Beyond sex and crime: Understanding sex education

“What is necessary to change a personal is to change his awareness of himself” -Abraham Maslow I do, two words, three letters, parents sigh with relief. Not many months later, the same Indian parents are looking forward to being grandparents, ‘only if I could look at the face of my grandchild, I’d attain moksha’. Well, […]

“What is necessary to change a personal is to change his awareness of himself”

-Abraham Maslow

I do, two words, three letters, parents sigh with relief. Not many months later, the same Indian parents are looking forward to being grandparents, ‘only if I could look at the face of my grandchild, I’d attain moksha’. Well, who is supposed to tell the marrying couple as to how to birth a child? After all, talking about sex has always been an awkward topic at their house, school, college and society.

Mom how was I born? Dear, the angels gave you to me. The stork dropped you. We fell in love. What after love? Were the kids magically born through just the concept of love? No, the answer is a strict no. It’s 2021, India is a decently advanced country, if not completely and the children deserve to know the truth. Parents have taught us that telling lies is a bad habit, well, why isn’t the same applied to them when it comes to this? Do people realise that talking about sex being a taboo is one of the main reasons behind rising sexual crimes, unwanted pregnancies and STDs? They know it, yet it’s an uncomfortable topic.

One of the most controversial topics in the extant developing country like India is the mandatory impartment of sex education in schools as well as colleges under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Many citizens think of such education to be either a boon or a bane.

Those who perceive it as a boon think of it’s an important guidance to their children for an act which is a natural phenomenon and awareness of such an act to be a crucial component in the formation of their personality and those who think of it as a boon perceive talking about sex as something that goes against the conservative Indian culture, something that the other person should not hear about or the kids not being mature enough to understand the intricacies of the concept. For most parents and teachers, having a conversation about sex is awkward.

Given the surge of teenage pregnancies, overspread of sexually transmitted diseases and the alarming rise in the number of sexual crimes amongst teenagers and young adults, it’s imperative that sex education be made compulsory in educational institutions. High-quality teaching and learning about a wide range of topics related to sex and sexuality, as well as discussing values and attitudes about those topics and acquiring the skills required to handle relationships and manage one’s own sexual health, constitutes sex education. This also encompasses the gender identity, consent and awareness about sexual abuse.

Freud suggested that, it creates within individuals a fundamental conflict which he calls the ‘ideals of education’. Children want to learn about sexuality, but adults tell them that they need to learn about something else. It has been noted that there is a lack of understanding not only about “homosexuality,” but also about “menstruation.” Regardless of the fact that there are concerns about teen pregnancy, there is a lack of understanding about safe sex. Despite the recent increased knowledge of child sex abuse, schools have made minimal attempts to integrate the perception of the distinctions between non-sexual and sexual contact.

The government of India initiated ‘Adolescent Education Program’ (AEP) in 2007 in collaboration with National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). About the fact that this curriculum addresses topics such as body image, aggression and harassment, gender and sexuality, STIs, substance abuse, including drugs, and other unhealthy behaviours, the concepts of “consent” and “attraction” were not implemented or integrated. Since the program’s content was deemed “inappropriate,” it was not enforced and was outlawed by 12 Indian state governments. The assertion that integrating sex education would improve “risky actions” among teens and young students has been made repeatedly.

The terms ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality’ carry a lot of taboo inside the school’s premise, particularly in the presence of authority. There is a total lack of adequate dialogue about sex education in most classrooms. And if there were efforts to launch talks, they did not go past menstrual hygiene. And when there is a discussion about sexuality between teachers and pupils, it’s very casual. Sex and sex education instruction is important for students to be sensitised at a young age. It’s also important to remember that the content must be contextually meaningful and age appropriate. Unreliable sources of knowledge on these matters can be particularly detrimental to individuals’ development as well as their bragging of self-esteem and belief.

