By Samira Bose
Edited by Nidhi Singh, junior Editor, The Indian Economist
A recent comment by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on banning of sex education in schools was received (but of course!) with considerable attention by the Media. It also made waves on social networking sites, where people both extolled and condemned his remarks and it was quite pleasing to see how just the mere use of the two words ‘sex’ and ‘education’ together could send a lot of people reeling and spouting their own views from their own social contexts.
All this led me to think back on how I had felt in my pre-pubescent years about this scintillating and at the same time rather hushed up ideas of ‘sex and sexuality’. I was confused, for the longest time, about bodies. I did not understand the attraction that men felt towards breasts, I did not understand why sometimes ‘girls have to cover up’, I could not for the life of me fathom why after a certain age my childhood best friend (who was a boy) and I could not bathe together any longer. I could not understand why people mocked those on the streets who were apparently ‘cross dressed’. I definitely did not understand why the old man in the park called out to me when I was merely six years old, why he held my body and slobbered all over my face on the pretext of asking me to help him up.
Thankfully my mother and I had a ‘talk’ after this about not only molestation, but periods as well, so when I did finally have mine I was more than aware of the situation. My aunt, however, told me about how she cried for an entire day when she got hers because she thought she had a fatal disease and was too embarrassed to discuss it with her mother. I was myself embarrassed to tell my friends about my periods, I actively hid it and insisted on wearing sports bras that would conceal any ‘blossoming of my sexuality’ and was close to terrified by the idea that I was becoming a ‘woman’. After a certain age, however, when the boys started noticing girls and ‘curves’ as such, my insecurities about my lack of them began. A boy told me in 8th grade that I looked ‘stretched’ and I remember standing in front of the mirror and cursing my gawkiness and praying that I could look voluptuous.
The insecurities that I had at that age about my body had a very strong and lasting impression on me. As I grew older, society (and even my teachers) were telling me to conceal, our skirts were too short and tops too transparent and sexual exploration was a distressing albeit increasingly popular idea. The incident I had in my childhood especially caused me to have a shield around me, and as I was judged, I began judging the girls (or women, however you want to refer to them) around me. It was not only about the women, the boys were clearly going through a confusing stage as well, sometimes the comments that they passed or the discussions that they had about girls and their bodies were hurtful as well as wistful and a lot of what they said or did was driven by society rather than what they actually felt.
Though we all had sex education in middle school, people still stifled their laughter when we labelled genitalia and my Biology teacher still told us that ‘sex is bad’. I understand that my delving into the way I might have had ‘sex education’ at an impressionable age is just a microscopic reflection of what children feel about their bodies and sex. However, I want to highlight the confusion and the insecurity. These feelings are in no way limited to Indian culture, however there were many comments passed about how I need to be a ‘good Indian girl’ and curb my sexuality rather than embrace it. It is understandable that safety is a high consideration but there appeared no logic in why the teachers in school randomly began judging the girls after a certain age. Children are also extremely insensitive, they voice whatever they feel without thinking twice. I am sure that a lot of children who might be confused about their sexuality, and those who wanted to dress differently or had sexual leanings that were not common must have been completely distraught. We have all been disturbed about this, especially in a country like India where there is a completely hypocritical and dichotomous view towards the very idea of sexuality.
My own ambiguity about my idea of sex and sexuality still exists, my conceptions keep changing and I am trying to be open to different views about it. However, I completely disagree with the idea of banning or limiting sex education. In fact, I feel that it should be made multi-dimensional. Children do not only need to learn about how to embrace their bodies and its changes, they need to know about how sexuality is actually a prism. They need to understand that these are all social constructs. They need to be able to know enough to understand how to deal with perfectly natural and biological feelings and at the same time get introduced to the notion that these can be misused. The more you try to douse curiosity, the more it will manifest itself in unhealthy ways. A very important factor that was missing in my sex education was lack of awareness of the different social and cultural dimensions involved in sexuality, and this interpolation in education will definitely increase the sensitivity of an individual to the idea that we can all celebrate our bodies and differences in our own ways.
Samira Bose is a student of History and Mystery. She questions incessantly, revels in the rain and listens to the breeze. She yearns for clarity but at the same time seeks confusion and she wants her life to be analogous to the sea. She wants to become many people and wishes to be overwhelmed by experience. Most importantly, she hopes to become a story-teller. Tell her your thoughts and stories at [email protected]