When I was in school – and that was a long, long time ago – we had about a month of sex-education classes around the time we were in the eighth or ninth standard. In a way our school was ahead of its time, and the more I look at the debate raging around the topic of whether sex education should be provided or not, the more surprised I am. There is absolutely no doubt that informing children in a structures and sanitised way about how their bodies function is far better than having them learn it from ‘friends’ who are often sexual predators or from pornography.
So why is there a debate at all? Well, it has to do with certain misconceptions about sex education that have developed, many of which are not unique to India, but have damaged the progress of healthcare and knowledge considerably. After all, why else would the ‘Sexpert’ columns of newspapers still have queries like “Can I get pregnant from kissing” and “I visited a prostitute without wearing a condom do I have AIDS”.
A few of the most popular such arguments are as below:
1. Sex is against Indian culture
The misconception: Sex, say certain parent groups, religious teachers and armchair critics, is against Indian culture. By teaching sex education in school, we are bringing in the taboo of western depravity into our children’s mind.
Why it is ridiculous: Sex has nothing to do with culture. It is a part of human nature, and India did not become the world’s second most populous country by accident. If anything, learning about safe sexual practices will curb the high rates of spread of Sexually transmitted diseases and underage pregnancy that we have
2. Banning sex education will steer children away from quasi-sexual activity
The misconception: In India, of course, any contact between a boy and a girl is frowned upon until they are married to each other and then are expected to produce a child (male, of course) within a year. Sex education, argue many, by describing how STD’s spread and how they do not, encourage children to engage in activities that may not quite be intercourse, but are close to it.
Why it is ridiculous: The horse has long since bolted the stables. Teenagers will indulge, whether their parents allow it or not, and if they choose not to, it has more to do with a boy or girl’s personal code of conduct than a lack of knowledge.
3. Like any other education, once educated about sex, children will feel they have a license to indulge in it
The misconception: Learning geometry, accounting and history gives children knowledge that they can use. So teaching them about sex means they have knowledge they will use – to have sex with each other!
Why it is ridiculous: Sex education is substantially different from technical education. It is not about teaching children to have sex, but about helping them to understand what they are doing when they are ready – and about teaching them when they will be ready.
4. Sex is an adult topic
The misconception: Sex is for adults and not children. Let them learn at the right time, which is at some point between their being engaged and getting married
Why it is ridiculous: Sadly, sex is no longer about adults. In a way, it never has been. Child abuse, teenage pregnancies and so on are a sad fact of life. By teaching children what sex is, and the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, it would enable them to understand and report sexual abuse before things get out of hand.
Ultimately, there will be as many illogical objections to sex education as there are people to make them. But the message that needs to be put out there, loud and clear, is that sex is a reality that is not going away, and a comprehensive sex education will only lead to betterment of our children’s lives.