- Prevention of teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions
- Increased accessibility to methods of contraception and safer sexual practices
- Control of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, gonorrhea, and pelvic inflammatory disease may contribute to infertility later in life.
The rising incidence of sexual crimes, ranging from harassment and eave teasing to heinous crimes such as rape, arises from a lack of understanding and emotional maturity regarding the concepts of consent, inappropriate touch, and sexual violence.
What is Sexual Health?
According to the World Health Organisation,Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not just an absence of disease or infirmity to lead a socially and economically productive life.Sexual health is an integral part of healthy living, starting from teenage and right to parenthood and beyond. However, many teenagers are unaware of the right kind of information concerning sexual organs, sexual maturity, the practice of sex, and the various kinds of contraception.Owing to a large amount of misinformation and, at times, legitimate information void, the youngsters, out of curiosity, refer to online web sources to understand sexuality and its varied aspects. However, there is no certainty that these may be authentic, and thus, they fall prey to misconceptions. These misconceptions at a young age might lead to catastrophic consequences later in life.
Current Status of Sex Education in India
In India, there is no uniform policy about sex education. It has faced many ups and downs after the NCERT implemented it. Currently, government institutions do not teach sex education to the students regarding good touch, bad touch, safe-sexual practices, and the medical and legal recourse in cases of emergencies. Private schools and institutions are, however, not covered under the restriction order from the government. They are free to conduct weekly or monthly lectures and seminars on sex education or not conduct them.According to recent government guidelines, sex education, under the revised Human Resource Development Ministry guidelines, operates on a pilot basis in select districts across India. However, uniform policy for implementation and roll-out is still lacking.
What exactly is sex education? What are the myths associated with it?
Sex education mainly comprises the skills, knowledge, and development of thought processes to make healthy and informed decisions related to all matters concerning sex.Before discussing them, parents themselves need to bust the myths while imparting sex education to their children.Some of the common myths of teenage sex education are as follows:Myth: Sex education will lead to teens indulging in sex more frequentlyTruth: Sex education does not promote promiscuity. Contrarily, it helps teenage children make more informed decisions regarding their sexual health and generate a feeling of being-in-charge. Also, comprehensive sex education reduces risky behaviors and promotes trust with a single partner. Myth: There is no need for comprehensive sex education. Abstinence alone is sufficient.Truth: This is incorrect. Abstinence-only programs fail to realize the biological urges among teenagers. A comprehensive sex education program channelizes teenagers’ energy and concerns more productively and rationally, such that they take charge of their own sexual health. Myth: Sex education will lead to an increased incidence of teenage pregnancies.Truth: Sex education provides female teenagers with more options and promotes safe sexual behavior using contraceptive methods. Thus, investment in sex-education will reap rich dividends for the future generation in terms of the individual’s overall health status and the community as a whole. It needs to be liberated from the bedroom’s confines to the dining and living room, where there can be free-flowing open-ended discussions where all stakeholders can participate and feel cherished, valued, and confident.
By whom and when?
Sex education is best provided by trained health professionals in schools and teachers. However, to come into action and have meaningful action, a healthy discussion with parents back at home is equally important.The social environment is filled with subtle cues related to sex: Horrific news of rapes and sexual perversions, intimate scenes in movies and other entertainment shows, and advertisements ranging from condoms to sanitary pads and iPills. It is important to build upon conversations that stem from such events, which act like springboards.Rather than thinking of sex education as an independent entity per se, it is important to consider it a part of an ongoing discussion that affects all the spheres of life: Personal, social, and cultural.
- Initiating the Conversation: Casual moments such as a drive-through or a late-night walk provide much-needed privacy and opportunity to discuss the issues (which might have been raised during an advertisement or a news debate) kickstart a conversation regarding the complexities involved in the same.
- Being honest and candid: At times, the children are uncomfortable to break the ice with the parents for fear of being judged adversely or simply feeling awkward. Reciprocally, the parents may feel the same if they are averse to the idea of discussing them with the child. What is required is an acknowledgment of the discomfort and being honest. If you don’t know the answer to a question, there is no harm in admitting so. One can always revert after looking up for a legitimate answer or jointly find it and then discuss it.
