“At your age, you’re going to have a lot of urges. You’re going to want to take off your clothes, and touch each other. But if you do touch each other, you *will* get chlamydia... and die.”
- Coach Carr, Mean Girls
If you were amongst the lucky few to sit through a sex ed class in India, chances are it sounded a lot like the one in Mean Girls. And we say ‘lucky’ because for a lot of people, this was never a conversation they had - some places have even banned sex ed classes altogether. What’s more, is that some of these classes were held in the guise of ‘hygiene’ - not addressing sex in the way that a sexual education class should. We were mighty intrigued with the Indian Health Ministry’s resource kit meant to revolutionize the way we address sex - it goes so far as to say that a boy having feelings for another boy is okay, in fact - natural. Wondering what sex ed was like for others in their youth, we asked people to share their experiences with us. While some are down right scary, others lend up in that all is not lost in the abyss that is sexual education in India.
I. Mehak Rampal
“In CBSE Grade 10, there are two chapters on ‘Life Processes’. One of them explains human reproduction in a fair amount of detail. My biology teacher was a slow reader. Each period was about 40 minutes but with her pace of reading it felt more like 80. But the day she was going through Life Processes, she gave Shankar Mahadevan (read: Breathless) a run for his money! We were baffled for many reasons but what came next day was the icing on the cake. We had a sex-ed class talking about how there are ‘urges’ and how they can be handled. But in the situation where these ‘urges’ cannot be controlled, we must know what a condom is and how it works.
The lady conducting the session turned around to my Biology teacher and handed her a banana and a condom. Madam Bio turned red! All of us kids were stifling laughter and turning red! It must be noted that 16 year old girls and boys are not very mature and we just gave in and burst out in giggle fits.
Madam Bio then slowly went on with slipping on a condom on a very ripe banana. The sex-ed lady then explained the workings of latex on a penis. It was probably the highlight of my life that year! I look back now and think that my school was fairly progressive, but Madam Bio probably needed to stop teaching grade 10 Life Processes.”
II. Sahib Sehmbey, 24 Years Old, JMS, Mumbai
“Had my first sex ed class in the 7th grade, I was in a co-ed school. When the topic came up for the first time in class, everyone was super awkward and nobody uttered a word. Our professor spoke about topics like sexual attraction, periods, same sex attraction, intercourse and STD’s. She also told us kissing spreads STD’s and how important it is to be protected at all times. But she never spoke about masturbation, it wasn’t a big deal though, most of the guys knew about it. Also in first year of degree college, in psychology class, our professor spoke about masturbation. And how it is very natural to masturbate. We had 117 girls and 3 guys in our class, so the entire 40 minute lecture she spoke about masturbation and how beautiful orgasms are. She ended her lecture by saying girls shouldn’t suppress it and guys can’t obviously hide it.
III. Dheeraj Kumar*, 22, Indian School in Al Ghubra, Muscat
“I studied in the Sultanate of Oman, in an all Indian School. In the 12th grade, there are 4 chapters on reproductive health (CBSE). Our teacher, who was usually really boring, suddenly got a gleam in his eyes and a spring in his step. He bet most of our parents would be shy to talk to us about this, so he took it upon himself to clear all doubts. Apart from the usual penis goes into vagina lecture, some of my favourite moments from that month were -
On the menstrual cycle:
“Usually people, when they see the red abstain from sex. But it’s the best time to have sex because women actually have an increased libido and there is absolutely zero chance of conception. No need to worry about condoms too!”
“There are some idiots who feel it’s a choice. But like Lady Gaga said, ‘They are born this way!’’
“Some conservative religious groups have posed this question. Is masturbation ethical? *Slams fist on the table* OF COURSE IT IS ETHICAL!! It is the most natural release for tensions built up inside young people like you.”
On breast feeding.
“Girls, you might think it’s a burden feeding a baby. But breastfeeding is good for it’s health. And it’s a very pleasant sensation for you all.”
Needless to say, we had a ball during these lessons. After this unit, he went back to his boring self teaching us about the application of yeast in the food industry and other random stuff we forgot, the moment the bell rang.”
IV. Meghana Ramakrishnan, 22, Bangalore
“I’m a 22 year old woman, currently residing in Bangalore. I’ve been born and brought up here my entire life. We had our first sex ed in 6th grade, and the girls were separated from the boys. It began with the regular introduction and we were obviously giddy headed teenagers so we were all excited. Firstly, the sex educator began by talking about periods and how you should wear a pad and the usual. Then she distributes free Whisper pads to all the girls. Thirdly, she goes on to draw a uterus on the board, mentions the process of the menstrual cycle. But here’s the best part, there was no mention of Clitoris, G spot, penetration and how sex really happened. But let’s keep that aside, there was no mention of the hymen!
The reason I knew these things in 6th grade is because I stole my mother’s 10th Standard Biology Textbook. I did some research as well and got to the details of how everything happens. But I did not know the exact location or the sensations felt by the clitoris or the G Spot. There was no mention of any sexual pleasure for women or the fact that some women get wet when they’re turned on. In fact the opposite happened. The educator said that if you ever get wet down there or see a liquid coming out of your vagina, go to the doctor immediately. And that stuck in my head. So when I experienced my first couple of hormone rushes through the body (usually when I saw my crush or when we first touched), I realized that I would get wet down there and for 4 years I freaked out ! I thought I was going to die and that I had cancer all because of that one lady. Finally, I had to get this doubt cleared, so I spoke to a professional and she explained exactly what happens and in simple PLAIN words - we get wet as a form of lubrication.
