Sex- a simple three-letter word, with mountains of shame and stigma attached to it. The way conversations die out when someone makes the monumental error of mentioning the word. The way it feels strange to even utter the word in casual conversation with your closest family members or friends. Haven’t you ever seen a group of thirteen-year-olds fall into a fit of awkward smiles and giggles just by mentioning that one chapter in our science textbooks- reproduction in humans? It doesn’t just stop there; some teachers even choose to skip teaching the chapter or forbid students from asking questions.
Despite knowing that this is how all of us came into existence, just the mere mention of the word brings about a certain feeling of uneasiness. The education regarding sex and the various aspects of the reproductive system is still considered a taboo in most countries with a general misconception being that sex education primarily focuses on teaching about the ‘act’. However, that is not the only thing that falls under the purview of sex education.
So, what exactly is sex education? Sex education is the instruction of issues relating to human sexuality, including emotional relations and responsibilities, human sexual anatomy, sexual activity, sexual reproduction, age of consent, reproductive health, reproductive rights, safe sex, birth control and sexual abstinence.
However, talking about sex and sexuality has always been censored, and in even doing so it changes the atmosphere in a lot of settings to uncomfortable. Yet, the consequence of not teaching sex education will result in a lack of proper knowledge regarding the same. This can lead to an innumerable number of problems, ranging from an increased risk of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases to unhealthy sexual practices that can cause physical or emotional harm.
Let’s talk about it realistically, how many of us know about the HPV vaccine? How many of us know about our reproductive rights? How many of us are openly able to ask questions regarding the changes happening in our bodies? Sadly, not many of us and this creates more problems than anyone can imagine.
I have witnessed many instances where the lack of sex education has acted as a source of trauma and unpleasant situations, like the time when a woman chose a home remedy to cure her vaginal discomfort which ended up worsening her situation or when an eleven-year-old classmate of mine was completely unaware about periods and got the shock of her life during school.
Despite being a medical student and having knowledge regarding these topics more than the average person, I have read about only the biological aspect of sex education such as the protective measures one can use like condoms and other contraceptive methods, their side effects, other biological functions related to our reproductive systems such as menstruation and pregnancies. But who will talk to us about the mental and emotional aspects of sex education? Who do I turn to for questions that are considered too embarrassing to speak out about? My parents, friends, the internet?
The sad reality of the situation is that none of this is comprehensively taught either by parents/ caregivers or by formal school programmes. The onus to learn about these topics falls in the hands of children and adolescents who might not be well equipped to understand the information on their own. A quick google search under the blankets at night or hearing a joke mentioned in your favourite show or movie is probably not the best way to get accurate and concise information.
Giving age-appropriate sex education to people is very important for a healthy life. It has to be slowly and steadily inculcated in the curriculum according to a person’s age and maturity. It would even be better if the lessons about human sex and sexuality began at home, and continued to be taught in schools and colleges.
Why is it so important to teach a person about changes happening in his/her own body? Because knowing about one’s rights and one’s body in a safe and judgement-free zone can help increase one’s self-worth, self-confidence, health and happiness.
Treating this facet of our personalities as something natural and normal is necessary to build a healthier society. So, let’s teach and have conversations about sex education normally, age appropriately, and without any hesitation, because as Otis rightly said in the hit Netflix show Sex Education, “Everyone has bodies, right? It’s nothing to be ashamed of”.
Written by Archisha Kalra for MTTN
Edited by Nitya Sai T for MTTN
Featured image by Chrissy Curtin
Artwork by TheGuardian.com