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This is for everyone who thinks sex education is not "sanskaari".

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

Shubhankar Verma, currently our T.R.Y. Project Manager, conducting a session on menstruation back when he started his journey as an SSI volunteer.

Sex education in Indian schools and society, at large, needs a revamp. It isn’t shocking, nor is it a recent revelation. For years, countless students have been at the receiving end of hush-hush in the name of sex education. While it can be debated what reasons have contributed to the degeneration of sex-positive education, the fact that sex education requires improvement is as obvious as the Sun during daytime.

Many of us can personally attest to the effects of censored sex education. Teachers skipping the chapter on reproduction, complete absence of a sex ed program in schools, and for schools that do have a program, often the word sex isn’t mentioned at all. From not knowing anatomical terminology to being unaware of safer sex practices to everything in between, filtered sex education significantly hampers individuals’ wellbeing. Hence, from personal and mutual experience, here are 5 things sex education actually teaches and that should be mandatory to teach in every educational institution.

1. Terminology.

Say it with me: Vagina. Penis. Breasts. Testicles. Clitoris. How did that feel? Okay, or uncomfortable? If your answer is uncomfortable, it’s probably because you are yet another victim of hushed sex education, the kind that deems anatomically correct terminology too risqué to be learnt. But here’s a question: Would you refer to the heart as, say, the “hu-hu” or the lungs as the “lu-lu”? I assume the answer is a giggly “No.” Then why is it okay to refer to a vagina as “va-jay-jay” or a penis as “pee-pee”? Attaching shame to our genitals and giving them "cutesy" names isn’t going to help anybody. They’re body parts, and we should use the correct terminologies and embrace them. Teaching children the wrong terminologies furthers the idea that their genitals are things to be ashamed of. This may also lead to the development of low self-esteem and low self-confidence.

2. The difference between sex and gender.

One of the most common misconceptions is that the terms “sex” and “gender” can be used interchangeably. However, they do not mean the same. It’s important to understand this distinction in order to stop othering marginalized communities. Sex is a person’s bio-sexual makeup, whereas gender is a psycho-social identity. Sex is defined by one’s sex chromosomes, sex hormones, gonads, internal reproductive anatomy, and external genitalia, whereas gender is defined by one’s expression. One’s sex may not be in congruence with their gender, i.e. one could, for example, be born with female sexual anatomy (sex = female) but they may identify as a man (gender = male), and It. Is. Okay.

Along with this distinction, what must be taught is the different kinds of sexes and genders, that there are multiple sexes (female, male, intersex) and multiple gender identities (cisgender, transgender, non-binary, and many more).

3. The spectrum of sexual orientation.

Pick up any science textbook and you’d see that all examples of romantic/sexual relationships are heteronormative. There is no mention of non-heteronormative or queer orientations and relationships. It is scientifically improbable that every student sitting in a class will be definitively heteronormative. Therefore, with no mention of queer relationships, any child who may happen to be not heteronormative will feel ignored and nullified, and that can further derail their identity-development.

Sex education acts as a mediator through which children can discuss about the various kinds of sexual orientations, that there isn’t just heterosexuality but an entire spectrum of sexual orientation. Queer/LGBT+ identities must be normalized in classroom so that students know that they are normal.

4. Consent.

No means no. It does not mean “yes”, or “maybe”, or “I don’t know.” It’s a definitive, non-negotiable “No”. From what consent is to what consent is not, to when to ask for it and to how to ask for it — children, from a very young age, must be taught and familiarized with the ins-and-outs of consent. And its importance should be reiterated in every grade. Once the concept of consent is understood, it will be easier to accept and cope with rejection in a healthy manner.

5. Safer sex.

There is a fine difference between safe and safer sex—the first line of distinction being that there is no such thing as safe sex. Hear me out. No kind of sex is 100% safe, but there are always measures we can take to be safer. Safer sex, as explained by Planned Parenthood, is “anything we do to lower our risk—and our partners’ risk—of sexually transmitted infections.” And with this differentiation should come the various things we can do and measures we can take to practice safer sex, such as condoms, contraception, regular STI tests, and knowing our and our partner(s)'s sexual health status.

If there is a silver lining in underdeveloped sex education, it’s that there is only room for improvement. We must make sex education holistic because it is evident that the lack of it can cost lives. We owe it to our children to equip them with the knowledge they need to grow into informed and responsible adults.

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