Why India needs to change its approach towards sexuality education

Governments, schools and families must work together to ensure universal access to comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents

Updated - June 11, 2022 07:35 pm IST

Published - June 11, 2022 12:20 pm IST

 Informed educators and better teaching methodologies can lead to better sexual education and awareness.

 Informed educators and better teaching methodologies can lead to better sexual education and awareness.

Across the world, studies have demonstrated the need for comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents (between 10 and 19 years), which can mitigate issues like health problems, sexual and gender-based violence, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases, among others. Sexuality education is also important to empower young people to make informed decisions about their bodies and maintain healthy relationships in their lives. 


Yet, in India, like in many other countries, there is discomfort and resistance to the very idea. Myths, misconceptions, and taboos pervade all sections of society and the focus is often on policing young people, instead of providing them accurate information and services. What we need is informed educators, better teaching methodologies, and change in social and cultural norms to counter what is a great socio-economic threat to India’s future.

The lack of proper sex education is already a cause of myriad social problems. According to one study, the first sex for a majority of young people in India is unprotected. For a sizeable proportion of young women (between 15 and 24 years), it is forced. Another study, commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, reported that more than 53% of children in 13 states reported one or more forms of sexual abuse. India also has the third-highest number of people living with HIV in the world.

These issues can be addressed through effective sexuality education. A study conducted among Portuguese university students showed that students who received sexuality education in school had a reduced risk of venereal diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and abortions. It also found a positive correlation between receiving sexuality education and the use of contraceptives, knowledge, motivation and skills.

Given the taboo around sex in India, sexuality education is imparted under the wider umbrella of “Life Skills” education through programmes such as the Adolescent Education Programme (AEP) and Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK). However, the unwillingness to openly discuss these issues means that complete and accurate information is often not imparted. While information can be accessed in a safe and anonymous environment on the Internet, it can also be a source of misinformation and, more dangerously, a site of abuse and exploitation.

Sexuality education needs to be delivered in effective, empathetic, and age-appropriate ways. For this, we must involve teachers and parents, given that they are uniquely well-positioned to address adolescents’ issues. They need to make children feel comfortable and see them as reliable sources of information.

Way forward

Discussing sensitive issues — such as gender, reproductive health, violence, and relationships — in a classroom setting can be very challenging. It is difficult to break the ice and build a safe environment where the students can open up, and interact freely without shame and stigma. Teachers need job aids and tools such as games, quizzes, videos, and other communication material to deal effectively with such issues. They also need the skills to engage and mobilise parents.

Students should not depend solely on teachers and parents, but also need access to platforms where they can directly access resources. Setting up health clubs in schools and colleges is critical not just to access information but also other health services.

We also need to leverage technology by creating and promoting platforms for sexuality education. We need to offer safe spaces for adolescents to have conversations, and dispel sex-related myths and taboos. Going forward, governments, educational institutions, and civil society organisations will need to work in collaboration and acknowledge that there is a long journey ahead to ensure universal access to comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents.

Poonam Muttreja is Executive Director, Population Foundation of India.

Riya Thakur is the Senior Specialist, Youth and Adolescence at the Population Foundation of India.

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