The Birds & The Bees & Everything In Between: Sex Education in India
Growing up, an experience that was common to all friends and family was getting cooped in a single room and watching movies together. It would be a rollercoaster of emotions with laughing and bawling, suspenseful gasps and embarrassing moments, all mixed up in a hotchpotch of an experience. And then the characters would kiss and hell would freeze over. Dad had to use the washroom, mom had to suddenly violently cough, and the rest of us wouldn't dare catch a peak of the screen. After it was over, everything would return back to normal, there was a mutual understanding that we don't talk about this, we just awkwardly move past it.
We would all, as some unspoken rule between us, look away in unison. A synchronized performance of ‘purity’ or ‘innocence’ that we have choreographed so well, we take it well into our adult lives.
Even in 2021, when India’s population is nearly 139 crores- we are so convinced that we can make this performance last forever. Perhaps this is why India is also one of the largest consumers of porn all around the world. As some sort of compensation for how deprived we’ve been from talking about sex. Or even acknowledging it.
We love to keep sex private. So private that even we don't want to know about it. We don’t even want to accept that people are having it (a lot, at that too.)
Let's talk about sex (maybe)
It is no surprise that the way we understand sex is a direct consequence of the kind of sex we have been exposed to. Those who have grown up in environments where talking about sexual or reproductive activities isn’t taboo, tend to have a better relationship with sex and their body image and agency. They are more likely to recognize red-flags and are more equipped to make informed decisions.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who grow up in environments where these things are not openly discussed, leaving them to make sense of something so complicated, all by themselves. In these scenarios, media (films, pornography, tv, music, books) and myth is what will most likely shape their perception.
This is scary. Because the way mainstream media portrays sex can be extremely problematic with on-screen portrayals painting a very unrealistic, unnatural image of sex in the viewers mind.
Flowers kissing and rigorous hand-holding
Taking the example of the big screen, for the longest time, censorship of any kind of sexual activity under the veil of morality took place. Although the characters were clearly sexually involved, it was depicted through dancing flowers on-screen or the mating of flowers or very rigorous hand holding. We learned intimacy through objects. Sexual activity was never openly said, just implied.
Even when intimacy was shown on screen, it usually lacked any form of actual information on how reproduction works. Case in point: The famous library scene in the movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. So, while Aishwarya Rai is having a breakdown, Salman Khan thinks of a brilliant idea to calm her down- a quick makeout sesh.
Post this, Rai seems mortified, claiming that this is a sin, and what if this 'sin' culminates into a child. Her dreadful query is quickly solved by Salman Khan with unimaginable suave as he states that he is a cool dude and her father wouldn't have a problem with it.
Sex education, as a result, is a complete taboo in India where officials refuse to address the need for it, parents decide to stay hush about it so people turn to other available resources to figure 'sex' out.
Instagram, apart from being the hub for marketing and creativity, is also home to health workers, therapists, brands and organisations that works to make this knowledge easily available, discussing topics that are considered inappropriate or taboo in Indian society.
All things sex(ual).
One such organisation is Hidden Pockets- a platform on sexual and reproductive health that offers information as well as personal counseling on missed periods, abortions, infections and other problems. The page is a curation of media such as memes, videos, art and articles related to sex. The topics of discussion include female pleasure, the misconceptions of sex, sex positivity, advice and information on birth control, hygiene and consent. They even discuss the legalities of sex in India.
Another organisation, called Asia Safe Abortion Partnership is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote, protect and advance women’s SRHR (Sexual & reproductive health and rights) in Asia, by promoting access to comprehensive safe abortion services. Not only do they advocate for safe health practices, but also challenge the systems that make sexual and reproductive healthcare inaccessible to the masses. They provide services even in challenging times, such as the pandemic.
A brand called That Sassy Thing, a female-founded wellness brand that describes itself as shameless is also great source of information as well as products related to sexual well-being. They make all-natural sexual lube, pubic hair oil, period cramp care roll-on, but their page is also a commentary on the culture around sex, and aims to spread awareness. A celebration of sexuality, and an attempt to break-away from the shame associated with it.
There are also individuals who create content that aims to teach people about safe sex practices.
Dr. Tanaya (Dr. Cuterus) is an Oxford University-trained doctor who talks all things SEX(ual health) on the interwebz, as she describes it. Her page focuses on talking about things ranging from busting myths about sex to steps to take incase a condom breaks mid-activity.
When emergencies related to these matters come up, it can be difficult to find a source of help and information. Especially when the internet can be a minefield of misinformation that not everyone can navigate their way through. It is most important in these circumstances to have correct knowledge from reliable sources. Her page is like an encyclopedia of information related to reproductive health and concerns.
Another woman who is an expert on all things sex-related is Seema Anand. A mythologist, author, and Kama Sutra Expert. Her expertise is focusing on maximizing pleasure and improving sex for all parties involved in the act. Seema's focus on the female orgasm and advice on the same feels very big-sisterly.
She also frequently invites guests to talk on topics like how to safely engage in BDSM or dealing with one’s libido during the lockdown. Her content is very inclusive, catering not just to the idea of heteronormative sex, but of all sexualities and genders.
Often in Seema’s comment section, people can be found asking her for advice like “I am 38 and unmarried, I masturbate too much, is it harmful?”
This goes to show that people are curious to learn, they are also scared and unaware and find refuge behind a screen to find people/platforms that address their concerns. Seema’s page is a constant reminder of how much grace there is in sexuality and seduction when one is at peace with themselves and who they are.
Sex-education is a necessity, for it can lead to changes not just in the way we view sex, but also the way we view agency and identity. While there should be more effort from people in charge of the curriculum of young students, it is assuring to know that there are people looking out for those who are unaware.