The recent remarks of the Union Minister for Health have sparked off a controversy on sex education. To be more specific, his remarks have for the first time sparked off a debate on what is good sex education vis-à-vis what is vulgar sex education. In a way I am heartened at this emerging debate because back during my day, sex education per se was considered vulgar and inappropriate.
Never the less, the remarks of the Minister reflect a regressive and premature understanding of sex and values in general, which needs to be urgently addressed.
At the outset, the advocacy of “Indian values” almost immediately reminds us of its antithesis, viz., western values. The average Indian has come to associate western values with promiscuity, teenage pregnancies and skimpy attire, while our hypocrisy has created a demand for “item songs” of Bollywood (Item? Really?!).
To me, the dichotomy of “western” and “Indian” values that has emerged in our collective conscience is highly skewed and outright inappropriate. After all, the concept of abstinence and fidelity is most ferociously prescribed in Christianity, whose reflection remains the provisions pertaining to adultery and carnal intercourse “against the order of nature” in the Indian Penal Code.
On the other hand, Indian history reveals generous instances of multiple marriages and concubines, especially among the power elites, which find little or no explicit condemnation in our scriptures. Because our scriptures realized perhaps that it is impossible to regulate this facet of human life.
Secondly, the west also needs to be credited for producing the likes of Dostoyevski and Karl Marx, whose philosophies have redefined the way we approach society and human beings for the better. In today’s day and age, such dichotomies of “western” and “Indian” values, have no relevance and we need to align our thinking towards the one objective standard of behaviour, namely, human rights.
Have you notice that our magazines repeat the same tips for sexual pleasure over and over again and the magazine covers sell the publication through advertising the same. A woman in a bikini advertises cement while another suggestive image of a woman appears in an advertisement for marble flooring. These are all examples to show that we stalk, obsess and Lech after sex, only to do so in secret because it is shameful.
Why? The American and Indian societies resemble each other in their perception of sex. Conservatives and liberals demonize the concept of sex and over-glorify it, respectively. As a teenager or a young adult, we are either told that sex is evil, especially so outside of marriage or that it is “a divine experience”. Notwithstanding the nature of sex education at schools, these are the two principal schools of thought around sex. We are obsessed with sex, either because we hate it or we because we can’t stop thinking about it, given how “awesome” it is.
But at the end of the day, as one is instinctively drawn to breathe air, eat food and drink water, the same is true with sex. Neither is virginity a virtue, nor is the absence of it, a sin or a right of passage. To associate one’s value in society, based simply on reproductive activity is doing injustice to the evolution of mankind into civilised societies.
While there could be biological success associated with multiple sexual partners, no one should care about the same in reality. Sex is simply what it is, a human process in the journey of life. When we take the stigma and the glory out of sex, we temper down the significance and obsession around it. In that atmosphere, sex becomes an individual choice free of judgement and hopefully is left to the realms of an individual’s privacy.
Sex education needs to address these points and celebrate discussions around them, failing which our people will be lost in a sexually explicit world with no way of understanding their bodies’ reaction to such stimulus.
Thirdly we need to develop a way of life around the definition of consent as a “clear unambiguous yes”. While legally speaking, there is no rape as long as this standard of consent was present in the sexual encounter, the matter is more complex outside of law. More often than not I hear girls consenting to sex under the assumption that the relationship was going to last forever.
When the relationship breaks apart, the girl, more than the boy, suffers from negative judgement from her support circle, critical loss of self esteem and guilt. Why does this happen? I suspect that the origins of this behaviour can be attributed to the web of ignorance around sexual behaviour society has built.
We don’t discuss the sociological and psychological perspectives around sex and we don’t infuse enough self esteem and self confidence among our children, so that they learn to respect their own decisions and choices. Plus, we tell them that sexual pleasure, as an end in itself is absolutely wrong and force them to kid themselves by developing fictions of the relationship being certain and permanent.
The young boys and girls of this country need to realise that, a relationship doesn’t last until it has actually lasted. As an individual, you consent to sex for the sake of the experience itself and not for the sake of the relationship lasting forever. Regardless of the relationship lasting forever or not and in the absence of health problems and under the premise of tenderness, sensitivity and mutual comfort, sex will be an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.
Therefore, the motive for any couple to have sex, should be celebrating the intimacy already achieved, and not to secure or celebrate the intimacy that may or may not be achieved one day. So if the man says lets have sex, otherwise the relationship won’t last, both the man and the woman need to be equipped to not kid themselves or fool themselves in such a manner.
The controversy around sex education will always revolve around notions of consent and human behaviour, as opposed to the biology of it. No one disputes that men have penises and women have vaginas and it takes the two to tango in case of hetrosexual couples.
It is beyond dispute that STDs are a risk and so are unplanned pregnancies. The question thus remains of behavioural patterns and notions of consent and societal perceptions thereof. But should society bother to define a perception of sexual behaviour of individuals at all?
Rather, let us teach our kids to embrace free will and reasoning and allow them the choices. Somehow, I suspect that such an approach will do more to curb exploitation and violence, than moral science classes ever could.