonning our culture!

  • make sense?

    I think ‘sex education’ should start at home with parents giving the sex talk to their children in their teens so they are equipped with the tools and knowledge to step their foot into adulthood. All the other ‘moral’ stuff gets instilled into children in the ‘family’. This should be another one of those important things instilled into children. I totally believe that it will work! Alcohol ill effect could also be another things that could be discussed within the family and children are made aware of alcolhol.

  • hashis

    Sex-ed is very good. However we probably are missing an issue here. And that is our national attitude about sex. Under some pretext or the other, we as a nation seem to liken sex to a Forbidden Fruit, desirable yet unattainable. Yet we encourage fantasizing about sex in various ways (pseudosex and unbelievable wardrobe in movies to name one). We do not acknowledge affection sans sexual overtones between unrelated adults. And what we call culture and ethos and the like, seems to focus on nullifying the effects of those molecules called sex hormones. All this has led to a society where eyebrows are raised if a boy/man is simply seen talking to a girl/woman. Can these things be addressed in sex education? I think not. Then what to do? I know not.

  • john

    fukkshitt i don know wats the problem with conservative chaps i myself hv see wat kinda wrong myths do teenagers devlope bcoz of lack of sex education conservative people in india r all set to make india taliban

  • wourmis

    well i think that our politicians and “moral upholders” think of sex ed as encouraging people to sleep around.
    but actually its to teach the younger generation abt safe sex, STDs AIDS and correct usage of contraceptives.
    Lack of sex ed has brought India to such a state as said by hashis
    i was lucky enough to get sex ed at our school coz our principal said it’ll be necessary.

  • Savita

    While doing my research on the sexuality education for mentally challenged people, I came across this post and found the comments interesting. It is very disheartening to note that I am not finding any work available on Indian websites on the net for my thesis. At the same time I think in reality how much has been implemented for typical children that I am expecting any programme for special needs children in India?
    Its an imperative subject and in no circumstances should be ignored, alas our people could go more deep in the understanding of the subject.

  • [...] Note : The edited version of this post appears on the Ultraviolet blog. [...]

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