17 year old Puja is scared of intimacy while 19 year old Rohan is still confused about what exactly goes on under the sheets when his favourite on-screen couple dim the lights and start kissing. 22 year old Anandi is still debating whether she should pay heed to her desires because apparently, these things are “wrong”. 13 year old Vishal doesn’t like the way his uncle rubs his leg against his, but he doesn’t really know why…
Doesn’t all of these sound a bit too familiar? If you’re nodding right now or muttering a “yes” under your breath, then let me tell you—you’re not alone. India is filled with people lacking even the most basic sexual awareness and all of us have encountered one or the other above situations in our lives.
It’s the need of the hour to wake India’s youth out of this indifference and inculcate in them the proper sexual awareness, the importance of sex education and a healthy sex life. Why, you ask? Well, let’s dive right into it!
What is Sexual Health?
When we hear the term “sexual health,” we usually associate it with protection from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Well, even though practicing sexual activities in a safe environment, with proper protective measures to stay away from STDs like AIDS, Syphilis or any other fungal or bacterial infection, and unwanted pregnancies are the major aspects of sexual health, there is more to it.
A sexually healthy individual is someone who has come to terms with and has accepted their sexuality, sexual urges, drives and desires. He/ She/ They are a person who does not shy away from embracing their sexual side and expressing it in the way they want. They are confident and have a strong sense of self and body autonomy, and they cannot be coaxed into performing any sexual act against their will.
Sexual health also includes a sound sensitivity towards abuse or bad touch. A sexually healthy individual finds it easier to identify and report abuse because they don’t have any ambiguity regarding the kind of touches or sexual advances that are appropriate and those that aren’t.
Misrepresentation of Sex in Schools
The mere mention of the term “sex” is often prohibited in most schools, especially the ones in India. Students are made to believe that even talking about sex is wrong. Sex in schools is represented almost as a punishable offense, something unnatural and grotesque in nature. Children, as a result, inculcate the notion that sex is an act of transgression, something that is outside the course of the natural. They start to consider sex as something that one should stay away from.
While this is the picture in most of the schools, some schools and teachers do take upon themselves the rather “uncomfortable” responsibility of educating the students about sexual health and the process of intercourse. But, more often than not, such initiatives result in giving rise to even more repulsion in students regarding sex and more confusion.
First and foremost, they represent sex as an act that takes place exclusively between a man and a woman, thus completely disregarding all the other forms of sexuality and sexual preference, other than heterosexual mating. Furthermore, they go on to explain it as an activity that is performed, keeping a single goal in mind, that is, of conceiving a child. Such an idea about sex not only fails to take under its purview the importance of pleasure, the factor of desire, but, it makes intercourse sound like an extremely mechanical act. The emotional aspect of sex is completely avoided as well.
Owing to such faulty notions, more than half of the population grow up as clueless adults, completely unaware of what the words “sex” or “intercourse” actually entail and what their sexual needs are. As a result, they fail to explore and express their sexuality and desires and thus, go on to lead a complicated, convoluted and unfulfilling sex life.
Lack Of Sex Education in India
Sex has been treated as a taboo topic in India from time immemorial. Talking about sex, expressing sexual desires, or even showing affection towards one’s partner in public is considered indecent by most Indians. In such a conservative setup, most people do not receive any sort of sexual education. Instead, teenagers and young adults are taught to stay away from sexual dalliances. Incidents of adolescents or young lovers and sexual partners being shunned in public are not unheard of in our country. All of this stems from years of ingraining shame in the mindset of people and generations of neglect and aloofness towards sex education.
According to research, there are about 190 million adolescents in India, among whom 30% are illiterate. Among the educated population, only few have access to sex education. This can be again traced back to ages of negligence and “hush-hush”-ing around the topic of sex. Teachers, especially in rural areas, have even been reported to have faced violence and received threats when they have wanted to conduct sex education drives in their schools. In many cases, parents have been reported to protest against sex education as well. This is because most of the Indian societies believe that sex education might drive the youngsters “haywire” and “steer” them towards sexual activities, which is seen as an act of transgression. Such a view is a result of the disregard towards teenagers’ curiosity towards the subjects of sex and desire.
Very few schools and institutions have been reported to conduct campaigns and programs for spreading awareness regarding sexual health and harassment. But such campaigns mostly take under their purview the topics of safe sex, bad touch and good touch. Teenagers are made aware of contraception, the practice of using condoms, dental dams, etc. and how to distinguish and call out an incident of abuse. But they remain uninformed about the plethora of other important aspects that should be a part of a sex education drive as well. They aren’t educated about the idea of how one’s mind, body and sexual impulses should be in harmony with each other. Masturbation is another important aspect of teenage sexual life which too, is more often than not left out from the sex-ed curriculum of Indian schools and institutes.
The poor sexual health of Indian adolescents and adults points towards the increasing need and importance of sex education in India.
Effects Of Poor Knowledge about Sex in Teenagers
Teenage in itself is hard to deal with as it posits several physical, emotional and physiological challenges. If poor sexual health is added to that, it can affect one’s overall health and well-being to a large extent. Lack of sex education contributes to poor sexual health immensely. Following are some of the effects of poor sexual health in teenagers:
Unwanted Pregnancy: Unwanted pregnancy is one of the most common problems teenage and young adult girls today deal with. Lack of knowledge regarding proper usage of contraceptives and protection during sex leads to such a situation. This not only affects a girl physically, but it has major emotional implications as well. An unwanted pregnancy essentially comes as a shock, and teenagers find it extremely difficult to deal with. Having to choose between abortion and becoming a teenage mother, dealing with family members, having to take leave from school and many such situational implications become complicated. In a lot of cases, the girl is even abandoned by her partner post the detection of the pregnancy, and she’s left to deal with it alone, which can have detrimental effects on her mental health.
Contracting STDs: Teenagers are at a high risk of contracting STDs or Sexually Transmitted Diseases. These include AIDS (the most fatal, life-threatening STD), Syphilis, Chlamydia, Genital herpes and many more. Transmission of STDs occurs owing to a lack of precautions during sex, which again stem from poor knowledge about sex. STDs, if left untreated, can even lead to death.
Depression and Anxiety: Poor sexual health can act as a catalyst towards deteriorating mental health. Deprivation of sexual desires, sexual abuse or inability to embrace one’s sexuality can trigger anxiety attacks and depressive episodes which can further lead to chronic depression. Guilt associated with masturbation has also been found out to have a damaging effect on a teenager’s psyche.
Substance Abuse Problems: Poor knowledge about sex, might lead to poor mental health, which can further lead to substance abuse problems in teenagers. Dealing with trauma owing to abuse or dealing with depression owing to shame or inability to accept one’s sexuality or sexual deprivation takes a toll on young minds, and many of them have been reported to turn towards drugs or alcohol in search of momentary relief.
Proper sex education covering every aspect of sexual health is the only solution for salvaging poor sexual awareness in today’s teens and adults, especially in India. While the schools and other institutions should take the onus upon themselves to educate people on sexual health, families and individuals should take this responsibility upon themselves as well. The stigma and concept of shame associated with sex and discussion around the same should be removed. Talking about sex and sexual health without using innuendos or silly abbreviations should be normalized. Everyone deserves a safe space to talk about and express their sexuality. Sensitizing adolescents regarding matters around sexual health will help them become mature and responsible adults. It will help them to deal with their sexual health adequately.
ThatMate app, with its informative content, is always there to help you gather more knowledge regarding the sexual and mental health of teenagers and adults. Remember, change starts with you. Start generating a conversation today. A small step of yours might prove to be a large step in the path of spreading sexual awareness in our country and the world as a whole.