Sex education: Much Needed, But When Will We See It In India?

Posted: November 29, 2010

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Recently, I have been coming across news articles that discuss (with much figurative hand-wringing), the casual use of emergency contraceptives and abortion pills by young women. No doubt, serious health effects can arise due to the improper use of such pills for regular contraception – they are to be used very sparingly.

Many of the articles however mistakenly cite easy access to the pills as the reason for their too-frequent usage. Over the counter availability at the neighbourhood pharmacy may indeed help women buy them more easily, but that is not the fundamental reason for their misuse.

The fundamental reason is the abysmal quality of sex education in India. Most schools in India shy away from including a separate sex education module, even for older students from class 9-12 who are likely to be getting a good deal of information anyway (some of it wrong) from many sources. Forget a separate module on sex education – I remember my biology teacher breezing through the chapter on the human reproductive system, and actively discouraging questions. When this was the situation in a middle-class, urban school, can you imagine the level of sex education given out at poorer or rural schools with fewer resources?

No wonder, many women (and men) have a poor understanding of how fertilization actually occurs, what happens to the ovum at different stages and the impact of casual pill-popping on a woman’s body. Men may also feel little need to take responsibility since they do not bear the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy.

Nor can single women in India quite easily get the advice they need from gynaecologists. I first visited a gynaec when I was around 22 years old and single – and not for anything related to sex or reproduction. In the doctor’s waiting room, the nurse asked me loudly, “Single or Married?” and then gave me a long look when I said single. I slunk back to my seat, embarassed at the roomful of people looking at me.

Mind, I was living by myself, away from home, in a big city – and did not have to worry about whether I would meet someone I knew at the hospital or take anyone’s permission to see the doctor. How many young Indian women living at home or in small towns will feel comfortable visiting a gynaec?

The answer to getting people to use contraception in a more responsible manner is to give both young boys and girls proper sex education that includes information on respecting their bodies and of the nuts and bolts of sex, conception and contraception.

Schools hide this information fearing that “children will be spoilt” but the reality is that young people will continue to experiment regardless of what schools tell them. If easy access to pills is curtailed, people will find other ways to get them. More information is the answer, not less.

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  1. Easy access to pills may be a reason for concern but so is the lack access to basic information on the reproductive cycle in one’s life. I have myself never felt comfortable talking about – no not sex – but the nuptial night and what to expect on one’s first experience of spending an ‘alone’ time with a man. My daughters’ may or may not have expected me to brief them. But the truth is that I did not even try. In my early twenties I saw a married cousin popping pills but when I needed advise on family planning after marriage I could not bring myself to ask her even though we were pretty close. I know all of it is wrong.If mothers can’t talk to daughters and sisters behave as if babies are found under the hospital bed then there is something seriously wrong in our approach to a very important aspect of life that we unfortunately treat like …. well sin perhaps?

  2. It is very optimistic to hope that sex education will be welcomed by parents, even educated ones. I recently was at lunch with a group of ladies, all educated, responsible citizens, all in the age group of 30-40yrs, with children aged 2-16yrs, who were aghast at the fact that sex education is now being given to class 6th-7th students in some schools. “Why put ideas in the children’s minds?” was the general consensus. “We had no idea till our wedding night, and we were fine.” They certainly needed a reality check.

  3. You said it like it is. Use of morning-after pills is the symptom. The disease is widespread ignorance and misconceptions. And the cause is squeamishness and moral judgments about sex education.

  4. Misuse of the pills is a problem. Men have to be educated on the regular use of condom so women don’t have to insist on its use and later be forced to take pills too often.
    As for sex education in school, that seems to be happening more than it did earlier. My son’s school decided to have the first explanatory session in class IV. I thought that was very early at the time but in retrospect that was better than a friend showing him graphic pics from a book flicked from his parents’ carelessly stored collection, in class III!

  5. We really need more sex education in school..its weird but I got my sex education from my dad who sat down and explained the entire fertility cycle, mensus, etc etc…its really sad that most indian families look at it as a taboo topic!

  6. @ Starry – love how you put it. Really, it is the symptom of a wider problem.

    @ Jyoti – so true. India has among the lowest incidence of condom use in the world since contraception becomes entirely the woman’s responsibility. Good to know that some schools are starting to deal with sex education responsibly.

    @R’s Mom – yes, parents are also an important part of giving out sex education but most Indian parents would cut their tongues out than discuss sex! Somehow there is this fear that talking about it will lead to kids experimenting – as if those who want to are not going to experiment anyways!

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