Is Sex Education Still A Myth In Indian Educational Institutions?

Posted: January 29, 2019

Are educational institutions in India still in the last century as far as talking about safe sex is concerned, or are they doing their bit to educate youngsters about it?

It’s no secret that teenagers and young adults treat sex far more casually than the previous one. But of course, one thing that holds true for both generations? Safe sex.

A discomfort with any talk around sex

Most schools in our country don’t have subjects like sex education. Apart from the one chapter in 8thgrade about reproduction in animals, there is no other source of knowledge on the topic, apart from the colourful world of the internet, of course.

The main issue around safe sex and sex itself, is that in a country like India, it’s a conversation held behind closed doors. And sadly, this stays true for some institutions as well. Forget talking about safe sex, most institutions police even the way their girls dress, so that there is no ‘distraction’ for the boys, some colleges even going far as restricting students from uttering the word ‘sex’. On the other hand, while there are colleges that don’t repress their students, some students still go through a lot of trouble exploring their sexuality. This is because sexual liberation in many colleges still remains taboo.

The only way this discomfort with the topic can be dealt with is if one is desensitized to the issue and the only way to do that is to have an open conversation.

Talking about safe sex at college level. Does it happen?

So is there any talk at all in institutions about sex and safe sex? How do some of the colleges we know of rank on this?

Though some are still resistant to change, many colleges are finally opening up to the idea. Colleges in major cities like Mumbai are open to the conversation. For example, in IIT Mumbai, during the much-awaited fest Mood-Indigo or Mood-I this year, they had posters encouraging the use of condoms. Another example is Sophia College for Women. Despite being an all-girls college, the institution makes sure it creates a safe space for their students to have an open conversation. The teachers and students are free to engage the topics within the classrooms.

In a medical college like King Edward Memorial Hospital, the conversation around sex is more academic than casual. On asking a student about how safe sex is treated in their college, she replied, “The discussions are mostly aligned with the medical curriculum, not so much for the purpose of normalising it”.

However, the same city also has colleges where there can be no mention of sex itself. “Talking about sex is a taboo in our college by the leading members of our faculty. I feel like students in our college would look forward to educational talks regarding the same, but it would take a lot of effort for such a thing to be sanctioned.” says a student of J.J. Institute of Fine Arts.

Expanding the geographical area, let’s look at North India. In a college like Lady Sri Ram College, Delhi, safe sex is spoken about by professors in an encouraging and approachable manner. “As for activities and events, (…) we have an NGO as part of the National Service Scheme that works towards promoting sexual health and awareness among women, and they have organized certain events in college!” says Sanjana Muthukrishnan, an economics student.

According to a student from Army Institute of Law, Mohali, “The college is rather conservative. Students have been fined for displaying affection in public. Sex, as a topic is rather like a distant dream to even talk about.”

Another medical college, Dr. S.N. Medical College in Jodhpur is open about safe sex as a topic, and according to Titibha Bhaskar, a student, they are expected to be open because they are medical students, even though there still are a few inhibitions. “If you go around our college campus you’ll find various wall paintings spreading awareness, also painted on the outside walls of our campus for general public.” She also mentions a trip to villages where 2 students in each village were to educate the public on health issues, and sexual awareness was one of the topics.

In Indian Law Society’s Law College, Pune according to a B.A.LLB student, “It’s not a topic that comes up often in an academic way. But legal topics that need it to be discussed are done with openness and without prejudice.” As far as encouraging safe sex is concerned, the student says that the college has never dealt with it and probably doesn’t consider it something to be promoted.

In the South, IIT Bombay counter-part IIT Madras isn’t as open-minded. According to a student studying in IIT Madras, “It’s [sex] treated as a taboo. There’s no discussion. Nothing at all.” The student also says that the college has an unofficial ban on condoms.

A student from SRM Institute of Science & Technology recounts how the college doesn’t support the idea of sex at all, let alone safe sex. Another student talks about how the college faculty and some students are uncomfortable to have any sort of discussion based on sex. “Talking about our college rules: They don’t even let boys and girls sit together. Last semester, my friend was asked to meet the HOD because he was sitting with a girl during a free period.” The student recounts another incident where a girl was asked to call her parents by their department because they found condoms in her bag.

An alarming reality

According to this article, a report on India published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, people of ages between 15-24 years develop half of all new Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report, released in 2013, there are 7.3 million mothers in India who are under the age of 18. And between 2000 and 2013, India came in the top 10 countries with the largest numbers of women aged between 20 and 24 who gave birth before the age of 18.

These are alarmingly high numbers, and a way to bring these down is education and open conversations. Teenagers and young adults should be taught and encouraged to practice safe sex and a great place to start would be educational institutions. Teach them what sex is, why it’s normal, and explain why practicing safe sex is supremely beneficial. This will only help them grow into responsible adults.

The responsibility of educational institutions

Students spend a massive chunk of their day in these spaces – to express themselves, to socialize, to study and to gain knowledge – if they are not provided with the right guidance, it can be harmful.

In my opinion, institutions should relax their restrictions and allow students to explore their world freely. For some institutions that carry age-old ideas into today’s world, it may be difficult to open their minds. I also feel students should take an initiative and bring about a change they wish to see. A topic like safe sex needs to be addressed, and a right environment must be provided where students don’t need to feel scared or wronged like in some of the cases stated above.

I’ve also noticed that just because it’s a well-known or reputed institution, it doesn’t mean they’re open-minded. And the same way, a lesser known college doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more prudish in nature. Very often, the latter is more adaptive. Some Indian institutes are slowly opening up to the idea of sex and are rightfully encouraging safe sex through dialogue, speeches, events, etc. While some still stand behind the veil of ‘morality’ and claim that they do not support ‘western ideas’. And this frame of mind needs to change.

Image source: shutterstock

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