Sex Education: An Overview
Do these words above make you uncomfortable? A little? A lot?
Each of these words and most discussions around them, make most of us feel uncomfortable. But should they? Sex is a natural and basic human need. If sex is so important, is it really something that we should feel ashamed of or uncomfortable with?
What does human history tell us?
Our need and desire for sex have been documented for thousands of years. Right from the erotic Egyptian scroll paintings, to Roman life in Pompeii, to the Indian Kama Sutra or the art in the Khajuraho temples, the historical evidence is clear. Sex seems to have always played an important role in all cultures and societies.
More importantly, sex was recognized and celebrated by our ancestors!
Even if one chooses to ignore ancient history, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the global human population 200 years ago, around 1800 AD, was 1 billion. Now, the global population didn’t hit eight billion without people having sex, did it?!
The present-day situation
Jokes apart, the fact is that the lack of awareness around the basic aspects of sex causes a lot of discomfort for people. Taboos around sex make it extremely difficult for people to get the right information in a timely manner. This situation is actually dangerous and threatens our society in many ways.
Consider the following:
- Sexual incompatibility is one of the major causes of separation and divorce today (and divorces aren’t cheap!).
- In a male-dominated society, sex has for long centred around male pleasure. This has led to the ‘orgasm gap’ or the ‘pleasure gap’ where women remain sexually unfulfilled, and relationships suffer.
- Children as young as eight are turning to pornography and adult entertainment to satisfy their curiosity about sex and their own bodies.
- In India, a rape occurs every 15 minutes.
- One in every five young girls experiences some form of sexual assault before she hits puberty.
- Young girls drop out of school because of the shame around menstruation and the lack of clean and private washrooms. Not to speak of the sexual harassment they face when travelling to and from school.
These are all serious and very real issues present in the country today. Ignorance, lack of understanding, absence of support, shame, guilt — these are all a part of the problem that cause the above situations. But what is the solution?
The primary weapon to eliminate the ignorance around sex and sexuality is unbiased & effective sex education.
As individuals and as a society, we have to let go of the taboo that surrounds sex and be open to learning about it without feeling any shame or guilt.
What is sex education?
‘Sex education’, simply put, is education that revolves around the sexual behaviour of humans. This includes learning about sexual anatomy, sexual intercourse, understanding how hormones work, protection during sex, decision making, and so on.
Teachers in schools and colleges gracefully skip this topic to avoid discomfort and awkwardness in the classroom. But it is extremely important to understand matters related to sexual desire and behaviour so that we can make sensible and well-informed decisions that impact our health and overall well-being. This applies even if one is not interested in sex, because we still need to know about our bodies and our rights. Quality sex education ensures that people make respectful social and sexual decisions. It makes us think about how our choices affect the people around us.
What is sex education NOT about?
Sex education aims to inform and NOT promote sex. Sex-ed does not intend for people to get excited about sexual activities. Rather, it is to help people develop an understanding of how our bodies and brains respond to certain situations and how to deal with them.
Sex education is not just about sex. It also covers topics such as:
- healthy relationships
- understanding consent
- sexually transmitted diseases
- the psychological impact of various aspects of sex and sexuality
Sex education does NOT aim to tell you WHO you should have physical relationships with. It tells you what you should know and take into consideration before making decisions related to physical intimacy. The intention is also to prevent you from taking advantage of anyone unknowingly or being taken advantage of by anyone.
Sex-ed is not a rule book. It’s a toolbox to guide and ensure that you have more control over your life.
It is important to understand that pornography is NOT sex education. Porn should never be your primary source for understanding sex. Learning sex from porn is like learning about relationships from a Hollywood or Bollywood movie. Things may seem good or bad, but they just don’t work that way in real life.
Pornography is fantasy that people enjoy as entertainment and fiction. It’s not ‘real’.
Sex-ed is not only for people from other cultures. Many conservative people believe that sex education is only needed in Western countries because their culture allows pre-marital sex. This, however, is not the case. This education is for everyone because we all have the right and the need to understand our own bodies and seek help for issues related to our well-being, sexual well-being included.
Comprehensive sexuality education
A lot of people turn to pornography (or porn) to learn about sex. However, as shared earlier, sex education (or sex-ed) is completely different from porn.
With increasing awareness about the need for sex education, more and more NGOs and organizations are running programs on sex education. So far, sex education in India can be divided into three spaces:
- education aimed at adolescents
- family planning for adults
- education around HIV/AIDS prevention
Information on female menstrual hygiene, sexual abuse, ‘good-touch-bad-touch’, are also some topics that have been given importance by the media and the taboo around them has reduced marginally. These topics are extremely important, but there is a lot more to sex education than this.
In order to refer to the wide range of themes and topics that are covered under sex education, many people prefer the term ‘comprehensive sexuality education’.
‘Comprehensive Sexuality Education’ is a broad-ranging subject that helps people gain knowledge, attitudes, skills and values related to making healthy choices in their sexual lives.
Here is an overview of some of the aspects that comprehensive sex-ed covers:
- the physical, emotional and mental changes a person goes through during puberty
- the components of the reproductive system
- understanding gender and sexuality
- social and cultural influences that shape our understanding of sex
- understanding consent, boundaries and decision making
- sex for pleasure — solo or partnered
- sexually transmitted diseases — causes, symptoms, and prevention
- sexual assault and laws to safeguard
- impact of mainstream media and porn, and their impact
It’s a long list. Don’t worry if a lot of things seem unfamiliar. We at Lokyatha hope to simplify things for you through our content.
How soon should sex-ed start?
Medical health professionals, sex educators and child specialists suggest that sex education should start much before puberty. Many suggest it should begin from when children are toddlers; as early as three or four years old. It is now well established by educators, that it is critical to introduce young children to the concepts of ‘good-touch-bad-touch’ and ‘stranger-danger’ early on.
Sex education is equally important for adults who are parents or caregivers of children.
Learning to listen to children’s discomfort when we force them to sit on someone’s lap or hug or kiss a relative is also a part of the much-needed education that adults need for instance. The attitude of not believing children when they report sexual abuse is another major area of learning for a lot of adults.
More such articles will help you go deeper into the various aspects of sex education. We at Lokyatha are keen on helping you build your toolbox for holistic, safe, and fulfilling relationships.
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