- Being Direct: Brushing contentious issues under the carpet would do more harm than good. The questions would remain, and the queries would be unresolved. It is important then, to confront the issues heads on. For example, the risks of sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and HIV, amongst others. Their association with unsafe sexual practices and the adverse health impacts must be discussed.
- Being Receptive: Discussions surrounding sex cannot be one-way. They need to be dynamic, with active participation between the parents and the child. It should not turn out to be a didactic lecture where the parent imposes his views. Rather, they should be receptive to his concerns, teenage pressures, and views regarding sexual maturity.
- Being Socio-Culturally Relevant: Often, sex education discussions revolve around well-established facts and figures. However, it is equally important to discuss them in subjective values and attitudes, which one adopts in life. A case in point being premarital sexual intercourse. Beyond the scope of legal repercussions, the questions of ethics and responsibility must be deliberated along with personal beliefs.
- Room for more: With evolving societies and globalization, there are conflicts between the older and newer generations—a case in point being sexuality. Sex is a biological concept, while gender is a social concept. With the emergence of LGBTQ movements, many teenagers are confused with regards to their sexuality. While discussing these issues might seem challenging, the conversation is the best way to deal with questions arising regarding the same. Whatever be the outcome of it, it is always prudent to express to them that you’d love them unconditionally irrespective of their choices and orientation.
Moreover, it is important to incentivize the teen’s queries with encouraging words such as ‘That’s a great question’ or ‘I am so glad that you finally brought it up!’
Is it relevant to study sex education in developing countries?
If yes, some frequently asked questions:With increasing westernization, developing countries like India face emerging issues of consent, date rape, sexual orientation, among others. Some of the questions might be:The right age for sexual activity commencement: While peer pressure, curiosity, and various challenges might steer some teenagers into sexual activity, it is important to stress that sex is an adult activity. The Indian Penal Code classifies sexual intercourse with a female less than 18 years of age as statutory rape. Also, affection can be expressed through other means such as intimate talks, hand-holding, dates, or hugging and kissing.Consent for sexual activity: The importance of consent cannot be understated. Any form of forced sex (within or outside the ambit of a relationship) amounts to rape (However, the IPC does list marital rape as an offense). As is famously stated, ‘No means no.’ Also, drugs and alcohol are likely to impair judgment and reduce inhibitions, predisposing situations where rape is more likely. It is advisable to have abstinence from these substances. Warning signs of Unhealthy relationships:Dating violence has come to the fore with increased awareness and reporting regarding the same. Parents must be vigilant to the warning signs of violence while dating/ in a relationship. They include:
- Alcohol and secretive drug abuse
- Social withdrawal from friends and family
- Excusing the partner’s unacceptable behavior
- Loss of interest in activities which were once enjoyable (anhedonia)
- Bruises, scratch marks, or other unexplained injuries
Abusive relationships have long term consequences. They include poor academic performance, addiction to illicit drugs, and alcohol and suicide attempts, besides leaving behind traumatic emotional scars on one’s psyche. Moreover, teenage undesirable emotions are linked with an increased likelihood of future unhappy and violent relationships. Thus, a healthy teenager is a sound foundation for a happy sexual life ahead.
Finetuning your response to the child’s sexual behavior:
While the importance of reinforcing the adult aspect of sexual activity cannot be understated, if the teen becomes sexually active, it is more important than ever to keep a vigil and to engage him in conversations. You need to state your concerns openly and imprint upon him the seriousness of the responsibilities which come along with it.Safe sex practices, barrier contraception, and exclusivity of a relationship (to avoid the risk of contracting STDs) must be communicated from time to time without being too intrusive.Once in a while, a check-up with the physician gives the child a much-needed opportunity to address his concerns in front of a medical professional confidentially and at his own comfort and leisure. Besides, the doctor’s words carry weight, which might positively influence the teen’s behavior regarding contraception and safe sex practices.Also, in teenage boys and girls, Human Papilloma Virus vaccination helps prevent genital warts and cancers of the cervix and the penis.Some worthwhile sites providing genuine information on sex and sexual health concerns include:
- IT MATTERS
- ONE IN THREE
- REACH OUT