In the Netherlands, girls as young as four years old are taught about identity and sexuality through a rigorous sex education programme. The talks are not expressly about sexual acts, but rather about passion, respect, and intimacy, with the aim of introducing children to various facets of sexual wellbeing each year. What’s the final result? The Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of teenage birth and sexually transmitted infections in the world. It’s also one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. The American Sexual Education programme, on the other hand, places a strong emphasis on prohibition rather than a comprehensive sexual education. As a result, the curriculum often relies less on abortion strategies, resulting in the United States ranking first among Western countries in terms of adolescent pregnancies. STIs in teenagers was still at an all-time high in the United States, according to data from the World Health Organization. The United States still struggles with funds to run adequate sex-ed programmes, relying on not-for-profits, many of which are very few, to create and run the programme.

Gaps in knowledge can be detrimental not only to people but also to society as a whole. Since these knowledge mediums are particularly untrustworthy, this can be dangerous in a variety of ways. Children learn about these topics through the internet and pornography films, which construct a virtual fantasy world. Such misguided information has a much more detrimental effect on the brains of children than can be expected. To name a couple, misinformation, unrealistic body appearance, normalisation of objectification (as seen in the latest ‘Boys Locker Room’ case), harassment, assault, inappropriate sexual activities, and disrespect for consent. Young people are ill-equipped to make safe sexual decisions and shape healthy relationships as a result of their ignorance. Girls skip school until they start menstruating as a result, as do rigid gender roles, child marriages, LGBTQ bullying, and sexual harassment.

Despite this, public debates regarding sex and sex-education in India are fuelled by religious and cultural beliefs, with little or little respect for scientific consideration. But then again, to win the argument, don’t you find ‘But India invented Kamasutra!’ to be a bit archaic at this point of time?

To ponder upon, somewhere deep down, that if proper sex education had been provided to the perpetrators of 2012 Delhi Gang Rape case, would they not have understood the concept of consent? Let’s leave them for a while, since some would argue that they didn’t have sufficient means to sustain themselves. What about the privileged children from well off families and good schools who were involved in the 2020 Boys Locker Room case?

Rehana Fatima, a woman from Kerala, was recently charged with breaching various Acts after she shared a video on YouTube and other social media of her 8 year old son and teenage daughter painting her nude breasts and torso with the caption “Body and Politics.”

While dismissing her anticipatory bail application in this case, the Kerala High Court said, “She used the children for sexual pleasure because they are depicted in an immoral and obscene manner as they are painting on the naked body of their mother.” The law punishes obscene behaviour, defined as behaviour that is repugnant to society’s moral and aesthetic meaning. However, defining what is moral and what is not remains elusive because what is unesthetic in one case might not be in another. The measure of obscenity under Indian law is based on English law. In the case of Hicklin (1868), it was determined that obscenity should be described as having the potential to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are susceptible to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this kind may fall. The Supreme Court reaffirmed this in Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra.

There is very little awareness about safe sexual encounters and the consequence of having unprotected relations with multiple partners. Only 45% young men and 28% young women seem to have a comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS and its prevention. Many unmarried young women are not even aware of a single means of contraception and protection.

Please read concluding on thedailyguardian.com

Such high-risk sexual vulnerability can be attempted to be avoided if schools adhere to the National AIDS Prevention and Control Policy 2002 which begs the need for AIDS prevention and protection of the rights of infected individuals through awareness and education.

The reality is that once girls reach the age of 12 years, they undergo multiple changes in their body which often defines their lives, and such changes are not talked about. Even worse is the knowledge of reproductive cycles leading to poor menstrual hygiene and reproductive tract infections.

Children and women are vulnerable to being violated against, especially if they are kept in the dark about sexuality and its abuse at the hands of perpetrators that are often among friends and families. It’s also argued that such an education depletes the need to act out sexual urges in a disrespectful manner, thus reducing the instances of adolescents violating others and growing further criminal behavioural traits. The list of benefits of sex education could go on and on, but it’s best summarised succinctly as a human right to live a safe life as nature intended.

So, the next time your child says, “Where do babies come from?” stick to evidence rather than storks. Because without adequate sex education, we will be introducing our children to a future far different from our idealised cultural utopia.

The author is a 4th year Law student at Amity Law School, Delhi, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University