P.S : The boys were taught about their penis and how it functions and also a lot of them ran out after their sex ed class with joy saying that they had finally learnt the meaning of the word Fuck. Yes. That.”
V. Damini Kayathwal
“Is it still sex ed if you self educate yourself as a result of being a curious 12 year old teenager in a small town by Googling the word ‘sex’? I fondly remember that to be how my sex ed (to myself) was actually initiated - coming across porn first, biology second. My school did not conduct any kind of sex ed classes. It was a regular class on the chapter of Reproduction in Bio, and that barely counts as sex-ed.
In any case, my curiosity only grew after that and so I educated myself through internet porn to understand the practical aspects and reading Biology for the theoretical. Whisper India also used to come to our private school for conducting sessions on feminine hygiene, the video about and SOLELY about periods and their company’s pads. Unfortunately, a lot of girls that I met later in my life did not have the same privilege as I did - studying in a school like that, having internet connection. At 19, in University, they still thought it was unnatural to masturbate, Oral sex gave nothing but STDs, etc.”
VI. Kimsuka Iyer, 27 years old, Vidya Niketan School, Bangalore
“I went to school in Bangalore, and in the 7th grade we had a consultant (Phyllis Farias) come to talk to us all. They separated us by gender, and she spoke with the boys and girls separately. This wasn’t a sex ed class, it was more of a “your body is changing” talk. (Funnily enough, they only held a sex ed session in the 10th grade. Ha!). Anyway, on to my 7th grade story. This “consultant” spoke to us girls about how our bodies are changing, about menstruation, hormonal changes and so on. She then went on to discuss rape. It was at this point that the conversation took a pretty revolting turn. We were told that in order to avoid being raped, we shouldn’t wear tight fitting or revealing clothing because it would only attract unwanted attention from men. I remember sitting in the middle of the classroom, in shock. I wanted to say something, but no one around me seemed to have any sort of negative reaction to what she was saying, so unfortunately, I kept quiet.
I’m 27 now, but I still remember this like it was yesterday. I wish I had said something then - that awful woman had no business talking to young girls and boys about anything. UGHHH!!!! Still makes my blood boil.”
VII. Julian Manning, 23, Kodaikanal
“Honestly my sex-ed classes were pretty good. I think one of the best parts was that it was a co-ed class, instead of stupidly separating the genders. I mean for Christ’s sake, doing that is like saying, “hey little fuckers, we’re only gonna teach you half this crap and the rest is a puzzle ya’ll will have to figure out on your own.” Of course in the beginning we all took the piss out of the class, but the teachers were patient and tried to keep the class interesting.
One of the things I still remember is that they taught us to pinch the tip of a rubber when you roll it down your johnson, which makes it less likely the condom will explode. That’s happened to a few of my buds and never to me. We also did individual projects on STDs which was good awareness-wise. One issue I found was that the teachers (I don’t believe it was a fault of theirs, but more of ignoramus douchebaggery from the administration’s side) didn’t explain to us that sex is a healthy part of life. They still framed it in a bit of a taboo manner, which I think is silly. Teenagers have sex, that’s fine. Teenagers that have sex who don’t know how to be safe and feel guilty about sex means that they are more likely to hide their problems and stress themselves out. That is not fine.”
VIII. Amulya Chintaluri, 21, Hyderabad
“The sex-ed in my school was a course touched upon in 8th grade. Of course, “course” would imply a session longer than 45 minutes. It turned out to be the most awkward class because it began with the teacher saying, “I’m sure most of you already know about this, but since it is part of the course it is my duty to teach you this, as much as I’d rather avoid this,” followed by an instruction asking the boys to leave, which they did with nervous laughter. The teacher looked at us and asked those of us who’ve already had our first period to raise our hands - she seemed impressed and those who did not, looked more uncomfortable than ever.
Thus began the telling of the story which explained how babies were made, followed by an explanation of how not to have babies if we didn’t want one. Different types of contraceptive devices we could use were elaborated on. The class ended with a peon walking in with a carton of Stayfree sanitary pads; we were handed a packet each, neatly wrapped in newspaper and were explicitly told not to open it in front of the boys or even tell them what this “precious package” contained.”
IX. Sakshi Krish, 21, Chennai
“I went to a predominantly tam-brahm school that had over 10,000 kids enrolled, so you know sex-ed is going to be at the very least awkward. I was in middle school when they decided to bring in external moderators for sex-ed. Even the teachers in my school felt weird about teaching us something that could potentially save us from chlamydia. They ended up dividing all the boys and girls into separate auditoriums.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I sure as hell was in no way ready for this. Sex-ed wasn’t really a class, it was more like a 2 hour long excruciating lecture on periods and trauma of rape. We sat through a pretty dry and vague talk on the female anatomy and how the menstrual cycle works - even though more than half of the audience was definitely bleeding through this session. I know I was; my cramps were nothing close to the cringing from that session.We later saw a video on why we shouldn’t feel guilty after being “attacked”. They even asked what the word “rape” meant to us. No one answered. Throughout the lecture, there wasn’t really anything on sex in particular and we ended up leaving the auditorium, each with complimentary pads.”
* Name Changed
All in-article illustrations by Manasi Vaidya.
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