Lost Innocence

Sex education is an imperative in India. But does it have to be taught so crudely and superficially?

Sanjay Kapoor

When we were kids, we did not get sex education in school. We picked up all we needed to know by class six or seven when we started flipping through biology books and dwelling long on the chapter on 'Reproduction'.  We were like the thumb-sucking Linus, the little boy in the Peanuts comic strip, who on hearing Charlie Brown tell him about the discovery of a condom in the courtyard, asks what a 'courtyard' is. Yes, we knew how we were made and what it takes to make one like us. And dammit, we learnt it on our own!

Yes, sourcing this information got us all worked up. We would exchange furtive glances when we were going through the 'naughty' stuff, but it was all part of the growing up process. In our parents eyes we remained innocent.  My family was not necessarily prudish, but did we talk about 'sex'. I am sure this also held true for my classmates who were well-armed with the facts of life before they hit their teens without having to join a class to find out how the bees, the birds and the Indians do it.

Things are quite different in many schools in Delhi now. Some years ago, when my son was in class six or seven, he came back from school and excitedly told us that he would be attending a sex education workshop organised by his school. He told us his class would be given a 'demonstration' and they would also be allowed to ask questions about   matters 'sexual'. I was a touch curious about what they would teach in this class where there were more girls than boys. My wife and I were tempted to check with the school as to who   the 'teachers and demonstrators' imparting sex education were. But we eventually didn't and gave our son the permission he needed to attend the workshop when he said, “Everyone is participating”.

When he returned from school, his face was flushed and he looked a touch embarrassed. We asked him what he learnt in class that day but he brushed our questions aside by saying, “The usual stuff”. We wanted to hear more about the “usual stuff” but he refused to be persuaded. That night, when his mother wanted to kiss him goodnight, she found him turning away. Next morning, he would not give her a hug before leaving for school. We were a bit confused by this behaviour after his sex education class.

When he came back from school, he claimed that there were “too many gays in the neighbourhood”. Impressed by his ability to identify people of diverse sexuality, I asked him how he had figured that out. He said categorically, “They had arms over each other's shoulders.” “That's the way we walked with friends a long time ago in school,” I told him. “No, we were told in the class how to identify gay behaviour,” he said. While it is possible that some of the people whom he saw were gay, surely his method of identifying sex patterns, as taught to him, was erroneous. 

Even though it was difficult to get anything out of him about what transpired in the class, he told us in bits and pieces how the demonstrators play-acted the sex act. They also put a condom over a banana and performed a few more unmentionable acts. Those who conducted the workshop may have taken the sex out of the closet, but they did something else that was quite unpardonable—they took the innocence out of this child and made him look at close relationships through a sexual prism. He has outgrown many of the fears and apprehensions that surfaced in his mind after he attended that workshop, but I think there is a definite case for the government to take a harder look at the way sex education is imparted in schools. Sex education is an imperative given the high number of sexually abused children in India. But the curriculum needs to be designed better, teachers need to be trained, and the entire exercise conducted keeping the Indian reality and Indian sensitivities in mind.

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