When was the last time you heard or read about the word “sex”? Probably in the context of discussing genders. Or maybe in a casual conversation with your friends. But beyond that, have you ever heard of an informative conversation amongst adults discussing the act itself? The probability of you having had sex is a lot more than you hearing about it in an educational, informative format. It is a taboo subject to talk about in public and this taboo is one reason for increasing gender-based crimes in the world.
We need to normalize the word, and everything remotely associated with the word “sex”. Now you may ask, what do we mean when we say normalize? Do we normalize the act? Or the word? Or both? Or everything related to that?
But first, let us ask ourselves, when do we first study reproduction in humans? Probably in our school, standards 8 to 10. Now, recall how the teacher taught us this subject. For most of us, the teacher either skipped the subject-matter altogether for self-learning or purposefully lost the very essence of that lesson! You may have heard in that lesson about the union of male and female gametes and the zygote formed out of it. But did you learn how sperm enters into the female reproductive system to fuse with an egg? Probably you know now, but perhaps you did not know at that time. These gametes fuse because of a fundamental, naturally intrinsic, essential process which is called sex. Many people do not know that there is a difference between sperm and semen and also what happens during a woman’s periods!
By normalizing, we are talking about normalizing the process, not making a taboo out of it, and keeping in mind that this process is as natural as drinking water when feeling thirsty, eating food when feeling hungry, and excreting and urinating when feeling heavy down the bowels. The only clear difference we should keep in mind is, we can eat food, drink water, inhale air without others’ consent as these are inanimate things but while having sex with someone, it must be consensual because the other person is as animate as you and has the right to have a choice and say NO if it isn’t their choice!
When talking about sex, reproductive health is an important aspect that needs to be understood and practiced. Most schools do not encourage and talk about sexuality, so students often tend to feel awkward when they come across discussions on such topics. When reliable sources deprive young minds of the information to quench their curiosity, these young minds turn to the bad actors of the society for information including porn sites and other unreliable sources of information like friends who often tend to exaggerate the process and increase the expectation of young people to a certain level. This could lead people into bad play and problems for everyone and society at large.
Children should not feel ashamed or ignorant of sex and teaching them exclusively abstinence can lead some students to view the entire subject as taboo. Students exit elementary and junior high school feeling clueless about what a healthy relationship looks or feels like and are filled with an endless amount of doubts and uncertainties. Only when we start talking about it publicly, we will be able to avoid a lot of misunderstanding and doubts when it comes to sex. Along the lines, spreading awareness for safe sexual practices is the need of the hour. As natural as the process is, the more important it gets to get to the depth of understanding the outcomes as it includes not just yours but another person’s life as well. By taking the necessary measures, you save two lives. When we talk about breaking down such regressive thoughts, another important thing to keep in mind is treating sex workers with just as much dignity as any other job. Often this community ends up being marginalized and generally overlooked, ridiculing and looking down on someone for doing a job that circumstances may have forced them is essentially what we should avoid doing.
Sex education is an important tool to understand that there is a social aspect related to sex and it is not always about reproduction, but also about the intrinsic attraction a person feels about the other(s). Whenever a science lesson discusses this topic, it fundamentally leaves behind this social aspect and just tries to cosmetically deal with the question “How are human babies produced?”. By normalizing sex, we intend to imbibe this social aspect related to sex among individuals during their tender age so that they don’t take things for granted and learn to respect the opinions and choices of others in the future.
Now, what exactly does sex education deal with? It discusses knowing our reproductive organs and making people aware of the diversity we have in the world! Next is about how they function and what should be done to not make them less efficient for the purpose for which they exist. Then it must ideally go on to explain the diversity our world has in terms of sexual orientations and feelings which normally a society does not explain because of the prevalence of binary genders and straight orientation. We must know from a younger age that there exist many sexual orientations and genders than we probably may think of because that will ultimately lead to a society that accepts all people as they are without having a fear or a stereotype towards them.
As the topic demands, we must take our time and appreciate the fact that there exist cultures and societies which do celebrate every aspect of life including but not limited to menstruation, or being a non-binary person, etc. We have Kamakhya Temple in Assam, Koothandavar Temple in Tamil Nadu, celebrating the aspects mentioned above. We as a society should evolve in such a way that these people who were historically excluded from the mainstream because of them being themselves should find an inclusive environment beyond their safe spaces. We must truly appreciate the equality of potential in every individual and know the difference between equality and diversity. This can be achieved through sex education. Also, this education can be further taken up to teach what is good and bad and what should we keep away from ourselves.
Silence on sex can negatively affect how we treat women and girls. When women and girls are told that they can’t dress a certain way, for example, we internalize misogyny and repress their freedom of expression. The freedom of expression can help in the liberation of women and in this process, encourage more conversation about sexuality and sexual expression. Everyone, including the LGBT community, asexual people, virgins, celibates, and those in a healthy consensual adult relationship should be accepted without any discrimination and shaming. Your choices should not be shunned only because the society does not accept it for it is the society that needs to move beyond its limited reach and accept everyone along with their preferences.
Another stigma we come across when talking about sex is that of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases). People are ashamed to get it checked and often tend to neglect any pain or discomfort they feel. While it is understandable to fear something which we are not aware of, the problem with this is that it often prevents people from getting diagnosed on time which leads to greater problems. By ignoring our sexual health, we are not helping anyone but rather opening a doorway to more STIs instead. By coming forth, we invite more conversations regarding the use of contraceptives and how it could help us avoid this situation in the first place. Contraceptives have benefits ranging from pregnancy-related morbidity and mortality, reduction in reproductive cancers as well as in the prevention of HIV, chlamydia, and other STDs.
We often come across articles regarding sexual abuse, but is that all? Most of the cases are not reported out of fear and due to a lack of knowledge. By talking about it, we can instill confidence and help countless lives. The day we can freely talk about sex, only then will we be able to discuss topics such as sexual abuse publicly. Shying away only creates fear in the minds of the victims and the inexperienced.
-Mihir and Rohit