Sex education for growing teenagers in India has always been viewed as a controversial subject and there have always been two camps; one in support and one against it. It is time for us to understand the need and importance of sex education for our growing children that is as essential as formal education in developing a normal, healthy and aware individual.
Why sex education?
The role of society is to create a platform for children to be educated about themselves, both physically and emotionally; to teach the academic aspects of various subjects; to teach about their role and responsibility towards one another, their role towards their families, and towards society, as a whole.
A young boy or girl who is just entering teens, needs to learn all aspects about physiological and emotional changes that he or she will be going through while growing up. This information and awareness is absolutely essential for that young individual, in order to ensure that he or she can make informed choices as one goes through the teen years.
It is due to this woeful lack of information and awareness that children go through traumatic experiences that range from sexual abuse to emotional and physical abuse, without knowing the implications of these or what recourse to take and this leads to the victim being emotionally and sometimes, physically, scarred for life.
Therefore, it’s the responsibility of society to ensure that every boy and girl is provided with the necessary information and is taught all the preventive and corrective measures to be taken in case of any eventuality.
The problem is whose responsibility is it? Is it the parent’s or the school’s or the peer group’s or a third party, is where the debate becomes controversial? The content and methodology of delivery of sex education is still being debated around the world. And in the cross fire of debate our children stand unaware, confused and very vulnerable. Can our society afford that?
India is a confluence of cultures, religions, languages, food, and lifestyles, where the sheer diversity spread over a vast geography poses challenges of its own. In the context of the subject at hand, it must be recognized there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Given the sensitivity of the topic, each state or region would need to be handled specific to their value systems and cultures.
Socially acceptable norms in one region could be a taboo in another. For instance, in some states of southern India, marriage between certain close relatives is acceptable, while in some parts of north and central Indian states, the marriages within the same ‘gotra’ (usually of the same village) is viewed as unacceptable. So how do you design a nationally acceptable curriculum on sex education?
Sex education is not just about sex and birth control as many would like to believe. In fact it is possibly the most important education to be imparted to someone entering his or her teens (the right age to begin is still being debated in different societies). It involves addressing the potential confusion that is associated with physiological changes that begin to be visible as the teen years set in and this confusion can have negative consequences.
Sex is an interpersonal activity that involves both the physical and emotional interaction between two people. If both are not at the similar levels of awareness and acceptance, the resulting conflict can be damaging, physically and emotionally. Therefore, sex education has to address both aspects. The lack of awareness and understanding of the physical and behavioral aspects of the opposite sex is usually the beginning of conflict between sexes and these need to be addressed.
Cases of rape where the perpetrator is a minor, violence between sexes who are minors, teen and pre-teen pregnancy, incest, etc are all manifestations of lack of social, sexual and moral education and we as adults are collectively responsible for missing out on the opportunity.
The content for sex education has to be developed to address these areas:
- Information regarding physical and psychological differences between sexes. How boys and girls are different physically and why they behave differently, at varying ages.
- Age-wise physiological changes as they occur in both sexes. The boys, as much as girls, must be fully aware and have complete understanding of menstruation in girls, while both sexes must also understand the changes that boys undergo. Both sexes are usually completely ignorant regarding the emotional changes in the opposite sex and how to deal with them.
- Recognizing different physical and medical symptoms of change and knowing when it is abnormal. In cases of abnormality noticed, who to approach and discuss immediately.
- Every aspect of intercourse, conception and birth process must be explained and taught to both sexes. Too many myths exist regarding these. The education relating to options in birth control, pregnancy and termination, must be provided to both sexes.
The above content has to be universal and available to all.
Moral and Social education:
This is a critical but sensitive aspect of education where the content has to take into account the regional, cultural and religious sentiment but within the framework of our constitution and law.
The biggest challenge: Delivery
Before the explosion of information across television, internet and social media, teenagers relied on peer feedback and cheap publications, on most issues of sex. Parents were reluctant to do the needful due to social inhibitions, the teachers didn’t have the mandate from parents and society in general to teach sex education. So teenagers had to perforce rely on half-baked information and advice from peers.
Today, this problem has got mitigated on account of technology and social media, which can now be used to place every bit of information, especially the first part of the above mentioned content. Asking questions can be encouraged with each query being answered using text, illustrations, 3D graphics and video from a knowledge bank that would keep growing using FAQs from users.
The second part pertaining to moral and social education can be delivered in a combination of online-offline content that need to be created keeping local sensibilities in mind.
The important part to note is that technology can be neutral and standardized, taking away the variables in delivery that may vary from person to person and region to region. This is the best time in our history when we can ensure that the next generation is far better informed and is able to make far better choices than what we had during our time.
Let all stakeholders in society get together and use the best of technology to address this vital issue, whose time has come.