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What shall not be named

Sex is a reality of life; it should not remain a taboo subject

We often find pride in letting the world know that the Kama Sutra was written by an Indian scholar in the 3rd century, yet find it extremely difficult to openly talk about sex here in the 21st century. Homologous to the Dark Lord, sex and topics surrounding it are considered taboo even today. Many claim that educating adolescents about sex and safe practices will increase their urge to indulge in sexual activity and possibly result in teen pregnancies, but the reality is quite the contrary.

In India, too many parents choose to live in denial, assuming that their kids don’t want to know about sex, or even think about it. But in reality, 19.7 million young Indians aged 15-19 years, either married or unmarried, are sexually active. This accounts for 19% of the total population. Ignoring the fact that adolescents are curious not only about sex but also their own bodies and sexuality is like living in a fantasy land. The National Family Health Survey-3 showed that among adolescents who had sex before age 20, the average age at first sex for girls is 16.2 years and for boys 17.2 years. Contrary to the claim, this shows that sexual activity among adolescents is prevalent even in the absence of sex education. The survey also found that 74% of the adolescents who were sexually active were not using any kind of protection, thus putting them at a high risk of unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and worse.

More important, around four million people in India are estimated to be HIV positive, the highest proportion for any country in the world. Young adults aged 10-19 constitute 30% of this proportion, a whopping 1.2 million adolescents. Recent Unicef statistics show that only 34.5% of adolescent males and 18.6% of adolescent females have comprehensive knowledge of HIV and its transmission. Lack of awareness about such a virus among the youth puts these young adults at high risk.

To counter abuse

Additionally, more than 53% of children face sexual abuse in India and in most cases the perpetrator is someone known to them. The need for a channel that will teach them to identify abuse and create a safe atmosphere to speak up about it is more than ever before. Some schools provide sex education to adolescents; however, these schools constitute a small proportion of the total and there is no data on what is being taught in the name of sex education.

The authorities have long promoted a regressive policy under the pretext of culture; however, history was created in 2010 when the then health minister declared that sex education should be banned from schools as it promotes sexual activity among adolescents and goes against Indian culture. The World Health Organization published a study titled ‘Effects of Sex Education on Young People’s Sexual Behaviour’, showing that sex education does not encourage sex among adolescents. On the contrary, it delays the start of sexual activity, reduces sexual activity among young people and encourages safer sex practices. Arguments about culture and morality surrounding sex education are thus baseless.

We fail to understand that like death, sex is an undeniable reality of life. More often than not, parents are reluctant to provide relevant and medically accurate information about sex to their kids because of the stigma associated with sex. In an era where adolescents have access to so many information outlets, some of them inaccurate, it is important to provide them with comprehensive and medically accurate information — from using contraception to exploring sexuality. Implementing a positive framework at home and beyond would help millions of adolescents to cope with their changing bodies, create a safe atmosphere for them to discuss and debunk myths and possibly create a sexually healthy generation.

cjohn7@bu.edu

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 11:45:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/what-shall-not-be-named/article18515220.ece

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