Hushed whispers, hidden internet searches, and shy jokes followed by adolescent giggling – being a teenager in India means venturing into the taboo concept of sex uninformed and alone or with equally uninformed peers. Post colonisation India developed into a society that attaches a lot of sensitivity around the concept of sexuality. From well-read city-dwellers to those in tier 2 and 3 cities and rural areas, even talking about sex is considered indecent.
As a natural consequence, educating children about safe sex practices and sexual wellness is unheard of. The otherwise nosy family members and neighbours who egg you for some “good news” once you’re married are the same relatives who wouldn’t allow you to watch certain “Western” TV shows and movies.
Sexual education is an essential part of a child’s education and upbringing. Sex education is a programme that educates and informs young individuals (adolescents, teenagers and young adults) about sex, sexual health and wellness, sexuality, and sexual rights in an age-appropriate manner. It increases their awareness of their own body and that of other genders.
Puberty is a confusing age – with hormones racing, changes in the body and an inherently more nuanced view on life. Sex education can help adolescents navigate some of these challenges, arming them with education and information that builds respect for their bodies and others.
However, a deep-rooted sense of morality and “Indian sanskaar” binds a large section of the country’s growing population from talking to their kids about sex. Families believe that talking about sex will “corrupt” their children. Most parents find it awkward and embarrassing when a condom ad comes on the TV; talking about the birds and the bees is a distant dream.
Along with the Central Government’s policies, activists and NGOs have been working to increase sex education programs in schools. However, many state and local governments have rejected and refused to include sex education or “family planning and guidance” in the school curriculum.
The lack of proper education for adolescents profoundly impacts our nation’s future physical, mental, and emotional well-being. While there isn’t sufficient data to fully understand the compounded effect of the lack of such education, a study by UNICEF and the Population Council India about adolescents pointed to some glaring shortcomings regarding their health and well-being.
For our children to grow to become well-rounded, respectful citizens, we must educate them about their bodies, sex, sexuality, and rights. Here is why comprehensive sex education is essential in India:
HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases & Infections
India has the third-largest HIV epidemic globally and is home to 2.1 million people living with the disease. There is a significant lack of awareness amongst adolescents regarding the prevention of HIV and other STIs through safe sex. Increasing awareness and educating the general public is a primary focus of the National Aids Control Programme.
However, as of 2017, only 22% of young women (aged 15-24) and 32% of young men knew how to prevent HIV. This is reflected in the broader population, as only one-fifth of women and one-third of men (aged 15-49) had a comprehensive knowledge of HIV and AIDS.
Young men and women are unaware of the risks of having unprotected sex and sexual relations with multiple partners. Many are unaware of contraception methods that prevent the transmission of STDs and the resources available to them for regular health checkups.
Such high-risk sexual vulnerability to potentially chronic and life-altering diseases can be mitigated by making sex education a necessary school curriculum component.
By implementing India’s Adolescent Education Programme and including comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in schools, we can effectively educate young adults regarding a wide range of issues relating to sexual and reproductive health (SRH).
Female Reproductive Health & Hygiene
In India, many women in rural and semi-urban areas are married off just as legally allowed. Many are also underage marriages, with girls as young as 13 married off to much older men. As adolescents giving birth, they experience high-risk pregnancies, despite which they mother multiple children early on in their marriage.
Immature reproductive systems, young and developing minds and poor pre and ante-natal care put young mothers at risk to adverse health conditions. Moreover, illegal, unsafe and back-alley means of getting an abortion for unwanted pregnancies exposes women to dangerous infections and diseases.
The lack of information surrounding menstruation and feminine hygiene means that women live with infections and pains they consider normal. Lack of access to sanitary napkins, poor hygiene practices, and the shroud of secrecy surrounding the topic means that millions of menstruating women suffer every month.
A study on child abuse in India, conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, reports that 53% of boys and 47% of girls surveyed faced some form of sexual abuse.
Sex education can help a vulnerable young population be aware of their sexual rights and empower them to protect themselves from any undesired act of violence, sexual abuse, and molestation.
Being a teenager is an incredibly challenging time. Under the influence of peer pressure, young adults might participate in socially unacceptable and criminal group behaviour. The rape culture emerging among the younger generation can be addressed and stopped by educating adolescents about sex.
Teaching young adults about their bodies, consent, and ethical and moral principles to govern their actions can discourage the development of careless and dangerous attitudes.
To Sum It Up
It is essential to educate our children about their bodies and empower them with information and the confidence to live their lives. Shrouding topics like sex can be detrimental to the development and well-being of adolescents. Sex education should become a necessary aspect of one’s upbringing, and it can be done by simply starting a conversation. If you find yourself unequipped to talk to your teenager about sex, it is recommended to see a physician or a specialist who can educate your child about their rights. Consult with India’s top doctors on DocVita: docvita.com!