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Sex education: Still taboo in India
Madhumita Pandey  11th Oct 2014

"Does masturbation cause any harm?" "Is it ok to have intercourse before the age of 18?" "Can oral sex cause pregnancy?" These are just a few of the many questions that are dwelling in the minds of our teenagers and have not yet been answered.

Being a teen is not easy. We have all been there and seen the good as well as the ugly side of it. However, why do we — teachers, parents and guardians — conveniently change the topic when our children raise questions about sex? It is important to understand that sex education is more than just talking about sexual intimacy. It caters to a wide spectrum of issues such as reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and contraceptives along with gender identity and self worth.

Data from the World Health Organisation has shown that about 16 million women between the ages of 15 and 19 years give birth every year, which contributes towards 11% of all births worldwide. In India, out of every 1,000 women we have 62 pregnant teens. Of course, to an extent, these alarming numbers can be attributed to the child marriages that still take place in the rural parts, but lately, in the urban areas, we've witnessed an increasing number of young women rushing to private clinics to get abortions or reaching out to the local drug stores for abortion pills.

"Today, there is a lot of information available to children at the click of a mouse. Sex education not only helps our young adults to sift through this barrage of information and make informed choices but also teaches them to respect each other's boundaries. It makes them aware of the laws and acts that are there to safeguard their interests", says Rita Sen, principal, Delhi Public School, Rohini.

We all can agree that sex education is an important tool, but here's what we need to address — which methodology should be implied when imparting this knowledge: a comprehensive approach, or one based on abstinence? Many people believe that given our cultural and religious sentiments it is better to promote abstinence. On the other hand, a comprehensive approach believes that one must be provided with the right knowledge about sexuality and development and then it is their personal choice whether to have sex or not.

However, it is safe to assume that a combination of both approaches can be formalised, which will be more in sync with the changing times and traditions of our country. Here are a few pointers for discussing sexuality:

1. One must find comfortable and civil terms to avoid awkwardness while discussing sex.

2. Children must be made to understand that when in a relationship, it is important to talk about what feels right and what is uncomfortable.

3. Discuss "good touch" and "bad touch", while discussing that it is okay to say "yes" but at the same time one must also learn to say a firm "no".

4. Instead of focusing on abstinence, we can promote the culture of committed healthy relationships and make the children aware of the risks of having multiple sexual partners.

5. Let us break the myths about periods! It's about time we normalise menstruation for both girls and boys.

6. Contraceptives should not only be used to avoid unwanted pregnancy but to also prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Girls should be encouraged to visit a gynecologist for routine check-ups and boys should also visit their physician once every six months to prevent abnormalities such as rashes, tumours, lesions and cancer.

Let us no longer use culture and tradition as excuses. Children have the right to know about the various ways in which sexuality is related to their development and we should provide them the knowledge they require to make informed decisions and maintain healthy relationships.

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