Published in Deccan Chronicle

A decade ago, the word ‘sex’ was considered dirty, and the very mention of it was considered taboo. But today, the scenario is different. Sex stands brazenly in the spotlight, as naked as the many of the girls seen in the movies are youngsters. It seems that overnight sex has grown from a squeamish subject for youngsters to something that is being accepted in the society very easily.

Gen – X today have abundant knowledge on this subject, thanks to friends, internet, movies etc, but whether they have the right ideas about sex, and are aware of the various concepts and phenomena associated with it, is an entirely different issue. Recently, states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala have banned the implementation of sex education in schools, but why this apathy towards the need for valuable sex education?

In a conservative country where sex is considered taboo, it is no wonder that people feel uncomfortable talking about sex and sexuality to youngsters. “Sex education is important for today’s youth because it will prevent them from turning to other sources like the Internet for information, but at the same time, it is quite awkward to talk about such a sensitive issue in the society” says Sudha, mother of a 17 year old.

Religious conservatives believe that the longer a teenager is kept unaware of sexuality, the less likely they will become involved in sexual behaviour, and they also support the “abstinence-only sex education” i.e., preaching that sex outside marriage is immoral. Some people are concerned that providing information about sex and sexuality arouses curiosity and can lead to sexual experimentation. But only by opening up the discussion about sex, and beginning to talk to children at a young age, will we ever be able to protect them from abuse.

Effective sex education should describe the growing-up process, the changing of the body, emotions, the biological process of reproduction, sexual activity, partnership, homosexuality, unwanted pregnancies and the complications of abortion, the dangers of sexual violence, child abuse, and sex-transmitted diseases, and also helps the youngsters to communicate, listen, negotiate, ask for and identify sources of help and advice, and teach them useful life-skills that can be applied in terms of sexual relationships.

Providing such kind of effective sex education can seem daunting because it means tackling potentially sensitive issues. Nowadays, even though some form of sex education is part of the curriculum at many schools, it remains a controversial issue in India, particularly with regard to the age at which children should start receiving such education, the amount of detail that is revealed, and topics dealing with human sexuality and behavior (eg. safe sex practices, masturbation and sexual ethics). People providing sex education have attitudes and beliefs of their own about sex and sexuality and it is important not to let these influence negatively the sex education that they provide. Meeta Asthana, 22, feels “Sex education is important and it should allow people to think in a broad minded way, i.e. they should know how to move with the opposite sex, and also be cautious and not be mislead into doing wrong things”.

Parents and carers ought to be proactive and engage young people in discussions about sex, sexuality and relationships, though adults sometimes find it difficult to know when to raise issues. Sex education through the mass media, often supported by local, regional or national Government and non-governmental agencies and departments, can help to raise public awareness of sex health issues. Formal programmes with these elements have been shown to increase young people’s levels of knowledge about sex and sexuality, put back the average age at which they first have sexual intercourse and decrease risk when they do have sex.

“Sexual activity is being practiced at a younger age, which is why we are seeing an increase in the number of STDs and HIV infections ” says Dr. Chander Puri, Director of National Institute of Research and Reproductive Health. Also, sexual abuses like rape, molestation etc, and teenage pregnancies have become common nowadays. The panacea for this is to provide valuable sex education at the appropriate age, so that youngsters don’t have misconceptions about sex related issues.

But also keep in mind that sex education is more than just sex or physiology. It is about psychology, about society, about love, marriage and responsibility. It is about how to protect oneself and how to respect and treat the opposite sex.

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