(By Dr Aastha Sachdeva)
Why is there hush hush about Sexuality……
What is our greatest worry regarding sex education in India? As a parent and a Psychologist I have had many friends come up to me with the apparent discomfort of discussing the topic of sexuality education with the kids. One parent mentioned how she quickly rushed through with discussing sex in animals, reptiles etc. as a part of biology curriculum, while the other parent mentioned how she was not able to meet her eyes with her sons’ eyes while taking up the topic with him. Yet another parent expressed how it was completely fine for her to not take up the topic at all for revision at home as she believed that the teacher in the school would have done justice to the topic (she confessed her will to avoid taking it up).
Why is it that we find it easy to give up our responsibility as a parent to talk about an important aspect of growing up years and let the issue rest as a mystery for our kids? All across these discussions my worry has been, “is it only talking about the act of sex that will educate the kids”? We need to understand that SEXUALITY is a term much wider than the act of sex. It includes not just a biological process. Sexuality is more than just a means of procreating. Sexuality refers to an experience of and an expression of one’s sexual orientations. Sexuality includes the physical, emotional and social components of ones’ feelings and behaviours regarding our attraction towards the other person.
So why is it that we contain the term to a limited definition? Perhaps as adults we are also as much unaware about the role that sexuality education plays on the psychological, emotional and physical well-being of the young adults.
Why are we apprehensive? Is this apprehension due to one or few of the following reasons: • Are we apprehensive because we never received sexuality education while we were kids? • Are we uncomfortable because we think our kids are too young to understand about it? • Are we scared of the embarrassment it is going to lead us to while we discuss the issue? • Are we fearful of the promiscuity that sex education may lead to? • Or is it the gender inequities that promote this apprehension about discussing sexuality? • Is it that rather than understanding sexuality as a natural growing up phenomenon we attach unexplained ideals and morals to it?
Paradoxically, a land that founded Kamasutra, the ancient Indian treatise on the art of love making, is also the land that holds the greatest taboo when it comes to talking about sexuality to the growing up youth. Portrayals of sexual nature have existed since the primitive times, whether it is in the Egyptian pottery fragments and graffiti or it is the Indian sculptures on the walls of Ajanta and Ellora caves. When sex could be taught as a subject and a formal treatise for the same written in our country between the 4th century BC and 2nd Century, then what is it that is stopping us from educating our kids about the same? Since we resist a discussion on it, the curiosity among the youth about it continues to persist. What will they do to find answers to their curious questions? Obviously they will take to internet!
What the internet is doing?
Internet is the answer to all questions, to all kind of curiosity that a young person may have. Hence when the young people wish to understand and know better about sexuality and they access internet for the same reason, they may find erotic images popping up on their browser. As a youth undergoing a rapid hormonal change, exposure to sexual content may provide a temporary satisfaction of the adrenaline shot fueled by the limbic system.
Hence, in the world with access to all kinds of information, it is imperative that we share information which is developmentally appropriate and morally unbiased with our youth. When we hush the adolescents about any relevant, logical discussion about sexuality by changing the T.V channels on the appearance of a sanitary pad advertisement or an intimate movie scene, we are not just mystifying the concept but also letting the youth turn to unreliable sources of information to satisfy their curiosity. As a result when the teenagers take to internet to gratify their inquisitiveness about it, we end up blaming this resourceful internet which in just one click can provide them with not just written content but also images as well as videos about all that they have wanted to understand.
We need to realize that internet has only provided a platform for an easy and tangible access to one’s desire for sexual stimulation. If not catered to with the age appropriate information, the youth will be vulnerable to engaging in high risk behaviours to satisfy their adrenaline rush.
The Adult Glitches
I received certified training (as a nodal teacher) to conduct Adolescent Education Program that was introduced by the CBSE in the year 2005. The program was jointly initiated by NACO and HRD ministry to educate the young people about HIV/AIDS and its objective was to enable the adolescents to make right decisions and develop life skills for addressing psychological, social and health concerns. However, when it came to implementing the program within the school premises, the execution began but was resisted to an extent by parents and some teachers as well. The problem was not as much with the sessions as much as it was with the inability of the teachers who entered the class post the session to handle the post session giggling and discussions of the students. The raised eyebrows of teachers who entered the classes after the session, hinted to the students that they were being told something unusual. Also the parents said they were not comfortable answering the cross questioning of their wards back home after the session. Hence, the program got suspended over a period of time due to resistance it faced and its curriculum was to be redesigned for better fitment. This point to the fact that the problem lies with our generic approach towards the issue and till the time we keep resisting it, its consequences will keep getting worsened.
How can sexuality education benefit our youth?
Recently, in April 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out the ‘role play and activity based’ program on sex education. The module includes age appropriate information on good and bad touch, sexual and reproductive health concerns, sexual abuse, mental health, sexually transmitted diseases and the like. My concern is that unless we as adults take the ownership to educate our children with compassion and empathy towards the sensitive We forget that when we close the doors on an issue that urgently requires an open, rational and educative discussion, we actually hinder the young people from developing various skills in their lives that can protect them from indulging in any high risk behaviour.
The education about one’s sexuality can lead an individual to develop knowledge and skills such as:
• COGNITIVE SKILLS: Young people are able to take informed decisions when it comes to engaging into active sexual behaviour, use of contraceptives and being safe in the process.
• ASSERTIVENESS SKILLS: Knowing and expressing when they are ready for any kind of physical contact. As a result of correct technical knowledge and understanding of the process, many youth may end up delaying their first sexual experience.
• DEVELOP POSITIVE ATTITUDE: Once the awareness about the fact that people of different sexual orientations coexist on this planet develops among the young people, they are able to develop respectful attitude towards people of varied sexual orientations without discriminating them.
• PERSPECTIVE BUILDING: Understanding sexuality comes from our perceptions of the gender roles. When sexuality education is passed on to the youth with an open approach, they are able to take a re look at the outdated gender roles, redefine them.
• EDUCATION ABOUT RIGHTS: Knowledge about the rights of a victim of sexual abuse can be attained through right education. Once the person is aware of these rights, he or she can to safeguard oneself accordingly.
• ENSURING BETTER PHYSICAL HEALTH: Education about sexuality means being aware of one’s physical health. It leads to the use of contraceptives leading to avoidance of unwanted pregnancies and STI’s and minimizes the risk of HIV.
• DEMYSTIFYING THE WORLD OF PORNOGRAPHIC CONTENT: An important contribution that sexuality education can do to a young person is to provide him with the apt knowledge in a suitable developmental zone for him so that he doesn’t feel the need to look more and more at the pornographic content. If brought to the youth in a scientific and logical manner, the arousal related to pornography may exist but at least it would minimize the chances of an individual to engage in high risk sexual behaviours. Once we demystify something through representation of facts rather than through moral judgements, its physical side effects actually lower down over time.
“If you give your kids the sense that you’re open to anything they have to say, whether positive or not so much, they’re more likely to share what’s really going on in their lives.” - Rachel Fortune, MD, National Medical director for Newport Academy
Dr Aastha Sachdeva has 13 years of experience as a counseling psychologist and an educationist.
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