Let's preface this by saying I am a very open individual; my shame level is practically nonexistent, which definitely stems from being brought up in a very open household. My friends would come over, and the dinner conversation would be a debate on the topic of if fish have balls and so naturally, as an adult, if I think that something is interesting or needs to be discussed, you better believe that I will be the first to shout from the proverbial quarantined rooftops. Of course, there's a time and place, but ultimately there's really no such thing as too taboo or shush worthy in my book. Honestly, I think that's why as naive as it sounds, I assumed that my friends from Indian high schools or traditional Indian households would have a basic understanding of sex and all that comes along with it- because even if it wasn't taught at schools, surely someone would have the birds and the bees talk with them at home.
I only really realized that that was not the case when a friend of mine who grew up in Mumbai jokingly asked if my "period only came once a year?" I immediately burst out into laughter and pushed his shoulder, thinking he was going to join in on my now wheezing cackle, which he eventually did- but his hesitation got me thinking. How much did he really know about female anatomy and sex as a whole? So I began to pry a little further, and although he knew about the traditional straight male, female physical act of sex and the concept of menstruation from, well, friends, pop culture, etc. - the details were more than a little inaccurate. Although I thought this to be odd, frankly, our conversation just kept going, and I forgot about the whole thing until a few months later, another friend, who grew up in a conservative Indian household, an incredibly smart, educated, headstrong individual, started to get more physical in her relationship. After inviting me to a very initially awkward coffee date, she finally worked up the courage to tell me about her experience. She started asking questions, of which I thought the answers would be common knowledge, but common knowledge only exists if there is a basic level of education on the topic in the first place.
As funny as it is to think about a 20-something year old male/ female not knowing that condoms come in different sizes or that women enjoy sex just as much as men, especially in this seemingly hypersexualized world, it's also terrifying. When I moved to India, I realized that half of my brother's high school friends, that were expected to get married and have children within a few years of graduation (I could go on about this all day, but ill save that for another blog post) didn't know that plan B isn't designed as a daily form of birth control or that peeing after sex is necessary to prevent a UTI which obviously harms their sexual well being. Their knowledge came from whatever movies and magazines they could sneak past their parents or, of course, the infamous desi gossip chain. See, in India, many schools teach boys nothing about the development of their bodies, let alone sex. Girls are snuck away to some dungeon-like room to be told they would bleed for seven days a month with little to no explanation and are then expected to just continue with life. The topic is then also often ostracized at home even after marriage, so young boys learn from porn, and girls learn from here-say. Don't even get me started about LGBTQ+ sex & masturbation because that's not even considered a subject. I mean, women in India often don't even go to gynecologists until something is deathly wrong, let alone are taught anything other than the norm. Norm meaning that sex should only be conducted between a man and a woman after marriage and only to produce grandchildren. STD might as well stand for Super Thick Dosas, and a women's pleasure is as good as big a joke as Takeshi's Castle all because of this idea that sex is not a suitable topic of conversation even if it affects the physical and mental health of generations.
To be clear, sex is a normal part of life; it should be enjoyable and, most importantly, safe. Yet because of the current lack of education in India and understanding of consent, nearly 50% of boys and girls face sexual abuse in their young lives, according to a survey by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, and then on top of that have no idea how to face the detrimental after-effects. 8% of all surveyed unmarried young women are not aware of any means of contraception and protection according to a study by IIPS and Population Council in 2010, which means young girls are getting pregnant without even the knowledge of how and why. A whopping 31% of the total population infected with AIDS/HIV, in India is 15 or older, and often they don't even know it should be a concern.
I could go on all day as there are thousands of statistics out there about the horrifying effects of a lack of sex education. Yet, we, as a society, seem to ignore it because it upsets or sensibilities. We can easily eradicate this problem if we normalize the idea of sex as part of being human and teach instead of reprimand for asking questions. Moreover, the sex education we do conduct has to be inclusive, as, in reality, there is no one form of sex that works for everyone. It's an incredibly personal topic, and so along with teaching about the dangers and preventative measures involved in sexual activity, we need to make sure that we make it clear that not everyone experiences sex in the same way. Educators should have no judgment as regardless of if a student believes in celibacy before marriage or that sex is simply a physical act, or even if they are asexual, they deserve the right to understand how to have healthy sexual relationships and what that may mean.
Ultimately, sex has been around since the dawn of time and obviously is not going away. Therefore, if you are an Indian or from anywhere where the topic of sex is hidden away in a cabinet under 20 dahi dabba's filled with extra spices, I strongly encourage you to talk to others about sex, your body, and your feelings towards them. By doing so, you may give someone else the courage to do the same and thus begin the movement of normalizing and educating ourselves, and then maybe we can move on to schools doing the same.